Ghoulboy

Developed by a small team of three at Serkan Bakar games, GhoulBoy is a retro-inspired action hack and slash game. It is so diligently attuned to the era it emulates that it sometimes brings both the classic charm and imperfections painstakingly into present day. This review is based on the PS4 version which released March 5, 2019 on the PSN.

Before gameplay begins a simple story is laid out for the player. Gunzabar is a gloomy land where spooky monsters live. Gamunbal, the goblin king, gets word of a prophecy that details his demise at the hands of a ghoul hunter. Sensibly, he rounds up the only adult ghoul hunter around named Galdar, imprisoning him securely away so that he won’t commit any unwanted goblin regicides. Thulgar, Galdar’s aspiring ghoul hunting son who is already known as GhoulBoy, springs to the rescue of his father and goes on a ghoul hunting massacre that naturally can only end in a way that Gamunbal will dislike thoroughly.

While the story is not the important part of GhoulBoy, it is worth noting that games like Ghosts and Goblins accomplished the entire Hero’s motivation and setting without words and a ten second scene. Consider the timeless intro: A backdrop of a picnic, the fair maiden being taken by the devil, and the knight donning his armor to run after them. That was all they needed to kick off one of the best classic arcade games of all time.  While Ghoulboy’s names of places and characters are likely purposefully ridiculous, the limited writing that was contained within did not leave a good impression, and even had simple grammatical errors in the review copy.

Story aside, the real question for any videogame is always the same: Is it fun? GhoulBoy delivers consistent action and interesting gameplay throughout its 25 levels. At the end of each of the 5 acts, there is a boss fight to break up the platforming. While these Bosses aren’t always the most challenging or mechanically engaging, they signal a welcome change of scenery. Retro action games live or die by the feel of the controls. With predictable input errors that prevent reliable item swapping, only one height of jump no matter the button press length, and no real weight to any weapon attack, GhoulBoy balances carefully on the edge of disaster. An interesting jump mechanic saved my initial impression, however. A traditional double jump wouldn’t be enough to make gameplay interesting. What really swayed me was the first jump can be initiated even if you walk straight off a ledge, allowing for the second jump in seemingly impossible places. Controls outside of the noted oddities are reliable, precise, and … fun.

While adventuring, currency can be collected to purchase new weapons, item inventory increases, and maximum health. The store to buy these upgrades is accessible from the main menu, which requires backing out of a gameplay session to make a purchase once you have saved enough cash. While this isn’t ideal, the issue is compounded by the menu music never stopping when gameplay is resumed, overlapping the soundtrack and causing quite the jumble of noise. This problem occurred each time I exited to the main menu and resumed my session.

Despite its quirks, GhoulBoy kept my interest right through to completion. Something special hides between the cracks of this game, something I only would have found by playing it in full. While I wouldn’t assign this game top marks, I would still happily recommend it to anyone looking for a faithful experience of days past, warts and all.

~~Ian Voegtle~~

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