"Over the past 20 years, few developers have been as consistent or as critically acclaimed as Rare. Starting life as a small bedroom based code shop in the late 1970's, they soon rose to the forefront of a fledgling game industry with a string of classic titles for the now defunct, though still much loved, Sinclair Spectrum. In the years since, their keen eye for quality has become something of a calling card as time and time again, Rare developed games have gone on to assume near legendary statu..."
Over the past 20 years, few developers have been as consistent or as critically acclaimed as Rare. Starting life as a small bedroom based code shop in the late 1970's, they soon rose to the forefront of a fledgling game industry with a string of classic titles for the now defunct, though still much loved, Sinclair Spectrum. In the years since, their keen eye for quality has become something of a calling card as time and time again, Rare developed games have gone on to assume near legendary status among fans and gamers alike. Goldeneye, Donkey Kong Country, Perfect Dark... these titles and more are no longer considered to be just games, but works of art to be both admired and loved. Innovative when not original, genre defining when not innovative, a Rare released game was always something that every self-respecting gamer needed to experience for themselves. Sadly enough however their first Xbox release, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, is not such a game...
Right from the get go, players will find themselves confronted by a highly polished level of mediocrity that would have been impressive had it not also been so thoroughly disappointing. Whether you find yourself stumped by the bland character designs or have simply been blown away by the overly generic plot device, GbtG is about as average as a game can possibly get. For what it's worth though, the story details the adventures of a hapless young pair of lovers stranded by the road side one night during a thunderous rainstorm. And as we all know, when caught in such a situation there is nothing better than seeking shelter in the obligatory spooky old house on the hill. Say hello to horror cliche #9324. It's within minutes of landing on the front door step then that your lady friend is whisked off by a gaggle of monsters and players are thusly charged with rescuing her *yawns* yes, that would be deja vu that you are feeling right about now.
Thankfully though it's not all ''been here, done this''. In typical Rare style, GbtG takes the traditional concept of what constitutes a third person adventure and turns it on its ear. So much so that initially at least, the game comes across as being fresh and unique. For laying just under its cartoon-ish exterior lies the twisted black heart of a ''puzzle'' laced brawler. This interesting fusion of 2 diametrically opposed genres is accomplished by blending a series of objectives with the ''G'' rated violence. Rather than wantonly smacking seven shades of brown out of every zombie, ghoul and monster within arms reach, players are forced to abide by a series of rules specific to each room... lest Death himself be forced to make a penalty appearance. From beating up a particular kind of enemy with a specific weapon to simply avoiding back ground damage, the objectives work well in giving players something different to be mindful about each and every time they enter a new area.
As entertaining as all that may seem, GbtG does have a dark side. While the novel dual analogue control gives players the ability to move in one direction and attack in another, it also seriously hampers the variety of offensive moves at your disposal. Tapping left on the stick in order to attack may have seemed like a great idea, but what works in theory doesn't always translate too well into the real world. You could be high tailing it out of a bad situation or just attempting to circle strafe the next group of ghoulies, it won't make a lick of difference however as players will find themselves stuck with the same limited move set each and every time. Punch, punch, kick... elbow drop if you're lucky. Rinse, wash and repeat ad naseum. Insult is further added to injury by the very nature of an analogue based combat system. If players aren't too careful with the amount of pressure they apply to the stick, they will invariably perform the wrong move thereby leaving themselves open to a flurry of counter-attacks. Which believe me, happens all too often during the heat of combat. Real nice fellas, now let's run for the hills...
It's lucky then that Rare have seen fit to compensate for the dull as paint drying combat techniques with a jaw dropping range of interactive background elements. Everything from the tables and chairs to the cupboards and windows can be busted apart to reveal a handful of hidden power-ups and bonuses. Be careful however, some of the goodies that you'll encounter may be extremely detrimental to your character's well being. The fun doesn't stop there though as also scattered around each room is a number of furnishings and utensils that can be used to good effect when fending off the hordes. Chairs, picture frames, and potted plants among others all go a long way in breaking up the monotony of the yawn inducing punch/kick/elbow drop action. And the fact that each weapon makes a very satisfying thump upon impact only makes the variety that much more pleasing. Now if only the analogue control could better differentiate between a punch and a weapon swing then all would be right with the world.
Still, at least there's always the rich cel shaded graphics to fall back upon. Though the previously mentioned character designs border on the mundane, the backgrounds constantly impress thanks to their liberal usage of color and high attention to detail. Dark and brood-ish while still maintaining their cartoon-esque flavor, they are sure to draw players in even when the action and story totally fail to inspire. Oh, and the old Banjo & Kazooie posters were a nice touch too! Complimenting all this is a wonderfully balanced soundtrack that marches to its own brand of funk. The superb blend of light comical interludes and melodramatic musical scores is highly reminiscent in terms of style to the old silent movie soundtracks of the 1920's. The proverbial fly in the ointment however can be found in Rare's decision to fore-go any actual voice acting and instead use a series of repetitive sound effects in order to convey each character's emotions. Sure it may fit with the game's silent movie theme, but that doesn't automatically make it interesting now does it?
Ultimately Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a good game plagued by a series of poor decisions. The seen it all before story can be easily forgiven as the concept of rescuing a damsel in distress is something of a popular past time where video game heroes are concerned. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the myriad other niggling problems that also serve to bring down the overall experience. The combat will frustrate and the character designs will disappoint, while the sound effects are sure to test the patience of even the most forgiving of Georgian monks. Which is all really quite a shame as underneath this turbulent ocean of averageness is a good game struggling to get to the surface. As Rare's first next gen entry, Grabbed by the Ghoulies comes as an incredible disappointment. The truth may hurt, but sadly enough this is what we've been stuck with. Perhaps their next release will shine with the magic of old. But then again who knows... for now though all I can say is buyer beware...
* There's a huge number of rooms to explore
* The many different objectives add a welcome puzzle-like flavor to the proceedings
* Each and every room is chock full of interactive elements
* There's a nice range of weapons to use and abuse
* Lusciously drawn cel shaded backgrounds
* The soundtrack has a great 1920's silent movie feel
* Hidden Rare books give players something to hunt for while dishing out the hurt
* The analogue combat controls make some attacks frustrating to perform
* A limited move set makes the action seem repetitive after a while
* Bland character designs are instantly forgettable
* Character sound effects get annoying
* The story is... well... familiar
Community review by midwinter (August 22, 2004)
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