Hauntii Review - Screenshot 1 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Since this review was originally published, patches have reportedly addressed or improved one or more of the issues cited. While we unfortunately cannot revisit games on an individual basis, it should be noted that the updated game may offer an improved experience over the one detailed below.


What do you get when you combine Super Mario Odyssey, Geometry Wars, Disney Pixar, and Genesis Noir? You get Hauntii, a twin-stick shooter, puzzle-platformer, and adventure game from tiny development studio Moonloop Games. An unexpected mixture, to be sure — but that's what indie games are all about, and we're always down for a new genre mash-up.

The story is the part that reminds us of Pixar — and, considering their mastery of storytelling, it's no bad thing. You awake as a small black smudge of a wisp with no memories, in a monochromatic world you don't recognise. A being with long, flowing hair in a white robe — an angel, perhaps — appears to guide you through the world, out of this wilderness and into the light, but you are dragged to the ground once more, chained down, unable to break free. Now, you'll have to venture through the land of the dead, slowly piecing together your life and your afterlife, and breaking those chains through self-discovery.

Hauntii Review - Screenshot 2 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

The Super Mario Odyssey influence is the most obvious, though. The devs themselves have acknowledged that Odyssey's hat-possession mechanic is one of the things that inspired the game. You, the little lost ghost, are able to possess objects and beings to solve puzzles and, crucially, find stars, which are what you use to unlock fragments of memory and upgrades to your health, dash, and shooting ability. It works quite similarly to Odyssey, too, as each object and being has unique powers that can help you do things your ghost self can't – shoot upwards, ride a rollercoaster, or swim across a desert, for example.

But Hauntii is also a twin-stick shooter, and it's this shooting that makes up the bulk of the game. Watermelon-seed bullets bathed in glowing green spit across the screen, and you can use them to destroy, or to take control of various things, indicated by a yellow swirl that slowly fills as you shoot. An isometric twin-stick shooter is a tricky thing to get right, though, and we can't truly say that Hauntii has nailed it, partly due to how tiny it is on the Switch, and partly due to the art — it's hard to see what's going on when most things are monochromatic, and when items in the foreground block your view of the action, or when the game decides to zoom out so far you can't tell which tiny black shape is your character. We died, a lot, and we really don't think a lot of those deaths were our fault.

Hauntii Review - Screenshot 3 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

It's a shame that the art gets in the way (literally), because it's one of the best things about the game. Hauntii is done in this beautiful inky style, with glowing swirls and swaths cutting their way through jet-black pools of shadow, studded with pointillistic punctures of pinhole lantern light. Venture away from the path, and the screen will darken as the music warps into something horrible, purple eyes glaring at you from the depths. The edges of paths are soft, organic things, fading into woodblock patterns and doodle-scribbles, but enemies are highlighted in jagged biro-red spires, anomalous and jarring in a world of welcoming curves. Michael Kirby Ward's spectacular, spectral soundtrack complements the visuals perfectly, too, with just the right amount of melancholy, and the sound design throughout is quite beautifully done, with plenty of foley details that help the world come alive.

Later on in the game, the art gets even better, as 3D shapes are added to the mix. Long, geometric bridges stretch off into the distance as inscrutable polyhedrons rotate ominously in the foreground, implying some kind of elder tech, and there are these fantastic, breathtaking scenes where the camera pulls out to show off a beautifully crafted vista as you zip around on a rollercoaster. If this game has one strength, it's the art – the very reason we were drawn to it in the first place.

The thing is — and this is the part of the review we really don't enjoy writing — the game is broken. Even when it's not broken, it has too many issues for us to have a good time.

Hauntii Review - Screenshot 4 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

We had around ten crashes, probably more, that either froze the game or kicked us out entirely. One area was so dense that it converted the audio into a stuttering mess. Our bullets were invisible for most of the game, making it near impossible to aim. Some of these bugs may have been fixed with the launch day patch — we didn't have any more crashes after the update — but many of them still appeared.

And then there are the game design flaws. For a start, despite the Mario Odyssey inspiration, Hauntii often reminded us more of Sunshine's throw-lots-of-things-at-the-wall approach, with irritating timed challenges, a surprising amount of gunk-cleaning, and frustrating platforming. Hauntii really struggles with anything that requires depth perception, and though these moments are mercifully few and far between, they're still necessary if you want to collect all the stars, and sometimes to progress the story. One particular boss battle took us close to an hour because of the depth perception issue. Not fun.

Hauntii Review - Screenshot 5 of 5
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

In fact, we spent a lot of wasted time getting lost, too. The map is not useful – it's a map of the larger world, but provides no detail of individual areas, which would be really nice to have in certain larger or more convoluted places where progress is not obvious. We spent a loooong time trying to figure out where to go in this game, and when we did find a way forward, it was usually by accident.

This wasn't helped by the harshness of the save points. We often respawned with only one or two hearts, meaning that any kind of enemy-filled gauntlet was near-impossible, especially since most of them don't replenish your hearts. Even Dark Souls isn't that cruel!

Unfortunately, because of the bugs, frustrations, and confusing, hard-to-navigate world, we simply can't recommend Hauntii. It's a huge shame, because we can tell that it was made with love and an enormous amount of artistic attention, but it ends up being not just style over substance — it's style that obscures the substance.

Conclusion

Hauntii is so beautiful that it's heartbreaking not to be able to recommend it right now. We can tell that it's made with love, but love isn't enough to overlook its flaws. We hope that the developers manage to fix the issues in the long term, because underneath them is something truly magical – but for now, it's just a ghost of what it could be.