(click the picktures of big-o-vision... if you dare!)Naturally I looked it up, and there are indeed multiple real Spook Hollow Roads in the USA so as soon as I finish this article I’ll be on the phone to the US Immigration Service. Do you think they’ll accept “bad jokes about videogames” as a skill worthy of a visa?
Those of you who read last year’s VGJunk Halloween Spooktacular might recall that the first Halloween Trick or Treat was the surprise hit of the season (for me, at least): a PC hidden object game that consisted of looking for and then clicking on certain items in scenes densely packed with Halloween junk, scenes that looked like a tornado swept through the search results for “Halloween” on AliExpress and dumped the contents on a sickeningly quaint American town. I absolutely loved it, despite the gameplay being minimal at best. The combination of the dialled-to-eleven Halloween theme and the hidden object gameplay which, for some reason, I find very relaxing, combined to make Halloween Trick or Treat one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve ever had while writing VGJunk. So, obviously I was going to write about the sequel, and here it is. Having played a bunch of spook-themed hidden object games since, I was a little concerned that Halloween Trick or Treat 2 might have messed up the formula of the original with the addition of inventory puzzles or match-three sections, but it turns out I needn’t have worried because HToT2 plays almost identically to its predecessor. Let’s get right into it, then!
HToT2’s set-up is the same as the original, in that a parent gives her children some vague encouragement to enjoy Halloween and then leaves them to wander the streets all night. The art style for the characters has changed from the very ugly digital paintings of the first game to these no-less-unsettling CG models. Everyone has the mad, staring eyes of a lunatic and, in the case of mother dearest here, a truly hideous necklace. I know it’s supposed to be two feathers and an arrowhead, but it looks more like three jagged chunks of metal on a bit of string. Hobo chic, I guess you’d call it. There’s definitely a torn-up tin can somewhere near this lady’s jewellery cabinet.
Young Mike here is where the uncanny valley reaches its lowest point, a disturbingly-proportioned munchkin with a hair parting so severe it must have been carved there by a bloody chisel. No, I don’t like Mike, who looks like nothing so much as Damien from a low budget CG remake of The Omen.
Here’s the first scene, and it works exactly as you’d expect. You’ve got a list of items to find, you look around the screen and click on said items, find them all to clear the scene and move on to the next. The rabbit’s in the pumpkin pile on the left, the kite’s in the tree, and so on. The only new twist at the moment are the items listed in red. To find those, you have to click on a certain area to reveal them, and it’s not an addition that works all that well. Most of the time it’s not too bad, because the red items are in places you might expect them to be – for instance, if you’re looking for a bell, you click on a church tower and there it is. In this case Bill’s keys are in Bill’s pocket, which makes sense, but there are a few that are just in random places and there’s no hint as to there location. Well, unless you use the “HINT” button, which shows you exactly where the item is. There’s also the Mega Hint, that shows you where every item is at once, so it’s fair to say that HtoT2 leans heavily towards the “casual” side of the spectrum.
No, it’s not Lex Luthor in a snazzy pumpkin hat, it’s Bill! Good old Bill. Yep, Bill the pumpkin man. He sells pumpkins, and I think he’s also some sort of Halloween ambassador, handing out information about what’s going on in this town during Halloween – and there’s a lot going on because, just like in the first game Springfield (yes, that’s what it’s called) goes absolutely bananas for the spooky season. Like, it’s so full-on and affects every square foot of the town that it goes beyond merely a love of Halloween and into the preparations for a mass sacrifice to some terrible Pumpkin God.
You get to play a little minigame after most scenes, with the emphasis on “mini,” but HTot2 gets roughly ten million points from me for containing precisely zero sliding block puzzles. This first minigame involves assembling the town map by rotating the sections until they’re lined up correctly. And what a map it is! The museum is now a spooky museum, the pumpkin farm is prominently labelled and best of all there’s a Mall and Dracula’s Castle. How wonderful is that? You can nip in for your shopping and have your blood drained by an unholy creature of darkness without having to make two trips! That’s just efficient, that is. Sure, it’s a bit of a come-down for Dracula, but times are tough for everybody and he’ll just have to swallow his pride when people wander into his lair and ask where the vape stall is.
This is Emma, the other child. She’s not nearly as creepy as Mike, perhaps because her nose isn’t quite so piggish and her unsettlingly small and uniform teeth are mostly covered. Emma seems excited that “they’ve spooked up the museum,” so she’s definitely my favourite character.
