When Microsoft announced that they had purchased Rare from Nintendo, the whole gaming world turned its head. The teaser video released concerning the sale showed off bits of Kameo, Conker, and even Banjo. What a shock it was to learn a few months later that the first title coming out the door was actually going to be a simple cartoony beat-em-up.
In the game you play a boy named Cooper who has just witnessed his girlfriend get kidnapped by the ghoulies. Now it’s up to you to explore the rooms of Ghoulhaven hall, defeat the ghoulies, and save your girlfriend. Yeah, it’s a little cliche but it works.
Before we dig into the scores – let me preface the review with a couple of things.
First off, the premise of the game turned off a lot of people. Seems a lot of gamers were hoping that Rare and Microsoft would immediately deliver a sequel to one of Rares beloved franchises like Perfect Dark, and weren’t too happy to find out that the first Rare game on the Xbox was a game that looked and played like a kids game. My personal opinion is that the game was designed to be an entry level game for kids and non-gamers, and therefore shouldn’t be rated badly for achieving those goals. I don’t think this was a game targeting the hardcore gamer demographic and I try to reflect that in my review below.
Secondly, even though this game is rated E – there are A LOT of things in the game with innuendos and double meanings that carry a far more adult message. The game is rated E, because none of these are ever crass or in your face, and I seriously doubt that any child would ever pick up on them. In fact, most adults would probably not even notice them either. A prime example is the title of the game. Grabbed by the Ghoulies would be the English equivalent as our expression “grabbed by the short and curlies”. However it’s something to be aware of, if you’re sensitive to that kind of stuff.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies has a great and unique cel-shaded style to it. Perhaps it’s the haunted house setting, but for some reason the game’s art reminds me of the Scooby Doo cartoons as well. Environments all have a similar feel and are highly interactive with many items in each room that you can pick up and use as a weapon or simply destroy. Don’t think that just because it’s cel-shaded that it’s a slouch on the extra graphical effects either, because the game also delivers reflective surfaces, particle effects and fantastic animations without having a negative impact on the frame rate. Even in battles where I had a large number of enemies on screen, with a reflective floor and particle effects going off around my character – I never noticed any drops in the frame rate.
As for the characters themselves – while the character design on the humans is only so-so and end up looking pretty generic – it’s the design of the ghoulies that really make the game. Each of the ghoulies that you have to fight are wonderfully designed, immediately identifiable, and bring a great sense of humor to the game.
Finally, when not engaged in the actual gameplay, the story is told through the use of animated panels in a storybook fashion. Not quite as beautiful as the high quality pre-rendered cutscenes we typically see in other games, but a nice refreshing change.
Unfortunately there’s not too much to say about the sound in Grabbed by the Ghoulies. Rather than having any actors provide the dialogue for the story – you’re stuck reading text on the screen while listening to a variety of odd grunts and mummerings whenever a character is supposed to be talking.
As for the music – well, it goes the same path as the gameplay and tends to get fairly repetitive. Get used to hearing the same or at least a very similar track over and over again.
Move your character with the left thumbstick, and control the direction of your attacks with the right thumbstick. If you want to pick up an object to use as a weapon simply click the A-button. If you need discard any objects you have picked up a quick click of the B button and you drop it. Finally, you can rotate the camera around you character using the left and right triggers.
To say that the controls are simplified is an understatement – but I really don’t think that’s a bad thing either. I think the control scheme was selected to make the game more accessible. So the challenges in the game are entirely focused on the gameplay and solving puzzles and not in learning to use the controls in some special way.
Gameplay really does fall into a pretty standard pattern in Grabbed by the Ghoulies. You walk into a room, doors shut, Ghoulies appear, and you must then fight your way out of the room. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
To further complicate things – your health meter starts out a random amount at the beginning of each level. In some areas you might be given a weapon (such as a gun that fires exploding cans of soda), while in others you may encounter what is called a super scary shock (i.e. something really scares you) – which requires you to complete a sequence of button presses in order to overcome the scare and avoid losing a massive amount of health.
To help you along your path – you can pick up a variety of items from with the environment such as chairs, pots, pool sticks, etc and use them as weapons. There are also a variety of special power-ups such as invisibility and super-speed to help you defeat the ghoulies.
The difficulty ramps up not by merely throwing more enemies at you but by requiring you to complete a specific set of challenges while fighting the ghoulies. The challenges are presented to you at the beginning of each battle as a series of icons across the screen. Some examples of the challenges you will have to complete include things such as Defeat all Ghoulies of a specific breed, Complete the challenge without taking a single hit, don’t damage any scenery or furniture while fighting, complete the challenge within a specified time limit, etc, etc. Failing the challenge or breaking one of the rules of the challenge immediately summons the Grim Reaper to the room – who will hunt you out so he can touch you with his outstretched hand causing you to faint.
Unfortunately though, rather than really adding fun to the game, many times these challenges merely adds frustration at a point when the game is already getting repetitive. In essence the challenges force you to figure out the one specific solution to completing that particular puzzle successfully. So you can expect to die a lot throughout the game while you figure out the one particular trick to beating each challenge.It’s a fun game for awhile but I feel that the repetitive nature of the gameplay will eventually degrade the experience for anyone. After you complete the game you can re-load individual chapters to look for any Bonus books that you may have missed (which unlock the extras in the features menu) – however you’d have to be pretty dedicated to go to that much work.