Let's go back to November 2012. The Wii U was finally gracing us with its gorgeous, HD presence and alongside it sat Nintendo Land, a collection of 12 great games that perfectly showed off what the GamePad could do. One of the most loved games from the collection was Luigi's Ghost Mansion, an asymmetric masterpiece where one player uses the GamePad to control a ghost, who is invisible to those playing on the TV screen, in an attempt to sneak up on them and take them out. In Sanatory Hallways developer Wegenbartho has created a whole game with the intention of expanding on the ideas in Luigi's Ghost Mansion. Can it be as good as it sounds?
There are two modes in Sanatory Hallways: VS and Bonus - the former definitely being the main attraction. In this mode one player uses a Wii Remote and Nunchuk combination to control the game's protagonist, Charla, with the aim of finding safety through the elusive but locked blue door. The other player controls Mr. Spook with the GamePad - boasting a bird's-eye view of the map - whilst trying to scare Charla into insanity before she is able to escape - what a nice guy!
Playing as Mr. Spook is where you'll have the most fun. As time passes by a counter rises indicating how many points you have to spend on laying down traps for poor Charla. When Charla encounters these traps her sanity counter starts to plummet towards zero, meaning a win for Mr. Spook. Deciding when to spend your points (and on what) adds a nice, tactical element to the game. The variety of functions made available to you thanks to the GamePad also make Mr. Spook's gameplay the most interactive and best the game has to offer.
Playing as Charla isn't as fun. You walk by moving the control stick on the Nunchuk and aim your torch with the Wii Remote's motion controls - which can, at times, be a little fiddly. Finding the crucial blue key, without falling to Mr. Spook's overwhelming advantage, can be extremely tough. Your torchlight and any lights you manage to turn on give a glimmer of hope of harming Mr. Spook, but it's easy enough for him to avoid this. Also, if Mr. Spook gets too close you'll find that the screen starts to become blurry, making it almost impossible to escape; going from a full health bar to a completely drained one in one meeting with the other player shouldn't happen, but it does. The main problem with playing as Charla is the lack of motivation you feel; you should be really focused on finding the key and getting out but without getting any real enjoyment from it, it doesn't feel worth the effort.
What the game does get right is tension and jump-scares. This is mostly thanks to some great audio design. The soundtrack suits the vibe perfectly; chilling, little piano pieces - which would be perfectly at home in a horror movie - create a nervous, erratic feel and sit alongside unnerving sound effects such as water dripping, doors creaking and ghouls flying by. A great part of playing as Mr. Spook is the ability to activate these at random from the GamePad. The sounds don't necessarily correspond to traps being triggered but the player controlling Charla doesn't know that. The classic 'loud-sudden-bang' from horror films also plays a part when Charla activates certain traps or when you successfully sneak up on her, leaving the friend you're playing with needing a new pair of pants!
There are several different maps you can play in – all with varying difficulties – but they don't really change things up enough to keep you playing. The game is fun for a few playthroughs, especially as Mr. Spook, but it won't be long until you've seen everything it has to offer and want to stop.
Bonus mode is pretty much the same idea, but as a single player experience. Controlling Charla, you have to find the blue key to escape before Mr. Spook can completely drain your sanity. Playing as Charla in the VS mode is tough - Mr. Spook usually has things much easier and takes the win - but in this mode it is even harder. Your torchlight doesn't affect Mr. Spook; only the lights that you manage to turn on in the rooms can help to keep him away. Bumping into him in a corridor often means game over, as before you can say "BOO!" he'll drain your energy, leaving your screen blurry and you with nowhere to run. One very interesting redeeming gameplay mechanic which helps you avoid this, though, is the clever use of the "Remote Camera System"; this is a tool allowing you to monitor the hallways on the GamePad's screen so you can more effectively time your movements and hopefully evade Mr. Spook. Just like the multiplayer mode these levels start off as something that could be fun, but the few nice ideas still don't make it interesting enough to give you the desire to explore and complete them.
Some players will certainly have some fun this game. Looking past the unbalanced difficulty for the player controlling Charla, poor graphics and extremely limited amount of content, there are some fun ideas that work well as a party game. Unfortunately that won't be enough for most and the launch price seems way too steep for a game that doesn't have any real replay value. There is a promise of more levels being added in free future updates, but the content already available doesn't make them feel like something to look forward to. So, to answer the question: is it as good as it sounds? Not really.