keskiviikko 2. lokakuuta 2013

REVIEW - Ghost House | SMS | 1986

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: April 21, 1986

The first on our list of systems to break is the Sega Master System, an 8-bit classic launched over two years after Nintendo's Famicom, contrary to a surprisingly common belief that the Master System was the first 8-bit home console; actually, on an even further trivia note, the Master System was released in Japan almost at the exact same time as the NES already made its way to the North American market. I didn't have to think too long about an appropriate game to break in the Master System with and get started with the Monster Mash the same time; there was this 1986 game called Ghost House on the list of releases, a game based on an early arcade game by Sega called Monster Bash (!). It sounds like more than a perfect game to kick it with, it looks the part as there are a few sorts of b-horror ghoulies to punch (?!), and it's shitty just by the right amount to be mildly entertaining. Ghost House.

Leprechaun vs. Dracula(s)

Mick's apparently sick and twisted grandfather has just informed him that he's to inherit the family jewels. There's a catch, though; Mick has to survive a mansion in which those jewels have been hidden for years, and which has also been the resting place of Count Dracula and his family for an equal number of years. Sounds like a Hammer movie, but it's Ghost House by Sega.

Let me just say that I'm not taking this review too seriously - I'm taking it just as seriously as you can possibly take this game. It's just as endearingly crappy as its plot and its non-existent connection to the title - there's not a single ghost in this game. There are these blue ghost-like dudes walking all around, but they're actually referred to as "Deaths", as in a family of Grim Reapers. Yeah, everyone has a whole family in this game, to explain the short abundance of different sprites. Everything's pluralized. No, they're not vampires - they're DRACULAS. In addition, there's an endless swarm of bats and these really annoying, fat firebreather-monster-thingies. From the second level onwards, there are also mummies. And that's truly it for the different sprites.

That bat's got to be a Dracula. You know, 'cause
he's bigger than the rest of the bats. Note: _a_
Your character is called Mick, and that could be a clue to him being Irish, because judging by his size, structure and his pointy ears, he could be a leprechaun. (That, or he's just as random as they come.) He also has gigantic fists, which he uses for his basic attack. Jumping on, and even merely touching enemies damages them too, strangely enough, but you as well. The walls are decorated with candelabras (shades of Castlevania before Castlevania's time), jumping at which springs a knife trap. Jump on the knife, and it's yours to use as a weapon for five successful hits, before it vanishes into thin air. Cool.

The main point of the game is to beat five Draculas - let's just call them vampires from now on - in "each level" (I'll get to it) by getting a key, found at a complete random, using it to open a coffin you'll find scattered around to wake up a vampire and then just unleash hell on 'em. Yeah, these vampires are somewhat different as they sleep at night. From the second level onwards, you'll need to beat one of the five vampires twice - I didn't want to say this out loud, but he is referred to as "True Dracula". Yep.

What's so bad about such a simple game? Well, for starters, the game is extremely boring in general. There is one single level in this whole game. The sky in the background changes colour (from dusk 'til dawn) but structurally it's the very same level; an endless loop of a three-story mansion. It's not really getting any harder, either; the introduction of one single new enemy and that damn "True Dracula" are the only things to spice the difficulty level up after the already boring first level. The truly hard parts of this game are to figure out how many screens there actually are before the loop early enough, and work around the less-than-fluid gameplay.

Why is there always a lava pool or river of fire?
Mick isn't the most agile guy around, and his punches have a ridiculously short range. Besides - and I have indeed asked this before - who the hell walks around punching ghosts in the face? Is that even effective? Hmm. The vampires are highly annoying enemies you don't want to get close to. Even if it's possible to punch them to (second) death, I dare not approach the coffins before getting myself a knife, and refraining from using it on anyone. Well, at least killing one of these bastards always refills your life bar; even though the game's not basically that hard, it's easy to die for various reasons that have nothing to do with challenge. Here goes...

1. The sometimes total lack of collision detection to go with your annoyingly short range, especially evident with the vampires and those stock firebreather monsters - a.k.a. the two enemies that can harm you by essential amounts from any range. 2. Falling through stairs (Castlevania again!). You won't die from falling, but you lose some energy - and if you fall to another screen, the enemy is of course fully recovered once you get back to him. 3. Whenever there's an enemy on the level above you when you're climbing a ladder, he'll approach the ladder and walks back and forth on it, meaning you'll have to take damage from him to make it up there.

Ghost House is definitely no Ghosts 'n Goblins, but I know enthusiasts of the retro arcade style who I believe would be crazy about this game, at least on a theoretical level, as it represents the golden era of arcade gaming - too bad that era had passed a few years before this game's release, with the launch of the first household gaming systems. Like I said it myself: it's crappy, but endearingly so.

+ The title tune/boss music is awesome!
+ An endearingly crappy plot
+ Simple arcade-style gameplay...

- ...Which is not too fluid
- There's a whole new meaning to "boring level design"
- Surviving technical issues is way more challenging than the game itself

< 6.0 >

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