Think about what you did this morning: when you got up, when you showered, where you sat for breakfast. Now, imagine getting up tomorrow, and having yesterday’s version of you wandering around the house. How would you change your routine to give them a wee bit of space? You would probably shower sometime else and sit in a different chair. Now, skip to the next day and the next day and the next, with all of those different yous clogging up toilets and stepping on each other’s toes. It’s what it’s like to have roommates, and it’s also – basically – the premise behind Spooky Chase.
Spooky Chase is an extremely simple 2D pixel platformer. You are a dinky little dude, tucked into a corner of a level, and elsewhere there is a red flag that you need to reach. The level starts as soon as you move in any direction, and then your character is barrelling onward without any chance to stop, as Spooky Chase doesn’t want you to stop and think. You jump on platforms and reach the red flag. Easy-peasy.
Except that’s just your first run, and you’ve got ten in total to get through. What you’ve effectively done is turned previous-you into a goomba that your future selves now have to avoid. As it’s the next run, you’re dumped somewhere else in the level, with a red flag in a different end position. You need to get there without stumbling into a previous-you, so you might take higher platforms when you took lower platforms previously.
It’s a gimmick, but it’s a great one. We can imagine it working with plenty of other game genres. Racing game? Yeah, we can imagine trying to keep ratcheting good lap times while previous-yous hog the racing line. Twin-stick shooter? It’s not hard to imagine a game where the stray bullets of a previous-you add to the bullet-hell.
Spooky Chase does both a lot and a little with this gimmick. It doesn’t go wild, layering on unique power-ups, other gimmicks, or ever switching up the basic platforming template. This is a simple 2D platformer on levels that are barely bigger than the game screen. You will almost always be chasing 10 red flags, with mirror versions of yourself stacking up on each other. There are some nice little additions that keep things varied, like sweets to collect in the level that slowly progress you through a range of pop culture-referencing outfits, and a balloon that can only be caught on the 10th playthrough. Ultimately, though, this is whippet-lean.
But yet it does a lot. Each level has a single, simple addition that makes sure the experience feels different. It might be fireballs crossing your path – as if the previous-yous weren’t a big enough pain in the backside – moving platforms, or areas hidden with fog. They never push out of the box that Spooky Chase has chosen to nestle in, but the ideas push up against the edges of that box and require thought from you.
And boy, it will require some thought. You can probably guess from the premise, but Spooky Chase is not easy. It’s devious, thrilling, annoying, gratifying, unfair. It might well be too much of each of those things, and you will need a fair old whack of patience and persistence to get the most of Spooky Chase.
Some of the criticism is warranted: 10 loops of a single course is a LOT, and is more than a human brain can reasonably hold onto. You’re not going to remember every platform and path the previous-yous took, and it’s around the sixth or seventh run that you start reacting rather than planning, surviving through sheer adrenaline and reflex. It would be interesting to see previous prototypes of Spooky Chase to see if fewer ‘runs’ were toyed with, as our instinct is that ten is both too much to remember, but also too long to freely encourage repeat playthroughs.
On latter levels, it can lead to tentative, thoughtful runs which are probably not what the designers wanted. Plus, each rerun of a level is completely random: the placement of your character and the red flag could be anywhere. It adds slightly too much randomness and luck for our tastes; if you start aeons away from the flag on your first run, you may as well restart. Spooky Chase would have benefited in putting slightly more control in the player’s hands.
The counterpoint is that, when you dance through nine versions of yourself on the tenth run as if you were Neo bullet-timing round various Agent Smiths in the Matrix, then you can feel like the Master of All Platformers – crown us now. It feels good, and few games can give you that rush. Spooky Chase needed a ‘replay at full screen’ function at the end of a level, so you can watch the carnage rather than desperately react to it. Go on, Burning Goat Studio, add it in.
And while the gameplay can often feel unfair, the structure of Spooky Chase is ultra-generous. Each level requires a certain number of red flags for them to unlock, but that number is reasonably low. Scrape together seven or so flags on each and you can see Spooky Chase to its end, pretty much. It’s unexpectedly welcoming, and gives you the freedom to plough ahead or master each level individually, depending on how you play these kinds of things. The outfits unlock at a fair old rate, and the sweets needed to unlock them are cumulative even if you fail a level, so you could unlock all of the outfits on level one, if you failed enough. The combination of diamond-hard gameplay with forgiving game structure is grand.
Should you rush through Spooky Chase, you’ll miss out on those fiendish balloons. As mentioned, they pop up on the 10th run, posing the conundrum of whether you’ll risk grabbing them when you have so many enemies to avoid. Should you grab them, though, you will add to a total that unlocks balloon levels. These are hosted by a creepy clown and take Spooky Chase to weird other places, like an endless runner. Complete them and you’ll unlock benefits that are borderline essential.
Mention, too, should be made about multiplayer, which is bedlam. Up to four players can play locally (no online multiplayer, natch) and you each start in a corner of the screen. Your first moves out of the gate are important, as you can’t ‘kill’ a player with your main character: instead, you kill them with your echoes. So, you’re jumping around wildly to create an obnoxious path for others to avoid. It’s good for a bit, if a little too bewildering with four players, but it’s nice to have it in the package.
There is no guarantee that you will enjoy Spooky Chase on Xbox. It’s an acquired taste that demands that you’re patient, focused, have the reactions of a grasshopper, and are willing to persist with the same level over and over again. Its randomness means you can’t rely on muscle memory, so tie your pad round your wrists, as it might go for a skydive out of the window. But come to terms with what Spooky Chase wants from you, and it’ll create great moments that make you feel like the Math Lady meme, calculating the perfect path through nine other versions of yourself. Not bad for a £4.19 2D platformer.