Ghost Song is haunting.
You may read that and think, sure, the clue is in the name. But, a whole lot more than the name adds up to make this a pretty chilling experience.
Starting life as a Kickstarter way back in 2013, developed by Old Moon and published by Humble Games, Ghost Song is a Metroidvania, heavy on the Metroid side of things. It’s a lovely looking one at that.
You begin Ghost Song by awakening the Deadsuit, a robotic life form who is very reminiscent of a certain Ms Aran from that other spacey/explorey/shooty franchise. The Deadsuit is equipped well, initially with an arm cannon and a melee attack, but can be upgraded as the game progresses.
Awakening on a strange alien world, you begin to explore. Ghost Song is hand drawn and rather nice to look at. A special shout out must go to the luminescent fauna that lights the path along the way; it’s eerie and beautiful at the same time. This planet feels alive, every nook and cranny you venture to feels like the innards of some humongous space creature that has swallowed you, and the other life forms around you, whole.
Talking about the other life forms, they are certainly not friendly. Most will attack on sight while others remain dormant until you approach or disturb them. Each creature has a method to defeat them and the cannon comes in handy for these situations. Blasting away carelessly will overheat the weapon however, and this is shown on-screen with the gun turning red and the fire rate slowing. Upgrades down the line will improve the weapon’s abilities, but to start, shooting fast and furious will get you nowhere.
Exploring the map to find new upgrades, hoping to make your way out of these alien caverns is the primary objective. Along the way the story is drip fed slowly as you work through enemy filled caves and robotic laboratories. Each area is fresh and really nice to look at, but don’t stop to admire the neon lit surroundings too long. A new area also means new enemies.
That’s where upgrading comes into play – stronger enemies means upgrades for weapons and the suit are essential for progression. Taking down enemies is the way to buy upgrades as they will drop green orbs that are used to purchase the new abilities in the robot shop.
As a huge fan of Metroid Dread, the influence here is strong. From the arm blaster and the ability to precision aim it while standing still, taking inspiration from Samus Returns and Dread, to the abilities found like the dash, each one found in Ghost Song feels like a knowing nod to Nintendo’s popular space franchise.
More powerful weapons become available in the game and can really turn the tide fighting the strange alien creatures who clearly do not want you there. There are a lot more RPG elements to be mindful of compared to Metroid also. At each of the upgrade points you choose exactly how you wish to level up, giving a greater degree of customisation than even Metroid Dread offered.
Now while I have written this carefully not to spoil any of the story or surprises, Ghost Song has other beings that you may meet along the way. I won’t ruin this but, listen to the voices. Finding some of these characters is definitely a highlight and enhanced my time playing the game, seeking out hidden areas and items.
But let’s talk about the other main character in the room. Or actually not in the room – the music. In Ghost Song the score is absolutely phenomenal. Absent when it needs to be and front and centre when the time calls, the atmosphere in this game is not just visual. A chill will run down your spine as a sense of loneliness born from a world of sadness is crafted, delivered via the haunting melodies throughout.
Spooky does not cover the half of it. The sound design outside of the music is also incredible. Hearing unholy screeches, squelches and wailing will make even the most hardened player become apprehensive on where they are about to explore next. This is an all round outstanding piece of work, one that is crafted seamlessly into the world to make the entire experience one complete feeling and “lived” in. Pardon the pun, perhaps inhabited is a better word to use.
Starting out – and before you get any real abilities – Ghost Song can feel like a rather slow plod, particularly as the opening areas ease you in. But know that the right moves are provided at the right time, helping you to get away from something deadly or traverse up and across to access new areas. Again, I’m being spoiler free – even on the upgrades – as each one is a treat to uncover.
Ghost Song comes with a map which is absolutely huge, and as per any good Metroidvania game, backtracking is a major part of the gameplay loop here. While fans of the genre will not mind this, Ghost Song’s initial slow pace and slight challenge may be a lot for some players to accept. For the rest of us, we get to enjoy one of the best explorative treats of the year.
All in, Ghost Song is a game worthy of your attention. An experience that is as sad as it is lonely, as its world peels back its layers, exposing its truth to you. On the other hand it is an otherworldly cave exploring, secret finding, monster blasting extravaganza. And all this is framed within a world of hurt and isolation, waiting for its true meaning to be uncovered by you and the Deadsuit.
If you have played and loved Metroid Dread, Ghost Song is one you are going to adore. A beautiful, hand-drawn, haunting experience, this is an open love letter to the Metroidvania genre. I recommend you all to open the envelope and read.
Ghost Song is on the Xbox Store