Do you know what was awesome? Shareware. My home-wizards and I used to pass around disks of cheap-as-free game demos of classics like Wolfenstein 3D, Scorched Earth, and (the King of Shareware) DOOM. A lot of those games were the best entertainment a poor-ass high-school wizard could find. Some were not. I’m going to talk about “not” before praising Haunted Lands which is not “not”.
The thing that DOS really couldn’t do was platforming. A lot of these old shareware games were run-and-gun style platformers, and they (in my not-so-humble opinion) stank like the feet of unwashed hobbits. These were games like Alien Carnage, Duke Nukem 1 & 2 (the precursors to the 3D masterpiece), Monster Bash, and *shudders* Electro Man.* I mean, I have nostalgia for these games. I don’t mean to crap on your childhood**, but those games were slow paced with janky mechanics and sub-par graphics. For whatever reason DOS was not meant to run platformers. Get ye to yon Master System and load up some Wonder Boy or Shinobi if you need some platforming. That’s all I’m saying. You know it to be true.
Which brings me back around to Haunted Lands. Haunted Lands by someone named alevgor*** has nostalgia for those 3.5 diskettes of goodness and made a cool little run and gun plat-former to show it. Basically Haunted Lands is Duke Nukem plus DOOM. It’s a run-and-gun (though somewhat methodically paced) where you use a shotgun to splatter an unreasonable amount of pixelated gore about the screen. Here’s a brief breakdown:
The presentation: As alluded to above DOS shareware is the major graphical influence. It has bigger sprites with a more limited color pallet than a lot of games, but everything is nice and clear and explodes into some good old-fashioned blood-and-guts when shot at.
The music hearkens back to the Amiga more than DOS. Which is cool because the Amiga (and it’s predecessor the C64) had sick nasty sounds.
The game-play: Shotguns are them main mechanic. You can’t just wildly fire and expect the bullets to keep coming John Woo style. You need to stop and reload from time-to-time. This creates a different rhythm to the game from a lot of other platformers and often you are looking for a safe spot amongst the madness to reload which adds to the horror game panic vibe. Each of the two playable characters handles reloading differently with the woman taking less time to reload but needs to reload all or nothing and the man loading slower but can load single bullets. It’s a really clever way to create different play-styles. You also have a jump that can keep you above the fray and a doge roll. Put all together it feels a lot like Risk of Rain, where you are constantly using move abilities and jumps to better activate your gimmicky weapon.
Also like Risk of Rain, it’s super difficult. It’s “Nintendo Hard” and is unapologetic about it. You get limited lives and continues, and the reloading mechanic is hard to master. I stink at this game, but I had fun playing it. Which is the point of games, no?
All in all Haunted Lands is fun times. It’s nice to see some nostalgia that different than your standard SNESIndie styles. It’s cheap as free which is appropriate. Go play it.
*The only one that gets a pass is Jazz Jackrabbit. That game was and is awesome with a sick nasty rad soundtrack. Jazz > Sonic. Fight me. Fight me and lose.
**I kind of do.
***Who I can’t find on social media. Hit me up if you see this.