A DARK RETRO THROWBACK
Ghoulboy – Dark Sword of Goblin is a side scrolling, sword slashing adventure that takes you through a dark and mysterious world full of monsters. It drips with flair, charm, and horror that would fit at home with most 80s games even if its made in modern times. It manages to nail that dark fantasy vibe with adequate gameplay, good exploration and mighty challenges when you ignore a few first game woes. While there’s nothing groundbreaking here, Ghoulboy is an easy and enjoyable 80s style throwback with moments of a fun challenge.
You start the game with a mere short sword, but by the end of the first level, you’ll find a dying warrior that will give you what I assume is the Dark Sword of Goblin, but no, the game calls it “Heavy Sword.” The heavy sword can attack over your head, which will help defend you better. Upon getting the sword, you’re allowed to change weapons and there is a different dynamic for each weapon, but I recommend going for the one that does the most damage despite being the slowest. Each primary weapon has a short, but suitable range.
There is a set of selectable alternate weapons of throwing daggers, two throwing daggers and spears. Each of these weapons has a limited number, but they’re long range. The spears can stake into walls allowing you to use them as platforms. Other games have done this, but Ghoulboy feels a lot less stiff than others that use the mechanic.
Beyond the weapons, you have a double jump, which makes the game great to control. The catch is that the button placement for anyone using a controller is awkward. The X button is the jump when most games would set the A button for jumping on an X-Box style controller with X as attacking. Even B for jumping would be better
The game begins with a story and cut scenes that I skipped through. It shows effort on the game’s part to go that extra mile with suitable art setting up the back story. For a Ghoulboy, your character is pretty human with a shock of blonde hair. His flesh is normal colored, but maybe he turns into a ghoul later. I didn’t force myself to play through this one.
Ghoulboy treks through a world of black darkness. The sky is black, the mountains are blue, the ground is black and it all fits and blends together to make a convincing world that feels foreboding.
To the game’s credit there are some good, but simple backgrounds, but it all begins to feel the same before there is any fresh terrain. The music is simple and fits the 80s style, but as good as it might be, there’s just not enough variety.
There are TV filters to emulate that true 80s feel, but they can be turned off. This is one of the few games that I feel those scanlines or screen rounding simulations benefit the look to make it feel different. The one thing that might take you out of the 80s experience is the fact that the game’s camera can zoom in or out to show more of the world. While this can make certain sections easier, it can break the immersion.
MONSTERS ARE EVERYWHERE
The monsters that inhabit this world are simple but effective. Walking zombies, sword wielding Minotaurs will swipe at you, spiders bob up and down and bees will hover back and forth either vertically or horizontally. Plenty of enemies are easy enough to just double jump over. Other times they’re placed in dangerous positions. Purple plants will spit at you, blue ghosts will dive and swoop, skeletal archers will arch.
The only reason you’ll want to defeat enemies is to get a chance for gold coins, gems or sub weapons for your inventory. You’ll get the same goods for breaking pots and opening treasure chests.
Beyond creatures, there are plenty of hazards. Things like thorns that line the ground, spike shooting plants, dangerous swinging pendulums that can knock you off narrow platforms, and green ooze just to name a few. Each level seems to add a new hazard, flipping platforms that turn into spikes is one of the more memorable ones.
Each level feels like a good feat of exploration as there are multiple paths, but usually only one correct route. You’ll find a switch to turn which will trigger a moving platform, that will lead you to a key, which you’ll need to open a door that you found a few minutes ago. You’ll push rocks to jump over things and weigh down pressure plates. There are breakable blocks, falling platforms and walk through walls. It’s everything that’s been done plenty of times before, but Ghoulboy does it well.
Walking off the edge of the level will consider it complete. It would have been nice to have some form of exit with a celebration, or even walking away.
The only real downside is it takes a while for the environments to diversify. You’re stuck with the same theme for a few levels before you move onto something fresh. If it weren’t for a trailer, I’d think this game was just a never ending slew of outdoor levels followed by subterrainian cavernous levels.
THE UPGRADE SHOP
Outside of the game and back in the menu is a shop that will let you purchase upgrades for health, your stock of throwing sub weapons and your weapons. This is where all that gold will go toward spending. Everything is a bit expensive, but a permanent upgrade. While some might consider it a grind to earn each one, I see it more as a reward for when you inevitably leave the game and return. It would have been nice to have this upgrade shop in a pause menu.
Jumping back into the game, most levels have merchants, which for the most part feel useless while being potentially life saving. They sell both health and a stock of throwing daggers and spears. There’s just one big catch, they cost gold. This is the same gold that you can purchase upgrades, so I don’t recommend wasting your money here, unless you’re close to death.
There are a few bosses in the game that cap off level themes every few levels. The bosses are worthy contenders and have numerous patterns. The first boss I encountered had a few attacks such as dropping like a stone, wiping the ground with its face, and belching horrified face projectiles that I could sword chop my way through. It was far more enjoyable to face than the monotony of previous levels. Defeating a boss gives you more gems, but otherwise does nothing special. Nothing is obtained or gained from slaying a grand monster.
ROUGH AROUND THE EDGES
There are a lot of first game issues here. Nothing big, just noticeable. Issues like walking from the top of a pushable object to terrain will force you to jump from one to the other despite their same height. Movable stones will float to the ground. Sometimes they will slide off moving platforms. There are some death pits where you will literally burn up and die in thin air long before you hit the ground.
DEATH IS EVERYWHERE
Ghoulboy has a good amount of health and you can always increase it as we discussed. However, health drops are rare if ever. To make up for this, there are plenty of check points. Your character starts with three lives, and losing them all will give you a game over. At a game over you’ll have to restart the level.
If you ever leave the game and return, you have a level select of each stage you’ve gone through. It’s basic and helpful to get players back into the game.
A LONG ADVENTURE AWAITS
After playing for almost an hour, I had completed the first territory and while it was enjoyable, the second area felt like the game ramps up the hazards and challenges. With so much health, both long and short range weapons, and plenty of exploration, Ghoulboy feels like an enjoyable experience with just the right amount of challenge and ease. There’s just too much for me at the time of this review, but Ghoulboy is a game I’d like to go back and visit. Especially around Halloween.