Grabbed by the Ghoulies
is the first title from Rare since they were purchased by Microsoft. Rare created such Nintendo classics as Perfect Dark
, and Donkey Kong Country
but with their purchase by Microsoft they will be turning out Xbox games from here on out. Sucks if you own a Gamecube but fantastic if you own an Xbox.
When I first got my hands on Grabbed by the Ghoulies
at E3 this year, I was impressed with the style of the game. It had some excellent art direction, sound, and a great sense of humor. The only problem I had was with the controls as they were a bit awkward but I didn’t have much time to get used to them due to an appointment. Several months later the review copy lands on my door and I find that my concerns were unfounded.
The game is tailored for a younger audience (the game is ESRB rated E) but that shouldn’t prevent adults from at least renting the game. The style and sense of humor in the game are excellent and open to all ages (I was reminded of the old Looney Tunes cartoons that had a first layer of humor for children and a deeper subtext for adults to enjoy). Rare has done an excellent job of creating a game that is accessible by many different audiences.
The plot for Grabbed by the Ghoulies
isn’t exactly original (and the game treats it as such). You play Cooper, a young man who is out exploring the wilderness with his friend Amber. It starts to rain and they are forced to take refuge in a spooky mansion, almost as soon as they get there, Amber is taken by the mansion’s ghoulies and it’s your job, as Cooper, to rescue her and defeat Baron Von Ghoul, the owner of the mansion.
In order to find Amber, you must search all 50 of the rooms in the mansion, battling various ghoulies along the way. Each room contains a challenge involving ghoulies of some sort. Usually, it involves you issuing them a beat-down but there are exceptions. There is a nice variety to the challenges. In some, you're required to eliminate all of the ghoulies in a room, one particular type of ghoulie, avoid being hit by the ghoulies, or kill off the ghoulies in a certain order. Each type of mission is well explained the first time you come across a certain kind of challenge so there isn’t a lot of confusion as to what you are supposed to do. Some challeges are timed and, if you miss the time, the Grim Reaper shows up to put a little more pressure on you (one touch and you lose all of your energy).
At the heart of the game are the ghoulies themselves. Rare has done an exceptional job of coming up with a colorful menagerie of creatures for you to fight against. You will battle against imps, vampire chickens, hunchbacks, haunted doors, and many other fiendish creatures. Each ghoulie has it’s own personality and not all can be dispatched by standard melee. My favorite ghoulies have to be the Ninja imps, which are standard imps with mad karate skills. You know you have good enemies when you find yourself laughing at them as much as cursing them. Rare has also provided the game with possibly the funniest Grim Reaper ever put into a game (you have to love a character that plays air guitar).
Dispatching ghoulies can be a lot of fun and Rare has provided several ways to eliminate them. You start out with just your fists and legs,. Cooper has a lot of nice combat moves that you can use to defeat enemies. From punches and kicks to knee and elbow drops, Cooper can hold his own. The real fun though comes in the various weapons scattered about the house. Grabbed by the Ghoulies
has two kinds of weapons, permanent and temporary. Temporary weapons are the most prevalent. You can pick up chairs, shovels, bottles, and paintings and then use them against the denizens of the house. Temporary weapons can only be used a few times before they break and you have to find another one or revert back to using your hands. Permanent weapons are rare and usually part of the storyline. These weapons are ammo based but they do recharge ammo slowly .The permanent weapons present an extra challenge as some of them will only damage one type of enemy (i.e. the holy water gun is great against the undead but just irritates imps and haunted chairs.). You can still use the weapon to bash them over the head so you are not completely helpless.
There is a third group of larger fixed weapons that are scattered throughout the game. These are part of the environments that you can use to wipe out large numbers of ghoulies at one time (items like billiards tables, dumpsters, and other items). These have to be used carefully as you only get to use them once and you don’t want to waste the opportunity.
Each room also contains a bonus book to collect. Every five books unlocks a bonus challenge which adds depth to the game. The bonus challenges are slightly different versions of some of the challenges from the game and with twenty bonus levels to unlock you’re going to have a lot to play with even after you’ve completed the game.
Also scattered throughout the game are Ms. Soupwell’s Super Soups which act as power ups. The majority of the power ups are good for you (energy boosts, weapon power-ups, instant knock-downs, etc) but some of them are negative (slow-motion, drain energy, reverse controls). They do add a lot to how you approach a room as they only last for a certain amount of time and you want to maximize their use. One of the best ones is the Minature Cooper (mini-Cooper was taken by BMW I guess), which creates a one-quarter replica of Cooper who will immediately seek out ghoulies to bash.
The graphics in Grabbed by the Ghoulies
are a case study in excellent art design. Everything in the game emanates style and wit and you can tell that the developers at Rare really took their time establishing the style of the game. Everything has a nice animated comic book feel, from the in-game graphics to the frame based transitions between rooms there is a wonderful warm feel to the game. All of the characters are well modeled and animated.
Rare has done an amazing job with the sound in Grabbed by the Ghoulies
. I hate to gush but Rare has done an amazing job with the audio in this game. The first thing you notice when you load the game is the Grabbed by the Ghoulies
main sequence. It’s kind of a catchy tune and Rare does a nice job of working it in through the game and modifying it to work with a particular room. When you’reattacked by Ninja Imps, the theme takes a bit of a 70’s Kung Fu movie feel, but the central score is still there. It reminded me a lot of how well John Williams works a movie score.
Each ghoulie has it’s own sound and you can usually tell which ghoulie you’ll be facing before you even see them. The sounds are also a nice source of amusement as well, when you land a shot to one of the pirates you get a nice “ARRR” sound. The other interesting audio choice that Rare made was not to include any dialog in the game. Rather you just get character expressions sounds and grunts that are played over the written dialog on screen. It’s an interesting choice but it kind of gives the game a silent movie feel (it also probably makes it a lot easier to distribute the game world wide since you just have to change the text and not have to re-record any spoken elements).
So far so good right? Well, there are a few problems with the game. The biggest problem I had with the game was the camera. It works really well for parts of the game but there are times when you have to really crank on the triggers (which is how you rotate the camera left and right) to get the right angle to view a room. After a while, you get used to manipulating the camera as you move so it’s not that big of a deal but it can be a huge hassle when you get swarmed by a large group of ghoulies.
The controls also take a bit of getting used to. The left thumbstick moves Cooper around while the right controls the direction he attacks. You use the A button to pick-up weapons and to move through dialog. The X,Y, and B buttons are only used to respond to the scares that pop up during the game. It’s not a perfect scheme but after a few hours of play you get the hang of it. The other problem comes when you use the permanent ranged weapons. You hold the trigger in a direction to fire the weapon and tap it in a direction to swing the weapon. This is fine and dandy but when you are swarmed but a group of ghoulies and you’re out of ammo, it’s a bit of a challenge to do a tap versus pushing in that direction.
Despite these flaws, the game is a blast to play and audiences of all ages will find something fun in the game. It’s full of humor and energy and is one of the more enjoyable gaming experiences I’ve had in a while. I find the best testament to the game is that the non-gaming girlfriend tried the game out (with me thinking it wouldn’t last long) and two hours later I had to pry her off of the Xbox so I could get back to evaluating it. This is from a woman who has never shown the slightest interest in any game. This may be the gateway game I was looking for. Now, if I can just get her to play Halo, life would be good…
Grabbed by Ghoulies is the Harry Potter of video games. Itâ€™s intended for a younger audience but adults will enjoy it as well.