Horrors of Yesteryear: The Forgotten ‘The Haunted Mansion’ Video Game Deserves a Remake

Remakes are officially cool again.

At least if we go off of the recent successes of games like Resident Evil 2 and 3, and the Crash Bandicoot Trilogy, remakes seem to be experiencing a new renaissance in the past decade entering into 2020. With the evolving status of mainstream video games offering newer and more polished experiences than ever before (at least, that’s the idea), remakes were only an inevitability in the video game industry.

The logic parallels the idea behind movie remakes; a well-known property from back in the day gets reintroduced to a modern audience for the sake of profit and nostalgia. The practice is quite cynical from the creative perspective, but a reliable moneymaker from the business perspective. Games have been dabbling in remakes for a while now, often being labeled as “remasters” and only adding in some extra polish and maybe a different voice cast to justify a remastered label.

But as of late, remakes have gone the extra mile in not only adding in some shine to an older game, but sometimes even vastly retooling the entire gameplay experience to give the game a breath of fresh air. Resident Evil 2 was a massive success because of how different the game felt while still maintaining its schlocky B-movie heart. It’s a remake that literally felt as though it was “remade” from the ground up, encouraging the idea of other older games to receive similar treatment.

But with popular (or once popular) game franchises, there’s still the crushing reality that many older games, popular or not, are likely to sit in obscurity without any possibility of a remake to bring them back to the limelight. Perhaps this is for the best. After all, a remake doesn’t automatically guarantee success or acclaim, and some games are better left to be their own experiences.

But when it comes to the 2003 children’s horror game, The Haunted Mansion, a potential remake feels both appropriate and necessary for the new Remake Renaissance.

The Haunted Mansion is most well-known as the 50+-year-old ride at Disneyland, long-standing as one of the most popular attractions at the “Happiest Place on Earth.” It’s quite ironic considering its reputation as a scary ride inside a mansion long haunted by hundreds of lively spirits. There’s enough of a scare factor to keep the children on their toes while clutching their parents’ pants without invoking some type of serious trauma. 

Yet, for some odd reason, High Voltage Software didn’t seem to get the memo during the development of the Haunted Mansion game. Although the game came out at roughly the same time as the Disney movie starring Eddie Murphy and even incorporated some of the production designs from the film, it stood mostly as an adaptation of the ride itself, intended to capture the “spooky ghost tour” spirit of the famed ride.

The story for the Haunted Mansion game is set in the 19th century and centered around the character of Ezekiel Halloway, an orphan-turned-aspiring author who takes a job as a caretaker at the mansion to raise funds for his writing career. What he doesn’t realize is that the mansion is filled with ghosts, a healthy mixture of friendly and aggressive, and he cannot leave the mansion until he frees the souls of the trapped ghosts from a vengeful spirit.

The game’s plot is relatively simple and makes for some interesting game mechanics. The main point is that you play Ezekiel (or Zeke) and are forced to wander through the massive and mostly coated in darkness mansion as you battle through hostile spirits that could literally scare Zeke to death if not careful. With this being a Disney game, it’s tough to imagine the game being overly violent and traumatizing for children.

Indeed, the tone of the game is rather whimsical as half of the fun is seeking out the various ghosts from the ride, located in various spots of the mansion. More often than not, you’ll need to fight through enemy ghosts to find them, which can get pretty messy, but the end result is usually a cute little cutscene or interaction with said ghost. As you unlock more areas of the mansion to explore, the thought of friendly ghosts lounging around makes the experience of exploring feel more comforting and reassuring to know that some nice breathers are waiting for you.

But in order to get to the fun, Disney-style portions of the game, you have to journey straight through a storm of relentless terror and challenging puzzles that make up the meat of The Haunted Mansion. When you start, all of these friendly ghosts are trapped within the walls of the mansion and armed with a special lantern that can damage evil spirits; you must liberate the ghosts room by room and gradually restore power to the mansion.

Meaning that you start the game with virtually no power running through the mansion.

Because of this, every square inch of the gargantuan ghost haven is shrouded in darkness, leaving you to toil with only your trusty lantern to light the way. Even then, much of what the lantern lights up is likely something you wouldn’t want to come across, like the various spirits intent on scaring you to death. More often than not, the spirits will materialize out of literally thin air, forcing you to keep on your toes while you search for the light switch in each room that is normally hidden away somewhere.

Furthermore, many of these rooms require you to complete some sort of puzzle that sees the game experimenting with various set pieces, such as a mini-game where you’re shrunk to the size of a pool ball and placed on a pool table as an invisible hand lines up shots that could kill you. Puzzles that involve finding ways to ignite a fire in a kitchen using a poltergeist and navigating a room that changes shape and structure make up a fraction of the obstacles blocking your path towards completion.

Considering the fact that you have to liberate literally hundreds of souls from the confines of the mansion, the bulk of The Haunted Mansion is dedicated to having you confront each and every terror coming your way and in a Disney game, that might not sound like an arduous task. The game even makes sure to have a nice bit of comedy to balance everything out for younger players at the time.

The Haunted Mansion doesn’t let you off easy though, letting the black void of darkness follow you at every turn while exploring through the mansion. Not only is your only source of light a single lantern (which doesn’t light that far away from you anyways), but cold and empty ambiance makes up for the majority of the game’s music, recreating the feeling of walking down a dark hallway in the dead of night. Even when enemies appear, the soundtrack hardly changes, as the sounds of their impending arrival are your only warnings before they lunge at you. The music will change to lighter classical fare when you clear out a room, but even that only serves as a slight reprieve before venturing towards the rest of the dark ghost prison.

It doesn’t help that the enemies in the game are not the most pleasant to look at. There’s regular floating spirits, with faces twisted in a pained scowl, spiders that literally come in all sizes, a banshee ghost with long hair and sunken eyes that has a memorably terrifying reveal as she screams right at the camera, and more crawling and hiding around the mansion. They can appear anywhere in the dark and will often come in droves just to attack you, amounting to a near-constant barrage while you scramble for the elusive light switch.

The Haunted Mansion is frustrating, thrilling, scary, charming, and ultimately a game that has no business being as good as it was. The fact that it served mostly as an advertisement for the Disney ride and its film adaptation makes the end result somewhat jarring and demonstrates the genuine effort the developers put in to make the game as exciting as they possibly could. 

Just imagine what a remake could entail for the game.

The ride has been around for over half a century, building up detailed lore surrounding the ghosts of the mansion. The game does its best to cover the most popular aspects of the ride, but there was only so much that could be put in at the time, a problem that could potentially be rectified when looking at the dominance of Disney in popular culture. They were already huge during the game’s release, but the success of their modern films, shows, and merchandising alone means that they can afford to throw money at a long-forgotten piece of their past media.

A remake, if done right, would do well to expand on the core of the game and fix some of the dated bugs and flaws to prepare it for a modern mainstream release. The game functions best as a “baby’s first horror game”, balancing the charming Disney aspects with the horror of ghosts trying to attack you. It’s a simple concept and in a game industry that has continued to push the boundaries of video games as an art form, a return to basics would likely have its own place carved out in the vast sea of video games.

As of now, there has been no hint of The Haunted Mansion being remade, and the game itself has fallen into obscurity, barring some Let’s Plays and speedruns from smaller YouTubers on emulators. My gut tells me that the game will never be remade, given its soft reception at launch, but my heart can’t help but witness the trend of game remakes making a comeback (Demon’s Souls, anybody?) and hope that maybe there’ll be room for the Disney horror-comedy after all.

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