The next stage is the pumpkin barn, the bustling hub from which Bill tries his best to feed Springfield’s insatiable hunger for jack-o-lanterns. He seems to be doing a good job, there are so many gourds in here that I’m at risk of developing pumpkin blindness. I’ll have to take a break to stare at some cartoon Frankensteins or something just to get my levels calibrated.
You might have noticed that everything looks very bright and jolly for a Halloween game, and HToT2 does have a strange atmosphere to it. It takes place in the most down-home, aww-shucks, white-picket-fence, suburbia-mixed-with-the-country version of America I think I’ve ever seen in a videogame. There’s twangy banjo music playing, everyone’s always smiling and there was an honest-to-goodness “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker in the first scene. This is especially bizarre because, as far as I can tell, the developers of this game are English. Specifically they’re based in Newcastle. Am I disappointed that this game isn’t set in Newcastle and the characters aren’t Geordies? I am, a little. Hearing the kids say “Howay, pet, let’s gan doon the Metro Centre and see Dracula’s Castle, like.” would be pretty great.
The kids head over to Grandma’s house to carve some pumpkins and fatten up on various foodstuffs, including pumpkin pies, cookies and a whole roast chicken. There’s plenty of room for all the food, Grandma’s kitchen is bigger than the entire residences of most people I know. You do actually get to carve the pumpkin yourself, after a fashion: any blue items on the list require you to find an item and drag it to the correct location, in this case bringing the knife over to the pumpkin.
One problem you’re always going to find in hidden object games is deciphering exactly what the item list is telling you to look for. Sometimes this is because words can have multiple meaning, or it might be because of international language differences: I’ve played one that asked me to find a torch, so I was looking for a metal tube with batteries that lights up. A flashlight, I mean. The game actually wanted a flaming torch. I mention this now, because this scene wants you to find “Indian corn” and I didn’t know what that was. I though Indian corn was maize? Turns out it’s those decorative corn cobs one the walls. Well, I’m getting that warm Halloween feeling and learning something!
Some scenes also have a smaller extra scene located within: click the part of the background that’s got sparkles coming out of it, and you’re taken to a close-up window where items can also lurk. The sparkles only appear if there is an item to be found in the close up area, so you can’t forget that it’s there, and it’s a decent way to increase the size of the play area without having to include scrolling.
There are a couple of jigsaws to do between stages. This one, promoting the upcoming Hallowen events that precede the dreadful awakening of the Ancient Pump-kin, shows you a picture of what the completed puzzle will look like. Other jigsaws in this game are not so kind.
Just like the previous game, I spent a lot of time wondering where exactly all the pictures used in this game came from and whether they were all sourced with the proper attention to gaining permission and respecting copyrights. A lot of them do look like they’re either stock photos, pictures used on shopping websites selling Halloween costumes or as though they’ve been snipped out of catalogues. A few of them look like candid family photos, and this Wizard of Oz group is getting into that territory. I don’t think it is a family photo, but the disdainful look the scarecrow is giving the mum-witch as she gets a bit too into the cackling makes me think that they are actually related.
I get the impression that Mike and Emma might be slightly spoiled.
A few scenes in, and I’m enjoying HToT2’s gameplay just as much as the first time around. Nicely cluttered scenes with items hidden in locations that can be devious but rarely made me cry bullshit, unlike the moments in Hidden Files where objects had their colour changed or were made semi-transparent. On top of that, the Halloween-osity rating is off the charts, so I’d still be happy even if playing the game was a more painful experience.
Never mind, HToT2 is making me do maths so it’s the worst game I’ve ever played, zero out of ten, even all these pumpkins can’t save it.
A few of the scenes mix things up by having you find a certain number of one item rather a mixed list, in this case jack-o-lanterns. Frankly I’m amazed there’s a photo of this town that contains only twenty jack-o-lanterns.
At some point along the way, the kids have changed into their costumes. Emma is a fairly standard witch, and Mike is a pirate. I’m not sure I agree with the ever-increasing acceptance of pirates as a Halloween standard. I know kids have been dressing as pirates for Halloween for decades now, but they just never feel spooky enough. If you’re going to dress as some kind of mouldering, salt-crusted undead pirate, sure, but a regular pirate has never sat right me with as an appropriate costume choice.
