Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Grabbed By The Ghoulies: A Hauntingly Fun Experience

Today we're going to take a trip into a haunted mansion, no not the one at Disneyland!  I'm talking about Grabbed by the Ghoulies for the original Xbox.  This game was the first Rare title to be released after Microsoft purchased the studio, and one of the last good Rare games to be released before Microsoft ran them into the ground (but that's a story for another day).  Scattered throughout the game are various items that will give you Rare nostalgia, such as paintings of Banjo from Banjo-Kazooie.  In some rooms you explore, you will even hear a slightly modified version of the theme song from the Creepy Castle level in Donkey Kong 64.

The Setting

Ghoulies follows protagonist Cooper's adventure though a monster-infested mansion as he tries to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend from the mansion's owner.  Along the way, Cooper meets and befriends various members of the mansion staff, who assist him on his quest despite being on the mansion owner's payroll.  The most notable are the butler Crivens, who basically acts as the game's tutorial, and the groundskeeper Fiddlesworth, who provides Cooper with various weapons at certain points in the game.

Fiddlesworth the groundskeeper.
Fiddlesworth is one of the creepier characters in the game, due to some of the strange things he says.  Quite a few lines of dialog are clearly aimed for adult audiences, but will soar right over kids' heads.  One such example is when Fiddlesworth talks of his nephew Little Willy, who likes to play with a water pistol........at which point Fiddlesworth does actually equip you with a toy water pistol.  You can definitely tell this game was made by the same developer that created Conker's Bad Fur Day.

The Monsters

Throughout your journey through the mansion, you'll encounter the usual cast of baddies associated with haunted houses: skeletons, large spiders, zombies (even zombie pirates!).  Due to this being a game aimed at kids, all these enemies are fairly goofy in nature; skeletons for example will often go into a boxer's stance and dance around while taunting you.

Besides the previously mentioned monsters, there are plenty of other enemy types to encounter, some of which are extremely over the top.  Some notable mentions are haunted door and chairs (they sound dull but are actually quite humorous to witness, especially with the sounds they make).  Also, who would think that you could encounter a vampire chicken in a haunted house?

The way all these creatures interact with each other is also entertaining in itself.  Oftentimes, before they notice you are there, you might witness zombies trying to have a conversation with each other, skeletons playing poker, or undead pirates enjoying a feast.  My personal favorite is when you encounter a gigantic dance floor packed with grooving monsters, while the whole party is being managed by a record-scratching disc jockey mummy.

The Gameplay

Grabbed by the Ghoulies at first seems like a very simple game to play.  The whole game is based around beating down the monsters in the mansion, so you won't find any mind-numbing puzzles here.  Cooper has a set of moves limited only to punching and kicking, but he can also pick up various objects scattered throughout the rooms to use as weapons.  If you ever dreamed about killing a zombie by throwing a stack of plates at it, then this is your game.

Vases make for a smashing good time.
Various power-ups are also scattered in the rooms, with effects such as speed boosts, power punches that knock enemies down in one hit, and even a tiny clone of Cooper who will attack enemies for you.  Don't go blindly picking up power-ups though; the developers threw in a devious power-up that reverses the character's controls.

Unfortunately Ghoulies is a fairly repetitive game.  Each room has the same basic structure: you enter a room, you get locked into said room, and you must complete a challenge in order to exit.  The challenges start off very simple, such as killing X-amount of enemies.  However the difficulty ramps up very quickly, and before you know it you'll be faced with a challenge with multiple specifications, such as:
  1. You have to kill enemies using only your fists (can't use objects in the room). 
  2. You can't cause property damage (don't even think about knocking that zombie onto a coffee table)
  3. You have to kill alternating types of enemies.  So for example, you can't kill two skeletons in a row or you're screwed.
  4. This whole challenge has a time limit.
If you blow it on any of the previous mentioned challenge specs, the game will summon the Grim Reaper, who will hunt you down throughout the room.  It's still possible to complete the challenge and get out of there, but now you'll have to do so with a fast-closing reaper on your tail.

Final Thoughts

Despite the repetitiveness and the sometimes grueling difficulty level, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is still a blast to play.  It's a game where you can blow off some steam; pop in the game, play through a couple rooms, and have fun beating silly monsters into the ground.  It's too bad we don't see games with this distinctive Rare charm anymore.

To wrap up, have you guys played Grabbed by the Ghoulies?  And if so, did you find it entertaining, or too simple for your tastes?

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