Another retro video game entry on World’s Strongest Librarian. I’ll give Atari credit for Haunted House – it couldn’t have been easy trying to terrify gamers with the technical limitations of the 2600 cartridges. But they tried. They really did. Of all the games in my retro collection, I don’t think I have another game that was supposed to be frightening, but my parents wouldn’t have bought rarer Atari titles like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre anyways.
Now, Haunted House. Take a look at the screenshot below and tell me if your blood runs cold!
Hopefully you answered no. But here’s the thing: you can’t see the terrible creatures that are coming towards you in the dark, anymore than that pair of eyes up there can see them. Are you scared now? No. What if I told you that you were going to have to run away from…a bat! A bat that is green and highly pixelated!
Still no? Well, all right. If you’re still interested, there is also a ghost that chases you, and when a creature gets close to you, there is a sound that is a combination of ghost town wind and thunder crashing.
The goal of Haunted House is to find three pieces of an urn which belonged to the terrible old man Zachary Graves. One of my favorite things about the Atari games is that the backstory of a game could not possibly be explained in the game itself–no processing power could be spared. So the stories had to be conveyed in the instruction manuals.
So don’t go into Haunted House looking for clues to tell you what’s going on. For another great instance of the epic story conveyed by an instruction story, take a look at the Yar’s Revenge instruction manual. You never would have guessed that the stakes were so high!
To sum it up–I think it’s great that this game was meant to be scary. The graphics are fine, the sound is better than average for the Atari, and once you knew the ins and outs of the games, it could be beaten in minutes. But until you knew how to do it, you would stumble around in the dark, listening for the non-terrifying approach of poorly rendered ghosts and bats.