Teens and Haunted Mansions are always a complimentary pair, especially in a rogue-like game like Phantom Halls, where players roam the nooks and crannies of a haunted mansion in order to complete tasks and face their fears. Phantom Halls is being developed by the independent studio Incendium, who boasts that they are all about “Myths, Monsters, and Metal,” and Phantom Halls is the studio’s premiere game.
Albeit in Early Access, Phantom Halls is a bit short. The most promising aspect I was looking forward to was the side-scrolling action, which is somewhat lacking in the small portion currently featured. The player spends more time rummaging through bookshelves, chests, crates, and other containers than fighting monsters. The controls also feel a bit clunky and out of place, and the objectives are monotonous. In contrast, it does have a unique gameplay hook that involves finding other characters in the mansion and playing as a group of up to three characters simultaneously – which definitely takes getting used to. Actions for each character are routed to the Q, W and E keys, which seems simple enough, but comes off as clunky and unintuitive at first. Of course, the more you play it, the more comfortable you get navigating the mansion and taking out the monsters and ghouls.
Alternatively, the enemies within the game could use a bit of defining. Having giant bugs, skeletons, phantoms, zombies, and (specifically) evil clowns feels out of place in this kind of environment, even for a satirical game. These monsters could use better defining to make them more coherent to the story being told. A balancing of the environment and the monsters is also sorely needed for the full version. The player’s biggest enemies are currently falling chandeliers and bookcases, both of which will take out your character in one misstep, as opposed to the threat of monsters that just kind of bump into you.
The biggest aspect I’d like to see developed more in Phantom Halls is the fleshing out of the mansion and the storytelling. Currently the mansion is closer to a blank canvas than an active environment. I’d love to actually explore the space and what it has to offer, but currently, the game needs better development in that area specifically. The characters created already have nice detail in the Early Access version, and it’d be would be great to apply that kind of care to the environments. For example, who owns the mansion? What is its history? Why are there so many different kinds of monsters??? Personally, I’m huge into horror and spooky games, and the reason I enjoy that genre so much is due to the storytelling and the details. I think Phantom Halls has the great potential to do that, but it needs refining in the game’s overall storytelling.
On the other hand, the strongest feature that Phantom Halls has going for it is the unique papercraft motif that the developers have created. This kind of art style leaves the game feeling like something you’d play on your Nintendo 64 in the 1990s, and is surprisingly well developed for something in Early Access.
Phantom Halls was released in Early Access in March, so there’s still quite a bit of game to build before the final product is released. Currently, the story and the controls are clunky and a little tedious, but Incendium is actively working their butts off on this game. Therefore, it might be best for players to be patient and wait for the final product to be released before purchasing. However, the Early Access edition includes Evil Dead 2 content, allowing gamers to play as Ash and blast through a series of unique Evil Dead 2–inspired quests. There’s a lot of potential for Phantom Halls to be a great side-scrolling action adventure game, but it still needs to address some issues. But hey, isn’t that what Early Access is for?