Review

Ghost House

Reviewed by Stan Stepanic, Posted on 2006-09-21

895 Views

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1986 Also On: None

Ahhh, the good old 8-Bit era. There was certainly some suck back then, but at the same time there was a ton of goodness to be had. When the NES was first released there were a number of first-run titles, some of which were arcade ports, frequently referred to as "black box," which featured the basic capabilities of the system (and the programmers) at that time, but in such a way that the game mechanics were more important. Realizing they only had so much to work with, a lot of thought had to be put into the actual game, otherwise you'd end up with garbage like Mach Rider. Most of the earlier titles are incredible, even to this day. When the Master System first hit the market it had several arcade ports and a few titles of its own to show off what the programmers were learning to do. Ghost House is certainly at the top of these, and may in fact be the best of all.

Though an early title, and certainly not up to par with later SMS releases such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Ghost House really showed off what the system could do in the first year it arrived on the market. The colors are vibrant, unless meant to appear drab to fit the environment, and the enemies have impressive detail. The only one that could have used some work was the mummy, which is kind of a mess of white and black, but it's really not that bad when you get a glimpse of the fire blower. The animations are all very smooth and the overall theme is fitting, following this strange gothic-cartoon concept. It's definitely not meant to appear like a horror game, but it does have some dark elements that have been displayed rather nicely. I would compare the overall look of this game to Mappy, just much better. Though they're essentially the same idea each time, they're all different and extra features have been added as you go through the game to keep it from seeming redundant. Some of your character's movements are a little static in that he doesn't really move his body when jumping and such, but overall the graphics are good.

The sound department gets definite high marks. Ghost House features a clever, cute, but eerie theme that really fits the action and sets a perfect atmosphere. You have essentially the same song for every level, but it's long enough to not become tedious and since it was programmed so well I won't take anything off for this minor fact. It only changes when you actually fight the vampires, where it becomes more involving and spooky, then it changes back again. The sound effects all work quite well. Some Master System fans often comment that they're annoyed with Mick's squeaky-sounding shuffle when he walks, but I found it to be not only fitting to the theme, but a wonderful detail to the whole picture. Only a few of the effects were a little drab, but generally they did a great job here considering that the SMS is not known for having the best capabilities in this department.

Ghost House is a clever little game following a simple format that's not seen anymore. Basically it's an old form of platformer where you run around a maze-like environment to collect objects in order to progress. There actually isn't a term for this, but anyway that's the kind of game this is. Mappy is the best reference I can think of, but not many people remember it. As Mick, you're off to collect your family jewels, which you've just inherited, and which are being held by Dracula and his minions. You start the game with three lives and no continues. A continue or two would have been nice, but really I feel it would have been superfluous to this title since when you master it it's not long enough to warrant one. You can jump, punch, pick up a dagger to attack with, and do a variety of different things while searching for the jewels. To get them you have to kill five vampires, one of whom is Dracula, and capture each jewel. The vampires are in coffins, of course, that can only be opened after you locate the secret keys. These are always found after defeating random enemies, and you need one each time you find a coffin. When you kill all the vampires, you progress to the next level and it gets harder.

The house is nicely arranged with tons of secrets, traps, warps and puzzles to get through while searching for the jewels. Of course, in addition to the vampires, you have several different enemies to avoid or kill. Though they're used over and over, they fit the game so well I didn't find it annoying at all. In order to counter the possibility of this being a problem for someone, Sega took the most obvious route, making the game harder as you go along. It has a nice difficulty curve, getting dang hard right when it needs to. I myself have yet to beat it. The controls are smooth and there's plenty to be found, great job. I found myself really getting into this game as I progressed, it's definitely more involving than you'd think. However, there is one issue that's a major problem. Sega did this with a small number of SMS games and it's a shame they chose this to be one of the few. The problem is, they've switched the typical button functions around. Therefore, Button 1 is to jump and Button 2 is to attack. So what? As I said for Alex Kidd in Miracle World, this is the most counter-intuitive arrangement in the world. It feels so unnatural in the hands that it takes a bit to get used to it, and even when you do it still doesn't feel right. I'm not sure why they did this. It's a bit of history we may never know. This game would have scored a perfect ten in the gameplay category if it wasn't for this. It seriously affects it that much.

Sega was creative with this title and did an excellent job taking a simple, though then not entirely common idea and making a great title out of it. Considering how restricted the concept is it's pretty amazing how original they were with Ghost House. It has plenty of its own features to take away from the fact that's it just a platformer with items to collect. A few more enemies would have made it even better, but I find that a very minor detail that I shouldn't have even mentioned as it doesn't effect the score here in my opinion.

I've played this title numerous times. It was one of the first Master System games I acquired and one of the few that I still sit down with. This is mainly because I haven't beaten it yet, which further add to the replay value found here. It's very, very doubtful anyone would be able to sit down with this the first go and complete it without cheating, it throws too many tricks at you and simply requires constant play in order to master it. Judging from the levels I have beaten, I would say the game length is perfect. It takes around ten minutes, if you're good, to beat each level, making the entire game about an hour long. Very good, for this type of game, where things are repeated a lot, it's simply the only way things should be done.

Ghost House is a great little game and has plenty to offer for even the most modern gamer, a feature you don't find very often in older titles. The only issue that really affects everything is the control problem I mentioned above, but other than that this title is nearly flawless. It has a heaping helping of variety and a difficulty setting the most advanced of gamers will have problems adjusting to. It was actually released in two formats, one in cartridge the other in card, but there is no difference in the actual content. Not sure why they did that either. Regardless, this is a core title every Master System fan needs to own and is a prime example of where to begin if you're just starting out.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8.9
Written by Stan Review Guide

Reviewed by Stan Stepanic

895 Views