Ghost Sweeper, created by the team at 7 Raven Studios and published by Total Console, works as a love letter to old-school 1980’s puzzlers. The problem is, Ghost Sweeper plays like those games from the ‘80s too, with clunky controls, frustrating gameplay, and poor audio and visuals the biggest takeaways from the entire experience.
Telling a tale of how a Dark Lord has been resurrected, cursing the land all-over, Ghost Sweeper has you taking charge of a hero, ready to kick the butt of some ghosts and take down the clumsiest of monsters.
Playing out as a puzzle platformer, unfortunately Ghost Sweeper fails to ever really tick the boxes required of being either a decent puzzler, or an above average platformer, with a multitude of little issues all combining to ensure that you’ll be left cursing the rising of this damn Dark Lord and his evil little minions.
Spread over eight different worlds, with eight stages found in each – and the chance to enjoy hidden levels if you sweep up well – your goal in Ghost Sweeper is to make your way around the maze-like levels, picking up crystals, gold coins, and keys before hot footing it to the unlocked door and moving on to the next test. Frequenting these arenas though are the ghostly servants of the Dark Lord, with spooks happily chasing you down, skeletons throwing their own head at you, monsters clambering over obstacles to devour your soul, and all manner of environmental traps in place to make your life as difficult as it can be.
Thankfully as a well-kitted out Ghost Sweeper you come equipped with a couple of unique abilities. The first of these skills lets you build and remove blocks as you see fit, and it is this which is key to traversing the stages. Secondly, you have the opportunity to either utilise a proton pack to whip up any ghostly apparitions before firing them out of the land, or shoot out bolts with a fine little flamethrowing gun. Your choice of two Ghost Sweepers – the casually named John or Indy – dictate which of these latter weapons you can use and, to give credit, deciding which is best served for a specific stage does bring a little more thought to the Ghost Sweeper adventure.
The majority of your time with Ghost Sweeper though will come focused on the creation and removal of blocks, which work as your way of moving through the level, letting you build platforms to walk on, removing solid ground under the various enemies in your way, or creating walls to stop the likes of rotating wheels of death from ever getting too close. For the most part this element of Ghost Sweeper works well, and allows for a tactical, slightly strategic way of going about completing the stage. Thought and consideration will certainly need to be applied in the latter stages of Ghost Sweeper, as you try a variety of routes, plans, block placements and tactics in order to hunt down the specific keys and get the hell out of there.
At least, it works to a certain extent anyways, because the overriding aspect of Ghost Sweeper is one of clunkiness. Movement is stilted, jumping and hit-detection is occasionally off, and trying to action anything swiftly is left in the lap of the gods. It’s not helped that the grid-like structure that each stage of Ghost Sweeper is built on sees incorrect placements of your blocks at times, with you never really knowing if you’re in the prime spot to drop down a block, or remove another. It can get massively frustrating when there is a lot going on in a certain stage, for instance when you’re trying to outrun a ghost, dodge a fast-moving skelly head, ensuring you don’t get burnt to a crisp by some fireball that is being shot from a foe well off the screen, and trying to drop platforms in specific places. If anything, it’s here where Ghost Sweeper starts to become a little unfair.
Constant repetition of stages is required in Ghost Sweeper, not least because it’s so damn simple to come a cropper when you least expect it. There are times when you will be blasted by foes who you haven’t even realised exist, all as you concentrate your efforts on best manoeuvring past those who you can see. Yes, it’s fine that each level is a fairly short, pretty swift, affair, and so it’s not like any wrong foot will put you back hours of precious gameplay time, but it’s still a little cause for concern.
Thankfully, and even though there are plenty of hidden secrets to unearth, in order to proceed past any stage all you need to do is grab a key (or keys at some point), and then head back to the door as fast as possible. This will grant you one simple star and is the very minimum requirement for any future ghost sweeping to occur. You can, if you so wish, earn more by spending time tracking down lost treasures, or trying to take in some speedrunning opportunities, beating the timer in place. But honestly, doing this gets tedious after the first few stages and, due to the difficulty and unpredictable nature found in the rest of the game, you’ll no doubt just be pleased to get through with a key collected. Going deep is possible though, and there is even the chance to go back through things once you have concluded a stage in order to take home a red crystal too – proving your worth as a master of a stage by completing a further mission. Why? Well, other than for achievement popping, there is seemingly no real reason to bother.
To help you out in your ghost sweeping quest is a simple shop. By using the in-game coins and crystals that you find scattered around, this unlocks a variety of options like having all hidden treasure pointed out, the timer extended, your weapon power maxed out, or equipping a shield to allow more than one hit from a bad guy. Honestly, other than the last option, I’ve found these to be rather unimportant, only really coming into their own for those wishing to go back through the stages again to ensure full completion.
Failing to ever deliver a properly good platforming experience, and coming complete with far too much clunkiness to allow for decent tactics and strategy, Ghost Sweeper on Xbox One falls far short of what is expected of a game in this time period. Yes it comes with some cutesy visuals, and delightfully delivers what could be expected from a game inspired by those of decades past, but there just isn’t enough of a modern twist to see this become a relevant purchase. It’s cheap, and there’s no doubting it’ll tempt some in due to that, but I’d be hugely surprised if anyone decides to pump too much time and effort into sweeping up that Dark Lord.