Game: Grabbed by the Ghoulies
Platform: Microsoft XBOX
Developer: Rare Ltd.
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: EU: 11/21/03, JP: 4/29/04, NA: 10/21/03
You remember Rare, right? They're the people that brought you Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. They're also the folks behind RC Pro Am (NES), Donkey Kong Country (SNES), Banjo-Kazooie (N64), Conker's Bad Fur Day (N64), and my personal favorite, Diddy Kong Racing (N64)¹.
Now you know where I stand. I like Rare. They made some great games that I continue to play today, and their games are a big part of the reason my N64 is still hooked up. So, does their first XBOX outing, Grabbed by the Ghoulies, stack up to their Nintendo classics? I think it does. Gone are the fetch quests of Banjo-Kazooie and the foul-mouthed characters of Conker's Bad Fur Day, but in their place is a solid game that is charming, enjoyable, and easy to pick up and play.
Story is easily Grabbed by the Ghoulies's weakest point. There is a story, but it's nothing grand or earth-shattering. You play as Cooper, a young man with a questionable hair-do. During a rainstorm, you and your pink-haired girlfriend, Amber, end up in a haunted house. In traditional female video game character fashion, Amber is kidnapped, and it is up to you to save her. Final Fantasy it's not, but the story provided is enough to keep you interested and moving from locale to locale.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a good-looking game. Sure, there could be more polygons on all the characters, but they aren't necessary. The characters all look unique, and the haunted house looks haunted and creepy in a Scooby-Doo sort of way. Enemies are diverse; the mummies look like mummies, the imps look like imps, the skeletons...you get the idea.
The sound is a mixed bag. The music is catchy, but there just isn't enough of it. If you like what you hear, however, there are several MP3s freely available from Rare's site². The sound effects are wonderful, and what little voice work there is sounds appropriate. Destruction of property looks and sounds satisfying, and when you whack a mummy with a shovel, it sounds real, and if there's anything a video game should provide it's a realistic outlet for your hitting-a-mummy-with-a-shovel fantasies.
Pick up an XBOX game and look in the manual. Check the section where it explains the buttons and what they do. Every button has probably got something mapped to it, and some buttons do more than one thing. This is not necessarily bad, but it makes a game difficult to learn. When I sit down to play a game, I don't want to spend 45 minutes learning how to engage my night vision goggles, shimmy along a pipe, and silently kill some guy just to screw it up and start the level all over again. Grabbed by the Ghoulies doesn't do this to you. In controlling Cooper, you'll use the left analog stick to move, the right analog stick to attack, and the A button to pick up weapons. The left and right triggers control the camera. That's it.
Speaking of the controls, attacking with the analog stick works remarkably well. It allows you to dispatch of groups of ghoulies without needing to turn around all the time. Need to kick that skeleton behind you? Just flick the right stick back and deliver a satisying mule kick. Imp on your right? Flick the right stick right and watch Cooper slap that imp down before he knows what hit him. Now you've mastered unarmed and simple weapons combat. At key points during the game, Cooper will be given a special weapon (candle, fire extinguisher, squirt gun, etc.). A flick of the right stick simply beats an enemy with the weapon, but if the stick is held ammunition is used, and a ranged attack is performed. That's all there is to it. You've just learned how to play the game. The control scheme is simple and affective, and I love it. I wish more games were this easy to learn.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is cel shaded, cartoony, and kid-friendly. This doesn't mean that it can't be fun for grown-ups, too (I'm enjoying it at the age of 23). The story is told as though the player is alternately reading a book and acting out scenes from said book. Diverse and memorable characters provide assistance and narration where necessary, and the entire experience feels very polished.
Aside from the main game, Grabbed by the Ghoulies offers a couple other things to do as well. There are 20 mini-games to unlock and complete for medals (bronze, silver, gold, and platinum), and the entire game can be played through a second time as Amber. She even plays differently from Cooper. She has a constant 10 health (Cooper's health is variable from room to room), and she has no access to power-ups. And if you'd like to replay a level, just select it from the menu; you don't have to replay the entire game just to get at your favorite level again.
If you have access to an XBOX and you're a fan of Rare's other work, you can't go wrong with Grabbed by the Ghoulies. It's fun, it's easy to learn but not so easy to play as to be boring, and the addition of mini-games and a second quest certainly overshadow the game's only flaw: it's short. Grabbed by the Ghoulies can be completed in less than 10 hours (main adventure). That being said, you can find it fairly cheap. I picked mine up, at Kohl's of all places, for under $10.00 brand new. Enjoy!
- Yes, Rare has produced for non-Nintendo systems, but they hit it big with Goldeneye on the N64.
- Rare's Grabbed by the Ghoulies MP3s can be found here.