I've looked at some pretty spooky games so far this Halloween season - plus Mansion of Hidden Souls, which was only spooky if you're terrified of bad voice acting and / or butterflies - but now we're into the last two weeks of October and I feel it's time to really ramp up the Halloweenosity here at VGJunk. What I need is a game so Halloween-y that playing it will make Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man sit you down for a chat about how maybe you're taking this Halloween thing too far, and here it is: Casual Arts and Big Fish Game's 2011 PC I'm-sure-I-saw-it-a-second-ago-em-up Halloween Trick or Treat!
(click pictures to see them in big-o-vision!)Here's the title screen, and we're already off to a good start: a creepy old house, a flickering jack-o-lantern, bats aplenty and the name of the game which, may I remind you, is Halloween Trick or Treat. It does not get much more Halloween-y than that without having your blood entirely replaced with fake blood.
The name Big Fish Games might be familiar to those of you who use Facebook, because Big Fish are in the casual click-em-up market and I'm told that games of that type are all over that particular social media platform. I think that means we can rule this game out as a lost classic before we begin. After all, Big Fish's slogan is "A New Game Every Day," which is enough to give anyone doubts about the quality of their output. You can't even call them shovelware, because a shovel is simply not a large enough tool for the job. This is industrial ore refinery equipment ware, then, but I sort of don't care. I mean, did you see that creepy old house? Oh man!
The terror begins the instant you start the game, as this unsettlingly-rendered woman pops up and orders her kids to get their Halloween costumes on. She's drawn with the natural poise and suppleness of a taxidermied gorilla nailed to a wall, while her eyes glimmer with a hint of true madness. Maybe she's just seen the state of her kid's bedroom, that'd explain the horrified rictus plastered across her face.
Look out, children! You bedroom has been invaded by some sort of grotesque homunculus, a shrivelled, almost neckless troll with the face for a forty-five-year-old man who's never been able to let go of his days as a high school athlete! You must flee quickly before he sucks the very marrow from your wait, what do you mean that's one of the kids? There's no way that is a child. Look at those nasolabial folds and his receding hairline! Unless this kid's Halloween costume is "his own grandfather" and he's most of the way through putting on his make-up, there is something very wrong with him.
Okay, nice try Halloween Trick or Treat but that is very obviously Wayne Rooney in a wig.
So, apparently these are kids. Their names are Mike and Sally, and they're the heroes of this Halloween adventure. The stupid, ugly heroes.
Mike and Sally maybe be disturbing sub-human goblinoids, but I have to give them credit for the amount of effort they've put into sprucing up their room for Halloween. I feel like I'm looking at a still from a forgotten 80s kid's movie in the Big mould, but with Halloween theme, and maybe I was a little harsh on mother earlier, because she's cool enough to let her kids have a cauldron of bubbling liquid in their bedroom.
Oh, right, the gameplay. Halloween Trick or Treat is a "hidden object" game, in the sense that the objects you're looking for are hidden by the hundred of other objects scattered around each scene. There's a list of objects at the bottom of the screen, and all you need to do to progress is to spot those objects in the picture and click on them. That's about it, folks. There are also a few candy canes hidden in each scene for extra points, (there's one just above the cauldron, for instance,) but the vast majority of the game involves seeing a thing and then clicking on it. I have to admit, Halloween Trick or Treat did make me think about just what I'm willing to accept as a "game" for the purposes of writing an article about it, because by any stretch of the imagination this is as thin and wispy an offering as a ghost's handshake. On reflection, I decided my criteria was "anything that presents itself as a game." I mean, I wrote about that god-awful astrology thing, and that's even less of a game than this. Plus I've already covered Where's Wally for the NES, and that's basically the same as this except Halloween Trick or Treat has the added benefit of not making your eyes jump out of your face in disgust, grabbing their little briefcases, slapping on their little hats and slamming your eyelids closed on their way out.
So, it's a literal point-and-click adventure, then. There's not much to complicate this first scene beyond "Jupiter" being a bit of a sneaky one - it's over on the picture of the solar system on the right-hand side. Took me a while to find that one.
While the "Great Work!" message does feel a little patronising, I'll forgive it for being presented to me in a typeface that should absolutely be adorning the packaging of a brand of edible gummy body parts.
Between the object-clicking stages, Halloween Trick or Treat offers up a variety of minigames to the player and says "plays these minigames! Or don't. What the hell do I care? You've already paid your money." Yes, the minigames aren't compulsory - thankfully, because yes there is a sliding block puzzle later - but you can't move on to the next scene until you've either finished the minigame or waited for the "Skip" bar at the bottom to fill up. Of course, if you're playing on "Casual" mode it makes no odds because the "Skip" bar fills so quickly finishing the minigame before it's full is the most difficult challenge in Halloween Trick or Treat.
