Many years ago, I purchased a game called ‘Ghost Master’. In this game, you control an array of ghosts that you must use to scare mortals out of various locations. As you continue through, you can use the ghosts to set other spirits free, and so increase your roster of available haunters to sue on the next level. Ghost Master is fun. It’s also on Steam and well worth checking out. Here’s the thing though: some of my enjoyment of the game came from how much it made me think of a game from my youth. You see, in some ways, Ghost Master was a kinda supped-up version of ‘Haunting Starring Polterguy’.
Released in 1993 for the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis, Haunting saw you take control of the ghost of a teenage punk who had died in an unfortunate accident involving a faulty skateboard. Being somewhat upset about being dead, you must visit Vito Sardini (the businessman who owns the company that built the faulty lump of wood and wheels) and his family at four different homes, and basically scare the life out of them until they run away screaming in fear. Unlike the 2003 release mentioned in the first paragraph, here you can only control Polterguy. That’s OK though, because thanks to Sega’s Video Games Rating Council, EA were able to fill the game with some beautiful (and grotesque) horror elements. What sort of horror elements I hear you ask? Well, think fish tanks filling with blood, demons that live in the toilet and eat poop, and moveable severed hands.
Haunting Starring Polterguy does still have a bit of a cult following, but the thing to remember there, is that mostly extends to people who discovered it first time around. I have tried and tried to find more people in my area who loved the game, but not one person I’ve spoken to even knew the thing existed. That being the case, I figured that it was prime for mentioning here.
As games go, it was a lot of fun! The houses owned by the Sardini family are huge, and each room has so many different things that you can possess that it’s hard to hit up everything on one play through. That in itself provides a whole lot of fun for multiple playthroughs. If the idea of a simple haunting doesn’t appeal on its own though, it’s also worth mentioning that the game can be pretty tactical. As the individual family members get more and more scared, their body language will change from mildly spooked, all the way up to quivering in the corner before they eventually run with the fear … but you can push them too far. If you set up too great a range of scares, the foolish mortal will faint, and that means that not only will you be unable to send them packing straight away, they’ll also be a little calmer once they wake up.
Another thing to note is that you can die in the game. As you haunt the Sardini’s, your natural stores of ectoplasm decrease. On top of that, the pesky family Chihuahua can see you and its barking will not only also drop your ecto levels, but will also summon ectoplasm munching monsters to attack you. Once your ectoplasm is gone, you get warped to the underworld. Here, you can collect more ectoplasm and return to the house to continue your scares, but you can also take damage. Sustain enough damage and it’s game over for our ghostly punk friend.
Need more reason to pile some love on this particular slice of retro? Well, according to Wikipedia, Haunting was one of the few Comedy Horror games of the 16-Bit era. It’s certainly the only one that I can think of. Oh, and the ending was darkly amusing. Look, I’ll be completely honest here. Haunting Starring Polterguy will not be for everyone. It’s gross and it’s dark, but it’s also a whole lotta fun if you’re into the genre. If you happen to have a way to play MegaDrive/Genesis games and you see the cartridge about on the cheap, I highly recommend grabbing it! Until you can though, here’s some gameplay and a review (warning, contains spoilers, swearing and gore):