We all know the recipe for the stereotypical indie game: One little kid with a big head, a dirty depressing world, depressing subtext about childhood lost, add gimmicks to flavor and tada! You're an indie darling. I bring this up because Ghostory by RigidCore Games really breaks the formula! Yes sir, you're a fully grown man with a normal sized head in a world that's a little creepy but still colorful. Aside from that, I wouldn't say Ghostory does all that much different. Do you like puzzle platformers? This one is more competent than most. Do you prefer some other genre? Find another game. I feel with my opening statement you may feel I disliked Ghostory, which isn't true. The story didn't captivate me and I found it a bit lacking in the audio and visual departments. However, I did feel that the levels were for the most part incredibly well-designed and the gimmick was strong enough for me to give it a thumbs-up.
Ghostory will be available on Steam on October 23rd.
You play as yourself, or yourself as a man if you happen to be female in real life. On a hiking trip in some location that the game doesn't make super clear, you are chased off course by some ravenous wolves. When you manage to shake them, you stop at a pond to grab a quick drink only to find that the water was cursed and now you're able to switch forms between a normal human and an incorporeal ghost. A nearby witch says that in one week you will die unless you can get her a special mushroom from the nearby caves with which she can brew an antidote. The mushroom is easy to find, but the floor collapses beneath you and you must find your way back up to the surface to get the witch her mushroom so you can live. It even delves into a secret order of evil monks who used to dwell in those caves that you learn a bit about.
The story is functional. It fits the game and I will say the premise is fairly creative. I just wish it was a bit more prevalent. The story is mainly told between levels with interactions with NPCs. I wasn't much of a fan of this delivery since the levels were so long and there was almost no background story happening. Every few levels you just have a few sentences of exposition and then you go back on your way. It also didn't take me through many twists and turns. I either knew or didn't care what was going to happen. The story to gameplay ratio seemed way out of whack. Every now and again you pass an obviously evil altar, but that's about all you get as far as passive storytelling.
In fairness, the exposition is rather clever. It never made me laugh out loud, but I remember sharply exhaling out of my nose a few times. The witch speaks entirely in spooky puns and there a few moments that give you a good natured chuckle.
The game controls much like your normal puzzle platformer except for one mechanic: the cornerstone of the gameplay and honestly the best part of the game, your ghost form. As a man you can interact with switches and move your backpack around, but as a ghost you can fly around the level freely, unhindered even by solid walls. Seeing as you can only move your backpack around when solid, you need to switch between the two forms constantly. These mechanics are blended very well and the levels are great with being sure you need to use both forms in order to progress. Just one button press to switch back and forth. I found myself transitioning smoothly back and forth, in many cases not even having to break my stride. It's a good mechanic and it serves as a good anchor for the rest of the game.
Dark and mysterious caves
Of course, a mechanic is nothing without some good levels to go through, and Ghostory does have some of the better levels I've ever had to play through in one of these games. The puzzles are all very deliberative and entirely skill based, so if ever you make a mistake you have no one to blame but yourself. They're tough but usually fair. Whenever I made a mistake I couldn't be too mad because I knew I just did something stupid. Throughout the whole game there was only one that I just couldn't figure out, but they let you skip up to two levels if one of them just isn't agreeing with you. At the same time you can only have up to two levels skipped at a time, so you feel pressed to solve them rather than just take a dodge because you have limited "get out of jail free" cards.
The only complaint I have is that the levels can sometimes be a bit long and the save points can be a bit too few and far between. I had no problem with the longer levels when it was just one massive puzzle the whole time, but sometimes they were just a series of unrelated mini-puzzles that were plenty difficult on their own, but then I couldn't solve the next one. I couldn't take a break without losing my progress on the first puzzle which took me a decent amount of time and brain power to complete. This isn't a problem in all of the levels, just a select few.
Graphics and audio
When done correctly, pixel graphics can come off as stylized and retro. When done incorrectly they can be an indecipherable abomination. Ghostory rides the line smack dab in the middle of this spectrum. They aren't bad, but I thought they were a bit bland. It wasn't really showing me anything I hadn't seen before and I found the landscapes largely uninteresting. They are pixel art, but there's nothing that really visually separates it from other games done in this style.
I liked the audio a bit more. The music was always matching the calmer mood of the game and the sound effects did a great job of complimenting the setting with empty, echoing footsteps with the occasional splash in a hidden puddle.
Ghostory is a good addition for any fans of the puzzle platformer genre. I wouldn't call it a must-have by any stretch, but it's done well enough for me to recommend it to anyone who has a few hours to burn. I will confess that towards the end I did have to slog through it. It's only about eight hours long but it felt like a lot longer to me in some sections. That said, I find myself looking back mostly fondly. The central mechanics and level design override the problems I have with the aesthetics and story, at least in my mind. I think it's because there was obviously a lot of time and effort thrown into this projects and, despite the faults, that level of care does shine through. All in all, I would say there are some worse ways to burn time between the cradle and the grave.
|+ Fun and smooth central mechanic||– Story gets lost at times|
|+ Well designed levels||– Boring graphics|
|+ Occasionally clever writing||– Levels are occasionally too long|