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Platform

Xbox

 

Genre

Action

 

Publisher

Microsoft Game Studios

 

Developer

Rare

 

ESRB

E (Everyone)

 

Released

October 2003

 

 

- Lots of pick-ups to use
- Looks great
- A Rare game

 

 

- Poor control
- Crummy intros to each level slow down the pace
- Varying health bar
- Lacks excitement
- No multiplayer

 

 

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Grabbed by the Ghoulies

Score: 6.0 / 10

 

grabbed by the ghoulies xbox review         grabbed by the ghoulies xbox review

 

It seems that everyone was chomping at the bit to see Rare’s first game since being acquired by Microsoft. Grabbed by the Ghoulies (GbtG) made its debut at E3 in May and put off many in attendance for its pure kid friendliness. Never one to leap to conclusions, I left my decisions until I actually got a chance to get my hands on it. And now that I’ve had a chance to play it…

GbtB has all the ingredients of a Rare game: cute characters, some humor, Charlie Brown dialogue, a “save the princess from the clutches of an evil overseer” plot, and lots of color. It seems to do everything right, except for the control, which is – and there’s no way to soft-pedal this – crap.

In an effort to square with the kiddie image, Rare has “simplified” the control. The left stick handles your movement while the right stick controls the direction of your

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attack, in the classic Robotron / Smash TV fashion. But it doesn’t work well enough, particularly when fighting large groups of ghoulies. Most of the combat is hand-to-hand, and each punch, kick, or swing of the frying pan is executed by pressing a direction with the right stick. And doing so repeatedly. So instead of button mashing you have stick slapping, which results in many deaths as you simply can’t respond as fast enough

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as if you were pressing a button. (It never feels right, even after you’ve somewhat mastered it.) In fact, the only button that’s put to any real use is the “A” button, used to pick-up various objects to crush ghoulie skulls.

In what is probably GbtG’s best feature, you can pick up (and break) a wide variety of item to use as weapons. Chairs, pictures, bottles, pool cues, and vases (among many other items) can be acquired throughout each environment. Each has limited usefulness as they fall apart pretty quick – in short: no inventory management. At times you are supplied with a specific weapon such as the water gun loaded with holy water that makes quick work of zombies. But the same control problems are present. (And considering the camera is often blocked in tight areas you might not even be hitting anything.)

Another problem is the pacing. Some battles are frantic, even satisfying, but what drags it down is the level intros. Every time you enter a new area or part of the house you’re “treated” to a slow entry animation from Cooper’s point of view. Then there’s the slick, but still slow, comic book cutscenes that progress the story.

And don’t even get me started on the Super Scary Shocks and the varying health bar. Every area you enter, your health meter slot-machines thanks to the ever-powerful head of Ghoulhaven Hall. Instead of having a consistent health meter, you enter a room (which more often than not features sealed exits) and although you may have full health at the outset, the meter sets itself to a predetermined amount. So instead of heading into a room full of undead pirates with 40 hit points you’re suddenly saddled with half that number of hit points, which makes the encounter way harder than it actually needs to be. Slap the second rate control on top of that and you’ve got a recipe for frustration even for experienced gamers, never mind kids, especially with the strict rules for most areas. (Break them and the Grim Reaper appears.) The Shocks is a poor way to implement puzzles during the course of the game. Your character gets startled by something, and while the control shakes and Cooper quivers in his boots, you have to tap the buttons indicated onscreen before your health runs to zero.

 

grabbed by the ghoulies xbox review        grabbed by the ghoulies xbox review


There is a power-up that snaps right through these Shocks. Other power-ups include the ability to stop time and one-hit kills (among others). But you have to pay attention to the items you pick-up though as there are “power-downs” that can put Cooper into slow-motion or some other effect. The problem here is that sometimes the action is chaotic enough to completely obscure what you’re picking up.

But there are aspects of GbtG that are good, even great.

Rare has always been known for producing good-looking titles and GbtG is no exception. Throughout the game, the splashy color and design just screams, “Rare!” As does the sound design, complete with familiar sound effects and mumbling speech. The mumbling speech saves on localization issues – making GbtG easier to tailor to a variety of languages – but it started to grate on my nerves. Mumbling “speech” was fine on the N64, but on the Xbox, with all its features and whiz-bang technology, is capable of a lot more.

There are no multiplayer options – a mind boggling decision considering the age group GbtG is aimed at. Who wouldn’t want to compete with friends? See who can squash the most skeletons?

Grabbed by the Ghoulies had the potential to be so much more, but the control problems, the pacing, inconsistent health bar, and lack of any multiplayer options, make it merely a novelty as Rare’s first Xbox title. Too hard for younger gamers and too frustrating and “kiddie” for experienced gamers. Let’s hope Kameo turns out better.

- Omni
(November 9, 2003)

 

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