Springfield is so mad for Halloween that they elect a Halloween Queen, her coronation taking place on a tractor trailer while a bluegrass band herald her tragically short – but vital to the ascension of the Ancient Pump-Kin – reign. Preceding her are the local high school’s specially-trained Halloween dancers. The fear-leading squad, as it were. It’s an event of unparalleled pageantry, so much so that even a Victorian deep-sea diver has hauled himself up from the briny depths to attend the festivities.
Finally, the kids of Halloween Trick or Treat 2 get to do some actual trick or treating! The great thing about living in Springfield is that you never have to worry that a house you visit is going to turn theirs light out and pretend they’re not home, give you a lecture on how Halloween is an unchristian gateway to demonic activity or, worse still, hand out toothbrushes instead of sweets. If their house looked like this and they did refuse to give you sweets, I reckon you’d have a pretty good legal case to sue for false advertising.
I said earlier than the large majority of the game’s hidden objects aren’t maliciously placed, but that’s not to say there aren’t some fiendish items tucked away in the scenes. For example, in this scene you’re told to look for the number one. Go on, try to find it. I’ll wait.
Couldn’t find it? It’s the long vertical window beside of the door. I know, right?
The way Mike delivers this line finally confirms what his strange plasticky appearance had led me to suspect: he’s really a highly advanced candy acquisition android.
The next few scenes follow the children as they make their way to the Spooky Museum. In any other town I’d say it’s a sad indictment of the lack of public funding for educational institutions that the museum has to dress itself up for Halloween in order to get the punters in, but this is Springfield so I’m sure the museum is actually like this all year round.
Before they reach their destination, the kids stop of for a quick round of “find the bone.” Hang on, let’s not call it “find the bone,” that sounds terrible. Femur Frolics, then. So, you have to find all the bones, but in this and every other hidden object scene in HToT2 there are a few other things to find, too. Every stage has three or four golden pumpkins scattered around as an extra set of objects to look for. There are also a few “special” items to locate. I’m struggling to think of a good term for them, because they’re “Halloween Objects” but then so are most of the non-special items in the game. Specifically, they’re cheaply-made and garishly ugly bits of Halloween tat. The kind of things I have covering eighty percent of my desk, basically. For example, in this scene they include the stone gargoyle a the top of the path, the skull-print wellies and that bum bag with the blood leaking out of the zipper. Bum bags are what we in the UK call fanny packs, by the way, because to British ears “fanny pack” sounds like the name of a roving band of extreme feminists. Neither these special items nor the golden pumpkins show up when you use the hint button, so they’re a little extra challenge that doesn’t effect whether or not you clear the stage.
The museum’s… owner? Director? Whoever he is, he’s here to creep out the kids and demonstrate that what little writing there is in this game can be described as “charmingly amateurish” if you’re feeling generous. I do honestly kinda of like it, but I’d understand if people didn’t like it.
The museum’s prehistoric room is a real feast for the eyes, isn’t it? They’re so devoted to Halloween that they risked damaging their (presumably) very expensive T. Rex skeleton by whacking a saddle on it. Well, they have to have a saddle so the skeleton cowboy has a comfortable place to sit and read his newspaper.
One of the other common minigames are these spot the difference games, and they’re the most vicious spot the difference games I’ve ever encountered. That woman’s shirt is slightly more untucked in one of the pictures? Come on, man, I’m slovenly enough that I’d would never had noticed that. On the plus side, there are so many differences to find that you can just start clicking at random and you’re bound to hit a few of them.
As promised, here is the mall / Dracula’s castle. I want this to be a real world thing, I really do. You know how shopping centres get Santas in around Christmas (well, in September these days)? The Dracula version would work just the same, except instead of telling Dracula what you want for Christmas you sit on his knee and pledge your allegiance to his unholy crusade. He gives you a gift of neck-cleaning wipes and blood oranges, everyone’s happy.
They’ve even got a pretty cool Dracula involved. You can tell he’s cool, he’s got a bat-shaped electric guitar. They don’t just hand those out to non-cool people. Also, I’ve just noticed the shop on the left seems to be called “HALLOWEEN” despite clearly being a furniture store. They had bloody well better sell a range of pumpkin-shaped sofas.
