Ghoulboy is a retro-inspired action platformer that puts you in control of, you guessed it, Ghoulboy. Your father was captured while attempting to slay a great evil and it is up to you to rescue him.
Ghoulboy is a linear game where each level is a confined area with checkpoints spread throughout. You have four attempts – three extra lives – to try and make it through the level before you get a game over. If you do get a game over, your penalty is losing any checkpoints you may have gotten, left to start at the beginning of the level.
Movement and combat is also very simple. Getting around is a matter of moving left and right or using your jump/double jump ability. You have a main weapon, as well as secondary weapons that you can use to fight. Your main weapon at the beginning of the game is a dagger, but it is quickly replaced by a sword in the early levels of the game. Your secondary weapons consist of a throwing dagger ability and a throwing spear ability. The spear can also be thrown against a wall to create a platform to land on, which adds an extra layer of mobility.
My overall impression of Ghoulboy is that it is a rather mediocre game. The movement and combat are nothing special, in fact, more often than not it was awkward to try and even action simple things. For example, platforms that were placed out of reach were always just barely too far away, and there was no rhyme or reason to which ones couldn’t be reached without creating a platform with the spear. This led to some trial and error, but in the end was more of a minor annoyance than anything.
The spear mechanic is also a bit awkward. If I didn’t manage to jump far enough away from a wall that I was next to while throwing a spear, the spear would spawn inside the wall and I wouldn’t be able to use it as a platform. These secondary weapons had a set amount of ammo and dying would clear your inventory, so losing them like this could actually cause some issues. One level even starts with moving spike traps that need to be turned into platforms using the spears; you may well be unlucky enough to reach it with no ammo left. This means that the only way progress can be made is to go to another level, get the items needed, and then quit, head back to the level select, and restart the level. It’s just an awkward series of steps to go through to continue playing.
Every few levels there will be a boss fight. These bosses have one set of moves that they use for the entirety of the encounter and defeating them is just a matter of hitting them enough times without dying. Pretty much as you would expect in a boss fight. These encounters didn’t really stand out to me, but one boss fight is a chase sequence. It’s a nice break from the standard linear levels, but it’s a shame there aren’t any others in the game.
Another feature are the two in-game shops, which are also awkward to use. One appears in specific places throughout the different levels. The shopkeep offers ammo as well as health, which can help out in a pinch. However, selecting items in the store is attached to your B button; incredibly confusing. It was the same for the pause menu, which was even worse. Mainly because when you pause the game, the option that is selected by default is “restart”. If you’re like me and tend to push B to exit pause menus, then you will probably restart a level on accident at least once.
Getting back to the original point though, there is a second store in Ghoulboy But to access it you need to quit back to the main menu. This store, for some reason, actually uses the A button to confirm purchases, and it is where you can buy character upgrades. One is a weapon upgrade, one is a health upgrade, and the last is increased ammo capacity. Ironically, the increased ammo upgrade is what caused me to run out of money and spears during the previously mentioned spear platform level.
On top of all of this, there are a few places where enemies will always spawn in glitched, teleporting across the screen and glitching into the ground. Granted, this doesn’t happen a lot but it is consistent – just another oddity that makes playing awkward.
Overall, many of these issues aren’t major problems on their own, but when they are all combined into one game it makes it hard to enjoy things. Whilst the gameplay is very typical of an arcade style platformer, especially older ones, there is a lot of refinement and optimization that Ghoulboy would benefit from.
In terms of difficulty, Ghoulboy falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. There are some levels that can be a bit tricky, but it’s by no means a super hard game. If you struggle with platformers than Ghoulboy might be a good challenge for you, but if you’re a platforming pro then you probably won’t feel very fulfilled after playing through; just hope that you don’t get hit with a glitch that will persist enough to not allow you to complete the game.
It’s hard to recommend Ghoulboy. The gameplay isn’t awful, but the amount of bugs I’ve encountered have made it hard to enjoy; especially when it ultimately locks you out of the conclusion. The best advice I can give you if you’re considering buying Ghoulboy is to watch the trailer. It will show you just about everything the game has to offer, and if that doesn’t peak your interest then there isn’t much else to look forward to.
Ghoulboy is available from the Xbox Store