As I mentioned when I reviewed Halloween, the Atari 2600's archaic hardware was largely insufficient to create the kind of scares to rival horror films. That isn't to say that the 2600 couldn't pull off a tense atmosphere that works with checked expectations. In fact, Halloween managed to create some decent atmosphere for the time with the limited means. For the most part, that also holds true with Haunted House.
I was initially ready to dismiss this game due to the graphical presentation which is poor even by Atari 2600 standards. The four floors of the titular house are just eight boxes with the walls colored differently for each floor. The bat, spider, and ghost which serve as the enemies are as generic as they come. As for the player character, the only thing seen are the eyes. In fact, when you strike a match, the protagonist ends up looking like Meatwad from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. However, effective atmosphere is still provided thanks to good sound design and lightning effects made even more effective when playing on one of the modes where the walls aren't seen.
Unlike the confusing set-ups for Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T., the set-up for Haunted House is very simple and easy to follow. You're placed in a haunted house with the goal of finding the three pieces of a sacred urn and escaping with only nine lives to do it. The pieces can only be seen if you strike a match with the fire button. There is a bat, spider, and ghost who randomly wander the house and give chase if they spot you. There is a scepter that can ward off the enemies, but you would have to drop the urn to carry the scepter, similar to how the flashlight and a weapon couldn't be used simultaneously in Doom 3. There are nine game modes on the cartridge. Even though the goal remains the same, the extra modes make changes which add significant amounts of tension to the game like making the walls invisible, adding locked doors which require a key to open, and even making the bat steal urn pieces. Playing on Mode 9 provides all the nail-biting tension of games like Amnesia or Outlast.
Haunted House managed to do a lot with very little. Though most 2600 adventure games don't hold up today, the gameplay in Haunted House has aged remarkably well if you can look past the ancient visuals. The tense atmosphere works well, and I found myself getting into the hunt, especially after upping the difficulty. If you're nostalgic at all, this is one haunted house worth getting lost in.