As for the minigame itself, it's a jigsaw where you have to drag the costumes onto Mike and Sally. Sally is going as a traditional witch, which is fine, but Mike is dressing as a skeleton without making any effort to give himself a skull face, thus rendering the whole thing utterly pointless and besmirching the good name of Halloween itself. The only way he can recoup from this is by claiming he's dressed a a skeleton that's wearing the flayed, tattered face-skin of a human as a macabre jape. Given Mike's face, people should have no trouble believing this.
"What a feast!" exclaims Sally, and boy she is not kidding. Toffee apples, scorpion pie, banana splits and even a whole roast turkey. I think mother is trying to save time by extending this meal right through to Thanksgiving, which explains the "Eat Nothing!" note on the end of the table.
This scene introduces one of the few non-item-finding parts of these scenes, and that's the flip-flopping pumpkin and skull. Hovering over certain points in the scene makes an icon appear that rapidly flicks between a pumpkin and a skull. Hit the pumpkin for extra points, hit the skull and lose points. It's not a complex system.
I should also mention that this scene gave me the most trouble, because I could not find the cross for the life of me. It turns out it's part of the window frame. No, not near the robot that's ominously peering through the window, contemplating the best moment to rise up against his human oppressors. It's between the skeleton's legs. I had to use the hint button to find it. It's only called the "hint" button because the "I'll show you exactly where the item is" button would have taken up too much screen space. The hint button refills after a while and there's no negative penalty for using it so, as I'm sure your optician would agree, you should use it frequently.
Minigame number two is a simple pair-matching game, which I only mention so I can bring your attention to that spider's face. It is totally, perfectly adorable and I want to feed her jelly flies.
I can't believe mother is sending the children out trick or treating. I know it's the name of the game but did you see all the food she'd laid out on that table? For once I think it would be fair enough if the neighbours were handing out toothbrushes instead of sweets. "Here come those weird ugly kids, honey. Stash the fun-sized Mars Bars and hand out some insulin, would you?"
This neighbourhood has a very eclectic approach towards decorating for Halloween. "OooOOhh, beware the spooky coffee mug and the sinister banana peel! Okay, maybe that's a bit too scary for the little ones, so we'll put a sleeping puppy on the porch too, that'll balance things out. Also, no parking on our stairs, we need to use those to get in and out of our house."
Okay, this line of dialogue has clinched it - Mike and Sally were actually born in the 1950s and have a strange genetic disorder that causes them to develop adult faces but keep their childlike proportions, possibly as part of an insane experiment to extend their trick or treating years far beyond their natural span.
Thanks to the earlier screen I immediately spotted the cross in the window. Is the cross an item I need to find here? No, of course it isn't. Instead, I have to find Bigfoot, who is trying to sneak off the right-hand side of the screen. I see you there, Sasquatch. I also see the T Rex in the background. I fully endorse the use of life-sized animatronic dinosaurs as Halloween decorations.
Now this is the start of a horror movie, right? Remember folks, if anyone ever says "hey, let's reassemble these bones I found," you should immediately bid them good-day because there's no way that doing so will result in anything but a reanimated monster stalking you relentlessly. Also, Sally, there's a human skull in that pile of bones. I fairly sure they're going to make a human.
Or maybe not. Look, I'm not a doctor.
Is everything you say from now one going to be the premise of a horror movie, Sally? I'm fine with that, I really am. Running away from a mad professor will help you get the exercise you'll need after eating all that food.
You know earlier when I said these kids were stupid? I wasn't just being mean, they are incredibly dense. Do you want to recite some Latin from a dusty tome while you're in there, Mike? Maybe disturb the ancient resting place of a great evil? This kind of dangerous naivete is what happens when you don't let your children watch horror movies.
By the way, these scenes generally contain some animated parts, even if it's just as simple as a lightning strike every now and then. In this case, a cheery skeleton (as though there is any other kind) pops up from the grave occasionally. The animations add a lot of charm to the scenes, and I'm going to go far enough out onto a limb that it might somehow get me banned from writing about videogames, but I really like the way Halloween Trick or Treat looks. Besides the obvious over-abundance of pumpkins and ghosts, the sheer confusing mess of it all is just perfect for the season. For instance, look at that cowboy kid on the far left. That picture has clearly been clipped out of a catalogue or advertisement, but the tackiness of it makes the whole thing work. Halloween is the most tacky holiday, after all - very rarely do people say "let's have a really classy Halloween" like they might with, say, Christmas - and this game falls perfectly into that trough of kitsch in which Halloween can express itself most fully.
