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Ghost House (Sega Master System) artwork

Ghost House (Sega Master System) review


"Never mind the fact that the box cover, depicting a real hand holding the game card, confused the ever-loving out of me, the actual experience of playing it was like battling a haunted house that's having a nervous breakdown."



As a young child, Ghost House was one of the more bewildering moments I had with a video game at that point. Never mind the fact that the box cover, depicting a real hand holding the game card, confused the ever-loving out of me, the actual experience of playing it was like battling a haunted house that's having a nervous breakdown. Once the game began and I was standing in the middle of Dracula's pad, everything around me flipped out: Castlevania-style bats zig-zagged, a blue, red-tongue ghost moved towards me, and a giant, anthropomorphic meatball with blue boots hopped around like a maniac. Every time I walked a couple steps in any direction, I would either fall through a fake brick, or arrows and knives flew out from the corners of the screen, giving me little time to react. If I was lucky, Vlad himself popped out of a coffin in bat form and pounced on me nonstop, as well.

None of this ever let up, too, as enemies spawned endlessly, so I was constantly fending off these creatures while trying to figure out the objective of the game. I was way too young to read the instruction manual, so I was left wandering aimlessly around the house as the kid protagonist, Mick, punching, jumping, and climbing ladders until I met my end. Even without a goal in mind, I kept coming back to it, not because I thought it was fun, but because I found its aesthetics pleasing to the eye.

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Thanks to the SMS color palette, Ghost House's cast of misfits have a distinct, cartoonish touch that makes them pop, and I dunno why, but I was always amused how the abode features basic furniture; fireplaces, generic wall pictures, and both ceiling and stand lights adorn the hallways of this monster bash. When I think of Dracula's mansion, I envision an ominous residence with a majestic aura to it, not something that looked like he went shopping one night at IKEA.

It's not until many years later that I realized Ghost House has an actual point, where your character goes to claim his recently-inherited family gems, and they happen to be in the Count's home, for some reason. In each of the game's six rounds, you must collect keys off fallen foes, comb the three-layered building for coffins, and defeat the five Draculas (four clones) to obtain the jewels. So, Grave Robbing: The Video Game. I was also surprised how there's an actual method to the madness in terms of the flying objects, which are traps that go off whenever Mick walks past a fireplace or candle holder. Another stunner is how the ceiling lights are really a limited special ability that freezes enemies on screen when you touch them. With this new-found knowledge under my belt, I figured Ghost House would be something I could finally beat in no time.

In no time, I saw the game over screen. While the title is much more sensible to play once you know what's going on, the main objective, killing Draculas, is an amazingly frustrating experience. When you unlock a coffin, they bust out and start flying around the screen in the most erratic, furious way possible. The only patterns they have is to zone in on you and then bounce around like a pinball until they hit you again, occasionally transforming into human form... on an unreachable platform... before turning back. Even when you manage to snatch a flying knife as a weapon, even when you use the freeze power to your advantage, and even when you devise some kind of broken flow chart to combat these vampires, they will still beat the snot out of your character.



But with some practice, you can probably get through the first three rounds with minimal hassle, however the second half of Ghost House displays some masochistic tendencies with its programming; the vamps get viciously fast to the point where you'll get hit multiple times with no way of escaping, meaning you'll have to rely on pure chance to sneak in some hits or run away without dying. Worse, the knockback by the hits are pretty ridiculous, so you'll easily fall in a pit of fire or pushed down a separate screen, the latter which resets the fight, putting Dracula back into his coffin. Even more miserable is the fact that some Draculas come back to life after you defeat them, and if you're lucky, it will only happen once...

I know most games of the era operated under the strict, mounting difficulty rule, due to devs working with the "quarter cruncher" mentality, but the better-designed releases still threw you a bone, and made you want to come back for more. Ghost House seems to handle its difficulty with no thought to the process, just making it hard-hard just to prolong the experience for players. Unfortunately, a potentially above-average game is sacrificed due to this.

Rating: 3/10

pickhut's avatar
Community review by pickhut (October 30, 2013)

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mrmiyamoto posted October 31, 2013:

Don't you just love how games you adored as a kid are so different as an adult? In the first paragraph, there's nothing after "ever-loving", unless you intended to do that for dramatic effect.

So do you actually own the master system, or are you playing these on ROM? Good review that emphasizes the difficulty in an entertaining way. I also enjoyed the imagery you conjured up in describing the house.

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pickhut posted October 31, 2013:

The ever-loving was intentional. I was actually going to add a McMuffin after it, but changed my mind.

I currently don't own a Master System, though, just a small collection of games. I've always wanted to rebuy one, for the fact that it was a memorable part of my younger childhood days, but just never got around to it. I'm more a fan of playing games on their original intended system/platform, for the authentic feel, but if I know a game well enough, I'll do the latter, purchase a download version, or play it off a compilation for a refresher.

Thanks for reading.
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ThoughtFool1 posted October 31, 2013:

I suppose that this is one game I'll skip on my quest to discover the SMS.

Nice play / juxtaposition on the "in no time" phrase by the way.
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pickhut posted October 31, 2013:

Ah, the SMS is certainly more of a nostalgia trip than anything else, at least for me. I was more than surprised at how bad some games actually were when I tried replaying them a decade after they originally came out. But the system definitely has its gems, and maybe you'll have a more enlightening experience than me. You've certainly livened up the SMS section with your reviews, at least.
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ThoughtFool1 posted November 01, 2013:

Why thank you :)

I'm actually semi-surprised with the SMS so far...I mean I'm trying to pick and choose the higher rated games, but from what I can tell the SMS is an unappropriated unappreciated system.
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JedPress posted November 01, 2013:

How is the music in this game?

I find a lot of SMS music quite charming. For example, I prefer the music in the SMS version of Fantasy Zone to that of the arcade version.
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pickhut posted November 01, 2013:

It's not bad, and there's only two themes. They have a spooky catchiness to them, but due to the difficulty, the dramatic one that plays for the Dracula fights gets annoying.

Though, if I were to compare it to Fantasy Zone's soundtrack, it definitely pales.

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