Our young trick or treaters stop off for some refuelling, in a diner that serves to further the game’s theme of wholesome Americana. It does make sense – if this was set in Britain, we’d be looking at two teenagers in hoodies and Poundland masks, flicking fries at each other in a grotty city centre McDonalds. I really only included a shot of this scene to point out the beaming spectre peering in through the window on the right. He cannot wait to get in there and enjoy some frosty ghoul soda.
Apparently this is something called “trunk or treat,” where you fill your car boot with sweets and hand them out to children instead of having the kids come to you. That sounds like too much work for my liking. I think this year I’m just going to set up a bucket on a pivot in an upstairs window, so when trick or treaters ring the doorbell I can just tip a few sweets on them without having to walk downstairs.
My problem with this scene is the inconsistency in the awarding of prizes. The VM Beetle has a first place rosette on it, but the second place prize has been given to a man in an Amish costume. Or an Amish man, I suppose, although you’d think the Amish wouldn't be big fans of Halloween. So, are the prizes for the cars or the costumes? I’m not saying that the Beetle doesn’t deserve first place, because it clearly does, but there should be separate categories for cars and owners.
I made it to the haunted hotel, which is run by the same bloke that was in charge of the museum He’s really getting into his role when it comes to scaring children, isn’t he?
The hotel looks just as wonderful as all the other scenes, being so Halloween-y that copies of "Monster Mash" are being spontaneously generated in my computer’s CD drive, but I have one issue: you’re told to find a vampire, but you actually need to click the reflection of a vampire in the mirror above the fireplace. What a colossal blunder to make, Casual Arts! A real textbook mistake. For shame.
Oh hey, it’s the glorious return of the phrase “spooky dooky!” It appeared in the first game too, and it still sounds like the description of a ghost’s turd. I’m certainly glad to see it back.
Okay, you’ve taken this spooky shit too goddamn far with the doll room. When the clown with the knife is the least creepy thing in the room, you could probably stand to dial it back a little. On a jollier note, the paintings on the walls are of the witch and her house from the first HtoT. Yes, I’m well aware I’m probably the only person in the world who cares.
After a few more scenes following the kids’ adventures as they escape from the hotel and run through its gardens, they arrive at home with so much candy that the Nestle executives are out buying huge amounts of coke and Cristal as we speak. You even get to stuff some of the treats into the children’s faces by picking them up and dropping them in their eager maws, which sounds a little weird now that I’ve typed it out. It’s a charmingly appointed living room, too: ghosts wearing top hats can only increase the value of your home.
There’s one last thing to discuss before HToT2 comes to an end, and that the fact that I’ve been gaining coins the whole time I’ve been playing: you can see the counter at the top of the screen during the hidden object scenes. What’s the money for? Purchasing all this tasteful and stylish Halloween merchandise, of course! In truth, it’s a very disappointing feature. Not because all you can do with the items is look at them – no, I’m more than happy to look at these (to steal a phrase from Games Workshop’s 2014 financial report) jewel-like objects of magic and wonder. It’s disappointing because I don’t have a golden skeleton with matching silver sarcophagus in my possession right now. Obviously I looked to see if I could purchase this golden skeleton, and my efforts revealed the source for at least one of the images in HToT2. As this skeleton sold at auction for $365,000, it’s unlikely that I will ever own it, unless I managed to pull of the most unlikely of GoFundMe campaigns.
You know what? I did have a great Halloween with you, Halloween Trick or Treat 2. I’m not saying it’s a perfect game, but it’s a perfect game for me. Simple, soothing gameplay that does exactly what it sets out to do, rarely infuriating and utterly steeped in the kitchsy Halloween junk aesthetic that is a greater balm for my soul than any amount of meditation or good works. If I could get it to play a few Oingo Boingo tracks, it really would be perfect. I can’t wait for Halloween Trick or Treat 3, should it ever be released. There is a third Halloween game by Casual Arts – Halloween: The Pirate’s Curse. I’ve played it (of course I have) and it’s the same as the other two and I very much enjoyed it, but not quite as much as this one. I’ve already made my feelings about pirates and Halloween clear, and one of the kids dresses as a clown in that one. So, I shall sit here patiently and wait for HToT3. It’s not like I’ve got any other games to play.
I think turning to the Halloween-O-Meter for a score may have been pointless in this case. Pretend I stuck an extra pumpkin or two on the end. It definitely deserves them.