The limitations of the 8-bit NES – the console Haunted ’86 was designed for – add to its creeps. A tight, restrictive color palette locks Haunted ’86 to using extensive black. That means ledges and background objects appear to just peek out, their edges highlighted. It’s mood where so few games of this ilk even try.
Haunted ’86 notes the year of this story. That’s important. It’s a game of nostalgia for that period, with winks at kids fiction like The Goonies and classic monster horror. Halloween night sees zombies roaming through the sewers. Eliminating them means knocking off their head then throwing it, hopefully slamming against other zombies. Crows drop down from the skies, only their eyes highlighted against the nighttime backdrop. There’s a Kraken of sorts too, or maybe it’s just a giant squid; either way, it’s dangerous.
This all happens because of a mystical map, granting two heroes their powers. As a fetch quest, Haunted’86 embraces the imagination and play that kids engage in. General spookiness feels like part of their game, goofing around on Halloween night while pretending to dropkick the frights they caught on a fuzzy over-the-air broadcast of Night of the Living Dead. Haunted ’86 is often awkward and loose. That’s not inappropriate, considering. No kid ever masters the art of zombie punching.
In terms of capturing the childhood vibe of Halloween, Haunted ’86 lacks the charm of say, Costume Quest. There’s less imagination here, impacted by the choice of hardware, but working around those restrictions for something kooky and pleasing.