As a concept, a hidden object game set in a spooky old hotel is just oozing with potential – after all, not that many casual games have chosen to explore slightly darker subject matter like horror and the supernatural. It’s the spectacular failure to deliver on such potential, however, that makes Haunted Hotel all the more frustrating.

During the typical "dark and stormy night," a man crashes his car along a country road. Walking to find help, he comes upon a hotel that seems strangely deserted. He takes the elevator up to one of the floors to investigate, but when he tries to return to the lobby he finds that the elevator has a mind of its own. He becomes trapped in the hotel, which exhibits bizarre characteristics like frost lining the walls, plants growing out of picture frames, women screaming from behind closed doors, and a strangely nonchalant cat roaming the halls.

Given no choice, the man continues to explore the hotel in the hope of finding clues that will unravel the mystery and allow him to escape. This involves visiting various hotel rooms and searching for the items on a list, such as a vinyl record, warning sign, loudspeaker, and so on. Once all of the required items have been found, you’ll get to complete a mini-game that involves catching balls of energy as they zip across the screen in order to restore power to the elevator and move to the next floor.

You’re given a limited number of hints to use if you get stuck, and can uncover more hints and add extra time to the clock by finding bonus items that appear on the list only in silhouette. There are a handful of other mini-games as well, including fitting together a jigsaw puzzle, untangling ropes, and catching letters with a magnet to form a given word.

The game does contain the kernels of an intriguing mystery/thriller, but any attempts to establish a sustained compelling atmosphere are hamstrung by amateurish production values. Poor localization into English hampers the game on many levels, from menu headings like "Total Energy Catched" to strange labelling of hidden objects; for example, using the obscure word "timbrel" where the more modern "tambourine" would have worked just fine.

Nowhere does the language issue impact the game more strongly than in the story. The plot does have its moments, but it’s so rife with rudimentary sentences, missing words, illogical tense shifts and numerous grammatical errors that it reads like a 12-year-old’s creative writing assignment.

The graphics don’t do the story justice either. Fantastical descriptions of trees growing out of paintings, frost collecting on the walls, and other strange occurrences are not reflected in the bare, yellowing and nondescript walls that you’ll actually navigate.

What’s more, the narrative itself is illustrated with images that look like preliminary character sketches that were never developed into full-fledged pictures. A hand-drawn art style can be wonderful if the proper care is taken, but pencil scrawls on a brown background just didn’t do it for me.

While those are Haunted Hotel‘s worst offenses, there are other issues worth mentioning. The game audio does have its creepy moments, but it seems to be engineered poorly with noticeable pops and hiccups. There are inexplicable delays when entering new rooms, and sometimes you’ll find yourself re-reading the same text – especially if you resume a saved game from the main menu.

Somewhere within Haunted Hotel is a good game waiting to get out, but this rushed and sloppy effort could have used a few more months of fine-tweaking before it was released to the game-buying public.