Here's a minigame where you drag jack-o-lanterns into their matching slots. Is it clever? No. Is it fun? In itself, not really. Is it making me feel so Halloween-y that if closed my eyes and shoved my hands into a box I would really believe I was feeling eyeballs and not peeled grapes? You better believe it.
Sally shows herself to be the more intelligent of the two siblings by saying that she doesn't want to go into the creepy professor's house, but Mike persuades her by saying "it'll be fun," and I suppose he's right. Why, if we hadn't entered his kitchen we'd have never found out that the old prof used to be a wrestling champion! I assume that's why he's got the championship belt hanging from his spice rack, anyway. He's got paprika, oregano, the Intercontinental Heavyweight Champ and basil on there. More worrying is that someone has rearranged his fridge magnets to spell "help me," but I'm sure Sally and Mike will be safe, that fridge is far too fancy to be home to decaying human parts. You can open the fridge, by the way, as you can with some other background elements in each scene. Don't worry about finding them, because there's no penalty for clicking something you're not supposed to besides repeated mis-clicks making your cursor wobble uncontrollably for a while.
The kids are still pottering around the mad scientist's house. They wandered around his kitchen, his bedroom, and now they're in the attic, For his part, the professor doesn't seem to care. Maybe he's letting them run free in the hopes that they'll tidy up a little while they're here. He's a mad scientist, but he sure isn't mad about cleaning! Ah ha ha ha. Look at that pumpkin hanging from the ceiling, he thought it was funny.
And you thought I was joking about the kids tidying up! They said the professor was mad, expecting two random kids to wander into his house and organise his library, but who's mad now?! He'll show them, he'll show them all!
Looks like you kids didn't do a good enough job with the cleaning, huh? You've got no-one to blame but yourselves, you can't enter a mad professor's house and not expect to get locked in the basement. It's like overpriced cinema food, that's just the way it is. The kids will eventually escape through the sewer access, but not before they've found all these items, including an umpire. The umpire's on the stairs, and by god I love that umpire because it defies all logical explanation. Is it an incredibly detailed action figure of an umpire that guards the top of the stairs - an action figure that you'd think would be of very limited appeal to kids? Or is he a real human umpire that the professor has shrunk using mad science, and if so why is he still performing his umpiring duties instead of trying to escape? The tiny enigmatic umpire is wonderful, truly wonderful.
Spooky dooky? What, like a ghost turd or something? That's disgusting, Sally.
It's not even that spooky. It's hard to be scared of a ghost that looks as though it regrets every single decision it's ever made, and the werewolf is wearing a pink cowboy hat and playing with a yoyo. It's cool if that's how he wants to spend his time, but it rather lessens his aura of animal ferocity. If anything, I feel sorry for him. It must suck to go through a werewolf transformation on your tenth birthday.
Mike and Sally decide to head toward the Pumpkin Forest, but first they stop by a witch's cottage because that close shave with the mad professor wasn't enough to teach them some goddamn sense. Maybe that ninja lurking on the roof will protect them, his daimyo having sent him to assassinate said witch before she can destabilize the region by handing out candy bars with razor blades in them. He's in for a real shock when he tries to sneak down the chimney and that leopard eats him.
The kids continue to display the survival instincts of a hedgehog on the M25 by taking a tour of the witch's house. The witch looks on from the doorway, unsure of how to react now that her prey has wandered into her kitchen and is examining everything there in minute detail. Normally it's all poisoned apples and building houses out of gingerbread, but not today - it's as though she ordered out for takeaway children. Also notice how she's standing as far away as possible from her stove, she's not about to fall for that Hansel and Gretel shit. So, how will Mike and Sally escape from this pickle?
Is that your solution to everything, Mike? Light housework? I suppose I shouldn't mock, it seems to mollify the witch into not eating them right away and eventually they manage to escape.
Deciding that what they need to recover from their terrible witch ordeal is a spot of retail therapy - presumably the actual therapy will come later on - Sally and Mike head into town to see if the novelty shop and the Halloween market are still open. This is the novelty shop. Is it still open? I have no idea. Mike and Sally are inside, but there are no other people anywhere to be seen so maybe they broke in. Hopefully Mike will steal / purchase that mask at the bottom of the screen to make his costume less of an abject, skull-less failure. Is there a specific name for those thin, brittle, gaudily-painted Halloween masks, by the way? For me they are the very embodiment of Halloween. Britain is not a massive celebrator of Halloween, and was even less so when I was a kid, but I don't think I passed a single childhood Halloween without getting through at least three or four of those masks. Why so many? A combination of indecisiveness, low cost and the fact that they were so fragile you might as well try drawing a vampire face on a poppadom and wearing that instead.
