Hauntii review: an adventure as beautiful as it looks

Hauntii sets the scene with a rather magical opening sequence. A beam of light shoots out of a mysterious planet and a zoom in reveals the beam to be an asteroid, but not just any asteroid: a crystal shaped like a teardrop, with a little ghost nestled inside. You awaken as this little ghost, who it turns out, has crash landed in Eternity (and who, it turns out, is called Hauntii). Soon you bump into a ghostly girl, who guides you to a tower that thrusts you both up to a higher plane – but though she ascends, you’re dragged back to the bottom at the last moment by some netherworldly chains. And so, as Hauntii you travel through Eternity to discover who that girl was and, ultimately, how to ascend to those heavenly skies yourself.

You’ll probably be pleased to know that Eternity isn’t an infinite string of procedurally generated mansions where you watch celebrities pretend to get frightened by doors creaking open. Instead, it’s split into a series of worlds, each composed of several stages. Many of these stages are presented as easy to follow pathways of light, with playgrounds splintering off them. There is an ever present threat, though, because if you spend a bit too long in the dark sea between these paths, the music distorts and purple demons clutch at you from beyond. It’s very Super Mario Odyssey: you’re encouraged to explore every inch of a spherical space stuffed with secrets or curiosities.

Hauntii buys a hat.
As you defeat enemies and haunt things, you’ll earn crystals and special world tokens. You can cash these in at merchants, who’ll sell nothing other than fun hats. There are wizard hats, cat ears, beer hats. It’s a laugh and I’m into it. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Firestoke

And also like Super Mario Odyssey, your progression through these worlds isn’t entirely linear. It’s linear in the sense that one stage might lead naturally to another, but during significant moments you’re gatekept by the amount of stars you’ve stuffed in your spooky napsack. Hidden around each stage are a set number of stars and you’ll need to gather as many as you can, whether that’s by exploring optional stages, or by being diligent in your twinkle-detecting on the main path. No need to worry about trawling through old stages, either, as I’m about as diligent as a pat down at a stadium security stand and wasn’t ever frustrated by a necessary star count bump. And even if you need to rummage for a fair few stars, convenient extra zones always seem to spring up like eerie oases.

Thing is, these stars aren’t just sitting on benches toking on vapes. To nab them, you’ll mostly need to complete puzzles that have you employ your superpower: haunting things by spitting energy orbs at them. Hit something that brings up a yellow icon and you know you’ll be able to take control of it. For instance, you can haunt ladybugs that let you glide between trees – the animation here is wonderful, as you rock to and fro with a tiny umbrella nestled between your legs – to reach higher spaces. You can haunt bells to ring with a clang, or you can haunt ghost dogs to reunite them with their worried owners.

A lot of Hauntii’s puzzling is about picking up on cues in each of its clever playgrounds, then figuring out what needs resolving or how you might navigate the dark sea and get over to that suspect island of light in the distance. It’s about haunting these skittish witches whose knapsacks spill light, granting you makeshift stepping stones. Or possessing a creature that’s capable of stomping and using them to plunge a sequence of stumps into the earth. Or becoming a fairground bell just as a titanic ghost smacks you upwards with a mallet, rocketing you to a new area.

Hauntii surrounded by pals at a carnival.

A fight amongst ghosts in Hauntii.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Firestoke

Hauntii haunts an enormous bell.
Eternity is gorgeous and at times, I wonder if it’s one of the loveliest looking games I’ve ever set my eyes on. All hand-drawn art with a two-tone palette that lends itself to the ethereal, where mostly everything bobs or shimmers at a low frame rate making it seem like a grand odyssey contained in a notepad, but if that notepad sprang to life. Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Firestoke

Puzzles certainly increase in complexity later on, but they’re never truly difficult. And I think that’s nice, because it keeps you flowing through each stage at a pace befitting of the game’s relaxed atmosphere. Sure, some paths to progress can be a bit unclear at times and some worlds might drag on a tiny bit longer than you’d like, but these gripes pale in comparison to the joy of embodying things big or small to prize each star from its lodgings.

Sometimes, prizing stars means turning to violence. Hauntii’s a twinstick shooter in this sense, as the orbs you spit can damage unfriendly ghosts or clear some of the murkiness swiped by tougher foes onto safe surfaces, causing those demonic hands from beyond to clutch at you. Coupled with your dash, fights aren’t ever super tricky, but they’re demanding enough and have an immediacy that contrasts nicely with the game’s scrawled aesthetic and low-frame bobs. Again, you’ll often need to haunt stuff to either up your strength or to defeat baddies who present problems that Hauntii’s default orbs can’t smush. Like Bellsprout-looking plants that thump giant acorns out of their mouths, or devilish shades with fireworks strapped to their backs, whose pyrotechnics work wonders on flying ghouls.

As time goes by, though, the ghosts get beefier. To match their training regimen, stations dotted around the map let you plink your stars into a nightsky and create constellations. Completed constellations earn you shards that you’ll piece together to form a whole, permanently boosting one of Hauntii’s three stats: health, dash, or essence (orb-spitting). It might be a simple system, but I love how it grants the stars an extra dimension, where they aren’t just passports, but currency to get more powerful.

Hauntii forms a constellation.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Firestoke

And perhaps one of my favourite touches is the extra, extra dimension to completing those constellations. Every time you create a glistening rabbit or a shiny boat in the night sky, you’ll witness a very brief cutscene of a life once lived. It’s presented as a thought bubble, where line-drawings – reminiscent of the Nintendo DS’ Flipnote studio – show us nice moments or sad moments. And often the simplest of moments, where Hauntii might come across a whale in an aquarium and through just a few scrawled lines, you can see the happiness radiate off him. I think it’s genius really, that those stars act as a way to strengthen Hauntii’s resolve as he pieces together who he was and why he passed. I was, predictably, in bits after some of these short scenes.

Hauntii’s stages are lovely counterpoints to the constellation’s introspective sequences, where the world thrums to a tranquil or playful rhythm, all backed by Michael Kirby Ward’s soundtrack that bops and swells at all the right moments. I like that the ghosts live in fun communities and are upbeat little guys and gals with cute smiles. The world and its inhabitants just sit right, as a dysfunctional underworld family that’s not necessarily out to get you. On occasions, the camera zooms out and lets you take it all in, with one rollercoaster sequence early on hitting me with a sense of disbelief. Quadruple A games certainly couldn’t compete.

Every time I mention Hauntii, I get an “eh?”, or I hear the clack of a pal giving it a search. They always say, “Woah, that looks gorgeous, I’d never heard of it”. And that’s no slight on the game, but rather its relative out-of-nowhere-ness has felt rather nice, actually. That I’ve got to delight in an adventure game so beautiful and unpretentious and clever before it’s released to the masses. It’s a selfish sort of feeling which this job grants us on rare occasions, and as I urge you to give this game a go, I get this deep satisfaction from parting the curtains. Don’t sleep on Hauntii, for goodness sake.

This review is based on a review build of the game provided by the developer.

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