Release Date: October 21, 2003
Buy 'GRABBED BY THE GHOULIES': Xbox
The wait is finally over and Rare’s first game on Xbox is at hand. A lot is at stake with this title and expectations are high for the UK developer’s maiden voyage on a new console. With classics like Battletoads, Goldeneye, and Perfect Dark, all eyes are trained on Grabbed by the Ghoulies to see whether Rare has still got it. So does Ghoulies deliver or has Rare lost some of that game making magic they are so famous for? Well, actually both. This game does exactly what Microsoft had hoped that Rare could do and that is broadening the range of games available for Xbox. This is a perfect game for children and anyone relatively new to gaming. The story is very simple and easy to follow and the controls couldn’t be any easier to learn, but this comes at a price of alienating more seasoned gamers. More on this later. Now, onto the meat of the game.
The story starts off with a couple out for a little hiking trip when they get lost in the woods. Suddenly, a storm approaches and they need to find shelter. They happen upon a spooky looking mansion complete with creaky metal gates and stone gargoyles. While examining the map, the gargoyles come to life and snatch the girl away to the mansion. This is where you come in. In Grabbed by the Ghoulies you play as Cooper, a young boy on a mission to save his girlfriend from Baron von Ghoul and his mansion full of ghoulies. Upon entering the mansion you are greeted by Crivens the butler, (what haunted mansion could be complete without the ubiquitous butler) who will be supplying you with useful bits of information throughout the game about the controls and the various power-ups available to you. Crivens will also inform you of the various challenges that you will face in each room, which brings us to the game play.
At its heart Ghoulies is an old school beat ‘em up, but it adds in a challenge element to keep things fresh and provide a break to the monotony of simply bashing endless enemies to death. Each room that you enter will supply you with a challenge that must be completed to advance to the next area. There are numerous different challenges-simply beating all the enemies in a room, defeating only a certain type of enemy while leaving the others unharmed, and completing a room without damaging any of the furniture in the room. There are many more types of challenges and as you progress through the game they will start to combine challenges and even enforce time requirements.
Failure to beat these challenges in time or violating any of the requirements will summon the Grim Reaper, not a pleasant experience to be sure. The Reaper is an invulnerable opponent whose single touch instantly kills you regardless of your life bar. To add to his difficulty he moves faster than you do. This can lead to many situations where you are so close to reaching the exit, but inevitably he will catch you. He can be used to your advantage though because his touch will also instantly kill any ghoulie in his path. This feature sounds innovative and creative in premise but in the game it doesn’t always pan out as you plan. First of all, a good number of the enemies are shorter than the reaper, so instead of killing them as he passes, he simply bumps into them repeatedly because he can not touch them. In addition to this, he only raises his hand to kill you when he is very close. This means you can create a path of enemies between you and him thinking he will take them out for you, but instead he just runs into them over and over again without killing them, which removes any of the strategy that the Reaper could have been used for.
The controls in Ghoulies are another area that work better on paper than they pan out in the game. The left analog stick is used for movement while the right analog stick is used for attacking. Simply push it in the direction you wish to attack and Cooper attacks in that direction. This control scheme is great for younger or inexperienced gamers, but for a seasoned gamer they seem shallow and restricting. By tying all attacks into essentially one button it leaves you feeling like you have little control of the action. There aren’t any throws to speak of either, which are a staple of beat ‘em ups. The camera can also cause an occasional problem. The left and right triggers are used to rotate the camera in their respective directions. For the most part this system works, but if Cooper is near a wall or a large object the camera pans almost right on top of him making it impossible to see what is coming at you. Finally, there is the auto targeting feature which can be both a blessing and a curse. When an enemy approaches you, Cooper will turn to face it, making it easier to attack. However, if you are fleeing an enemy, Cooper still turns to face it and as an unpleasant side effect he runs slower while back pedaling.
There is plenty to love about this game though, namely the graphics. The visuals in this game are excellent. While some may be turned off by the cartoon like appearance of the characters, you will quickly be drawn in by their incredible animation. The facial expressions convey great emotion and it really helps bring the characters to life. The environments are equally impressive. Each room is filled with its own personality and style while maintaining cohesion with the rest of the mansion. The almost completely destructible environments help to immerse you in the game and make it feel like the place is truly alive. The cutscenes are also well done using an animated picture book to tell the story. The camera will pan in on a picture and it will come to life. As the camera pans through the different images each one plays a short movie to progress the story. This style fits perfectly with the game and it’s unique enough to keep you interested even though the story is primarily for children.
The audio backs up the visuals perfectly creating an eerie atmosphere while still maintaining the comedic elements of the game. The music and ambient sounds are spot on, really giving you the feeling that you are in a haunted mansion. The occasional scream or chains rattling create moments of tension in this light hearted game that rival that of some survival horror games. The sound effects are varied and generally very effective. The only complaint in the sound department is the total lack of voice acting. Instead of speaking their lines the characters make annoying exclamations and whimpers. At first it just seems weird, but after many cutscenes it begins to get on your nerves.
So in the end Grabbed by the Ghoulies is beautiful game with unique style and presentation that falls short of Rare’s standards because of its sub par gameplay. While the simple control scheme makes this game accessible to anyone it will turn off many veteran gamers because of its lack of depth. The games’ very short length will also deter many gamers as Ghoulies can easily be completed in 6 hours. While there are some challenges to be unlocked, which add to the replay value, they add little to the overall game. If they could create a more advanced combo system and rework the camera in a sequel Ghoulies could become a great franchise, but for now it’s your run of the mill beat ‘em up.
Score : 7/10