Before we leave the novelty store, please note that they're selling a child-sized Prussian pickelhaube helmet. I can only imagine the amount of stick you'd get from your young peers if you went trick or treating dressed as Otto von Bismarck.
There's no-one at the Halloween market, either, unless you count the stern faces of Mount Rushmore looming over the town. Which you shouldn't, because they're not people. I'm mostly showing you the Halloween market to point out that in the background, on the left underneath the parrot, there appears to be a restaurant called Dorsia. Try getting a reservation there now, you flipping silly kids!
Here's a pair-matching minigame. This is the end of the game, when I've found all the pairs, by the way. This is an easy game, but it's not that easy. It's worth mentioning because hey Mike, there's a skull mask under that green goo, wouldn't that be perfect for your costume? Yes, Mike's costume is still bugging me. It's just that if his home town has gone completely insane for Halloween, Mike could at least make some effort. Also, the knife-wielding jester suit goes with the genuinely upsetting clown mask to create a costume so sinister it might actually be too Halloween-y.
After a couple of scenes in the grounds of a church and few more spent re-I-spying your way through the sewers and the attic in an attempt to pad the game out, Mike and Sally finally make it back to the safety of their own home. I say safety, they need to tidy their staircase because that is a broken neck waiting to happen. I think the most interesting thing here is trying to figure out what decorations were put up for Halloween and which are the house's usual décor. There's a giant crab on the wall, for one thing. Crabs are not especially spooky animals, (although I suppose you could argue they're like the spiders of the sea,) so I have to assume that their hallway always has a giant crab on the wall. What I'm saying is want Mike and Sally's mother to adopt me so I can live here, this place is amazing,
Speaking of their mother, now that they're back home Mike and Sally can tell her all about the close encounters they've had with witches, mad scientists and disease-ridden sewers.
She doesn't seem that bothered about her children's brushes with death. Whatever pills she's on that are giving her that boggle-eyed expression must be really mellowing her out.
There's one last scene to complete before Sally and Mike can toddle off to bed. They will need to get plenty of rest for tomorrow, when they become mandatory participants in the town-wide efforts to clean up all the Halloween crap that litters every square inch of the town. But first, here's their lounge. I like that the architecture of the house has been kept somewhat accurate, you can see the staircase from the previous scene on the left. I also like that this family owns a polar bear cub. Sure, why not? No wonder their mother was so blasé about the dangers her children have faced, it's good that they're toughening up before this cute polar bear cub grows into a huge slobbering carnivore that could crush their skulls with one swipe of its paw.
Halloween Trick or Treat ends with a message wishing you a happy Halloween, which is appropriate because I think this game really could contribute to a happy Halloween. I'm not saying it's a good videogame, because it's barely a game at all... but I still enjoyed playing it. Obviously this was mostly down to the incredibly dense amount of Halloweenosity packed into it, a veritable neutron star of tacky spookfullness, and if the game had been based on any other theme I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much. That said, there's still something deeply relaxing about playing Halloween Trick or Treat. There's no challenge to the game and no way to fail, so you can click away at your leisure and the whole thing becomes rather soothing. As I said - and this is even more of a matter of personal taste than usual - the graphics are absolutely perfect for this kind of Halloween game, and the music has much the same feel to it. A lot of it sounds like MIDIs that might play in an unofficial expansion pack for Blood, which is great, and then there's this track which I've had wedged in my brain since I first heard the bloody thing.
I don't want to call it "haunting," as seasonally appropriate as the word may be, but there is definitely something about this track that gets to me. I think it's the juxtaposition of the jolly melody and the more sinister, ethereal sounds in the background. Good work, Halloween Trick or Treat's composer.
When it comes to whether or not I can recommend Halloween Trick or Treat, I don't think there's much else I can add to what I've already said aside from telling you it costs about £3. If you think clicking on things and developing a new medical condition I'm calling "pumpkin blindness" is worth that much money, then go nuts. All I can say is that on the next dark and stormy night we have this month, I will probably end up playing Halloween Trick or Treat again, comforted by the fact I never believed in the notion of "gamer cred" anyway.
As for the Halloween-O-Meter score, I reckon you can probably make a good guess on that front.
How could it have been anything less than a ten out of ten? Hell, it might have been eleven out of ten if I'd had time to draw an extra pumpkin for the meter. More jack-o-lanterns than the Hobgoblin's supply cupboard, an appearance by basically every classic Halloween monster ever in some form or another, and a dog dressed as a skeleton. Say what you like about the shallowness of its core concept, but on the Halloween front this is a masterpiece. Now I'm probably the only person ever to describe a Big Fish Games release as "a masterpiece," and I'll let them use that quote on their website if they send me copies of all their other Halloween games. I'm not afraid of selling out. I'm afraid of that knifey clown child costume from the pair-matching game.