Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House, released in 1994, is a surprisingly fun kid's game from the mind of a surprisingly adult cartoonist. Wilson's work, which often includes such macabre topics as murder, dismemberment and cannibalism, were featured in the likes of Playboy and The New Yorker. Let's see how this strange psyche can be translated for a younger audience...
The tone is set straight away, with a rather short rendition of Monster Mash playing over the intro. The dark mansion's lights turn on and cartooney looking creatures pop up from random places solely to gurn at the screen. Then the game begins in the hallway of an elaborate mansion. You don't know why your there but story isn't exactly the focus of this game. All we know is that we're in for a lighthearted take on the classic Halloween theme.
The aim is to find 13 keys within 13 hours so you can escape the dangerous dwellings. There's one in each room but the location is randomised on each playthrough. They could be dished out at various points, either by searching the house, or using one of the many items in the correct way. There's a huge number of items to find, ranging from a tedddy bear to a swiss army knife and can be stored in your ever-present carpet bag. You may even come across dead rats or a lump of snot. Each can be used in a multitude of ways sparking a fun animation in the process. For example, that teddy bear can be given to one of the house's residents or be used with that swiss army knife to see what's inside. This can only be done on the kitchen chopping board, so try it in several different things. The game incourages trial and error. If you think you've used one incorrectly, don't worry. Chances are that you'll find another one sooner or later - the most bountiful places being the attic and music room.
The look of the game is very unique and charming, though a far cry from the source material even if the artist himself drew them. Compare Frankenstein's creature...
Or Lady Dracula...
And those are the tame examples. If you want a few more of his cartoons, some of them can be viewed in the Gallery room, though they're not as detailed as his original artwork. The simplified, kiddified renditions do lose a lot of their macabre personality, but there's still a lot of Wilson's twisted sense of humour in the game. For example, Wilson himself appears as a character. His ghostly apparition appears every now and again to guide you through the adventure, or to occasionally berate and annoy you. If you get tired of him, you can squash him like a compacted used car in the Wreck Room.
You have to take caution when you do things like this as the house will get mad at you. You can tell how mad it is by looking at the flames of the fireplace or candle chandelier in the main hallway. The awakened monsters are represented here too by the ghosts in the picture frames. If the house is mad, puzzles will become more difficult. Tiles will move, your go will be automatic or your luck will be terrible. Piss it off too often and they'll become impossibly unfair.
Encounters with the monsters can change from pleasant to downright evil. They know when their abode is angry so will curse you at any opportunity they'll get. The Colour Curse will make the graphics go all funny, but more damaging is the Takeaway Curse. When bestowed with this, any item you attempt to pick up will instantly disappear. Thankfully you can tell if you have this curse as your cursor will change into a little skull, and it's not exactly permanent.
There are a few mini-games scattered around such as hang-man or tic-tac-toe. None of these are necessary to complete the game as the random items you win can all be found elsewhere. There's no way of knowing where the keys are, but in my experience they don't seem to be fixed in place before you play. Increasing the difficulty setting (found on the clock in the main hall along with other options) will decrease the frequency of the keys, as well as making the mansion far more irritable. If you find all 13 keys within 13 in-game hours, you win. Your reward is a screensaver, custom theme or video shorts. The two former prizes are useless for modern computers but the QuickTime videos can be viewed on any media player. They're mostly pixelated clips from old horror movies such as Jekyll and Hyde or Nosferatu with a couple I don't recognise (I need to check them out sometime). You can also view them in the Screening Room.
There's no denying Gahan Wilson's Ultimate Haunted House is designed for kids first and foremost, but his macabre sense of humour still permeates making it hard to recommend for the very young. As an adult I had a lot of fun playing through the game. It's simple, well put together and exudes a dark sense of humour I love. In my opinion, it's well worth a play.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
Gahan Wilson's The Ultimate Haunted House is © Brooklynh Multimedia & MicroSoft CorporationReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me