Some of my favorite platformers of all time are on the NES, its where resources were limited and thus gimmicks too. You don’t need to be complicated to be a good game, but often times you do to really stand out. Its a tricky market to corner, mainly because I don’t think it’s possible to actually corner said market anymore. Ghoulboy doesn’t do anything new. That’s about the sum of it. Ghoulboy doesn’t do anything new, but it does everything else earnestly.
Meeting the Standards
Ghoulboy is a charming coming of age story as you step out of your father’s shadow (your father is kidnapped) and journey across a desolate hellscape to take out the Goblin King Gamunbal (his kidnapper). The world of Ghoulboy is bleak, and haunted by undead of all shapes and sizes, as well as hideous grotesque monsters that will not hesitate to snuff out a young boys life. But you are Thulgar sire of Galdar, you’re reputation precedes you as the locals have come to know you as Ghoulboy. You’re armed to the teeth with swords, knives, and an amazing throwing arm that gives you access to the one gimmick of the game, throwing spears.
Ghoulboy can double-jump, a pretty generous mobility option for a classic style platformer, but spears that you throw embed themselves into the walls, allowing you to make your own path, assuming you have some in your inventory. While you do have a limited supply of spears, unless you’re using them to attack like a complete and utter fool, you most likely wont run out since the enemies in Ghoulboy drop them quite generously. Often times I would have more than enough spears to make pathways completely around obstacles, and skip huge chunks of levels as a result.
No Real Complaints
One of the things that I really ended up appreciating about Ghoulboy is just how reasonable it is. The levels are challenging, although not quite NES hard, but checkpoints are just close enough together that you won’t feel too bad about dying. Enemies serve the purpose of destructible obstacles rather than encounters just like in classic platformers, and the levels have just enough backtracking to click that puzzle switch in my mind without feeling tedious.
Upgrades can be bought from the main menu, and make the game just a tad bit too easy. While easily enough ignored, once you buy them, you’re stuck with them. The level 3 weapon, a flail, is one of the most generous hitboxes I’ve ever seen in a game like this, and the ability to carry 20 spears lets you get pretty creative. Bosses are actually the least challenging part of the game, which is a bit of a shame, but when each boss has a rotation of only two to three moves, you can master them instantly. The final boss may actually be the easiest, having a five second move that can barely hit you as you stand and deliver on him for more than half his life.
More a Quartz than a Diamond in the Rough
I found Ghoulboy to be on the short, but pleasant side. With its moderate challenge I beat the game in around three hours, and was accompanied by charming graphics and fun music. Ghoulboy goes all in on the retro vibe, complete with optional filters. For the most part I don’t go in on filters, but I admit, this game does benefit from it. Sometimes the colors on the enemies can be a bit garish, they yellows in particular can feel like a bit much, but the filters actually help to hedge the graphics a little bit. The filters are largely unnecessary, but welcome. Unfortunately Ghoulboy lacks any other graphical options, and at times I was using one of the filters just to bump the brightness a bit.
Ghoulboy is by no means a technical masterpiece, and I found my fair share of game breaking bugs. A very easy to reproduce level skip bug let me zip around the game at lightning speed from the chapter select, and with the spears I was able to make crazy fast progress in levels themselves. On occasion I would start a level and immediately die, or spawn into pitch blackness. Nothing prevented me from properly progressing, and aside from the occasional small physics glitch, Ghoulboy was rock solid.
Solid level design and sincerity can make up for a lot of flaws. At the end of the day I had fun playing Ghoulboy, but it does fall short of being a staple, and hits more along the lines of curio. The game still needs polish, maybe even a year or twos worth, but bottom line, if you like a game, you like a game, and I like Ghoulboy.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Ghoulboy was provided by the publisher.