perjantai 28. lokakuuta 2011

REVIEW - Ghoul School (1992)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: March 1992
DEVELOPER(S): Imagineering
PUBLISHER(S): Electro Brain

From first to sixth grade, I did great in school. When I went to seventh grade, teenage angst set in, girls and social status became much more important than knowledge of all things civilized. Like in the eyes of many at that age, teachers became ghouls and demons, slowly but surely devising some plot for world domination under direct orders from Satan. Well, in a rather obscure 8-bit video game from 1992, most of this actually happened. It's called Ghoul School, and I guess it could be praised for having been quite ahead of its time... if it was half decent.

Gee, my history teacher really IS a zombie

Cool School High Senior Spike O'Hara finds a glowing skull from a cemetary near the school and brings it to his teacher for research on Hallows Eve. The glow turns out to be a message for the demons in the realm of the dead to awaken and take over the school. Besides turning the teachers and the school's football team into monsters, the demons kidnap cheerleader Samantha Pompom. It's time for Spike to put things right.

You know, this would be a little more challenging
if you actually did something to me.
Ghoul School's plot is exactly like a nightmare of a mid-80's teen horror flick, or like most teen horror flicks were at that time, a comedy with a horror-based theme (like Teen Wolf). Actually, for a while I was under the impression that the game would be based on some most obscure teen horror flick in history, judging from the developer's usually licensed works, but it's very clear that such a movie does not exist. It's a purely original, very trippy and campy game from the very same developer that brought us the first few Simpsons games, as well as... are you ready? Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Now this is where it gets interesting...

Well, it doesn't need a keen eyed genius to figure out the same guys made Bart vs. The Space Mutants. The most common enemies look exactly like the most common space mutants in that game, only bigger and uglier. Also, the main character is like a remodelled and rescaled version of Bart Simpson in that game. However, Space Mutants sported great graphics, especially when it comes to background design; Ghoul School looks the same throughout. Only the colours of the corridor walls change - occasionally. The specific rooms and areas have "copy/paste" written all over them. The manual boasts that the game has more than 200 different rooms in it. That's partly true - I find it hard to agree with the "different" part, though.

The music does change - once again, occasionally. The same damn theme plays throughout the main corridors of the school and even though I'm not a surgeon general, I must warn you of long sessions with the game. That tune will stick to your head, as annoying as it is; I'm actually humming it while I'm writing this, and unfortunately, I think I'm going to be humming it right up 'til the review's end, and beyond. Good thing I'm seeing a doctor in a few hours anyway. It's the only tune I remember from the game, the music really ain't too good or memorable.

Don't worry about the corpse, he's been there
for years. He's like family.
Imagineering made the game, but the now long defunct Electro Brain published it. I've always called Electro Brain "Elec No Brain", since they never did one decent game. If they had been as productive (in terms of quantity) as LJN or some other company I have bashed in the past, I would probably mention them a lot more often. They didn't publish any games that would really appeal to me to begin with, anyway. Ghoul School is not a much more proud entry in Electro Brain's catalogue than any other one of their titles, but in its time, it was quite unique, I'll give it that. Some might say this is exactly what is nowadays known as survival horror.

Your objective as the Senior Spike O'Hara - who looks more like a twelve-year old punk than a Senior - is to explore Cool School High (oh, Lord...), find shoe upgrades (...) and ridiculous weapons (such as a towel) to be able to make progress through certain corridors and rooms filled with generic obstacles, and finally confront the head demon in the school's boiler room (sounds familiar...) to save Samantha fuckin' Pompom from becoming his undead bride or something. I don't rightly know, because the half baked plot is never really explained within the game. What makes this game's purpose reek even more of a repulsive teen flick is the fact that a grunt like Spike would never have a chance with a girl like Samantha - that only happens in those movies, just about every teen movie ever made.

Free exploration is fun... in a game that changes every once in a while. Each room and corridor is numbered between 001 and 200, and if it wasn't for that number when you're passing through a standard area, you'd be lost as fuck 'cause they all look the same. This might be the first and only NES game in which beaten enemies don't respawn, at all, not even after a Game Over. The amount of enemies in a room might therefore also help you navigate and successfully backtrack through this repetitive maze of a high school. Backtracking does not only happen a lot, it's this game's very stale salt. Oh, and "Game Over" does not actually mean "Game Over". It just means you have to restart this son of a bitch from the very first screen, regardless of where you kicked the bucket. Well, at least you get to keep all the upgrades you've collected, but you still have to beat this one in one sitting, without falling asleep while once again navigating through the very same, and now completely empty, corridors.

Pretty much the ugliest nurse I've ever seen.
The controls are horrible. If you hated the stiff, slow and slightly delayed basic control in The Simpsons, you're definitely not going to love Ghoul School - it's even worse. Before gaining the first projectile weapon in the game, you're going to have a lot of trouble in finding an exact safe range, from which you are able to hit the enemy, but he won't be able to hit you. Also, Spike can't crouch down, which means that those little annoying buggers running across the floor like their asses were on fire are practically undefeatable. The basic jump's pathetic and inadjustable, and apparently Castlevania - blessed be - gave the developers the idea that having the main character jump several feet backwards whenever they're hit is essential, even in 1992.

Ghoul School's not the worst game I've ever played; that one was made by the same company, but at the very least its kind of unique style of gameplay prevents it from stooping nearly as low. Even if it was just for a few minutes, the game might even be described as "addictive" by some odd measure. I guess what I'm trying to say is that if the developers had worked on the game a lot more than an apparent week or two, they might've had a surprise hit, even a somewhat revolutionary title under their belts when it was all said and done. But no, they settled with yet another good idea with left-handed production.

SOUND : 4.8


The game was officially released only in the U.S..

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