Ginger: Beyond the Crystal is a new 3D platformer from independent developer Drakhar Studio. It's a cute looking game that borrows a lot of gameplay design from genre classics. Within Ginger, you'll be reminded of games like Banjo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, Super Mario Galaxy, and more. Full of bright characters and cheerful visuals, Ginger is decidedly old-school with a modern twist. If you grew up with a Nintendo 64, you've probably played games with a similar design. The true test is execution, and that's where the game stumbles. As with all of my reviews, I'll dissect the game piece by piece to find out where the went wrong.
Ginger's story is small and simply there for introductions. In fact, the story is the first clue that the game isn't completely fleshed out. The game begins with a slightly confusing introduction to the world. You play as Ginger, who is a gift from the all-powerful goddess. It is your destiny to explore the world and rid it of chaos. As the game starts, all of the crystals in the land have been corrupted by chaos. After a brief tutorial, you're set off on your way. After that, the story never really progresses.
Unlike Mario 64, there's no "princess in the castle" to save. There's no driving force in the story, rather an obligation. The lore of the world slowly fades into the background of the game until it is all but forgotten. In fact, the game never closes the story. Upon completion, there is no ending cutscene. Your only indication of completion is a text box on the pause menu that says "You have completed the main quest". When I saw this, I was amazed. I can't remember the last time a modern game didn't have a closing cutscene. It's truly a confusing choice that makes me think the game was released too early. Additionally, the primary language of the game is Spanish. Developer Drakhar Studio hails from Madrid, Spain, so there was a need for localization to English. Unfortunately, this is done pretty sloppily as well. There're not many glaring issues, but the writing comes off as awkward due to the mistakes here. Those uninterested in the story will be unhappy to find that the game doesn't let you skip text. That's actually not entirely true: sometimes the game lets you skip text. I honestly couldn't figure out what determined skippable versus unskippable text. It's a game of chance whether or not you can skip the text, most of the time you end up skipping the entire scene by accident.
This is where I struggle with Ginger, and where most of my confoundment comes from. It's a truly mixed bag, and for every thing that the game does right, it, in turn, does something horribly wrong. There's a true overall inconsistency to the game, as you'll never know if the next few minutes will be entertaining or insufferable. In addition, there're so many different ideas going on at once, with no clear focus on any of them. In order to best explain it, let me walk you through the gameplay structure. There's three hub worlds: Lowleen Town, Crate Peaks, and Bleepside Lake. Each has a different theme: village, swamp, and beach respectively.
Within these hub worlds are portals to two kinds of levels. There's the mirror levels, which resemble Crash Bandicoot style camera angles and traversal. There's also red crystal levels, which are a direct rip off of the challenge stages in Super Mario Sunshine. You jump from spinning geometric shape to shape, eventually reaching the end and collecting the crystal. If you've played Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy, you know exactly what I'm talking about. Each world has 10 levels, broken between 5 of both types.
In order to unlock additional levels, you must repair the town and raise their morale. You can do this in several ways, all of which feel awkwardly unfinished. You can "rescue lost villagers" by visiting a large crystal in the hub world. There, you deposit crystals collected while playing the main levels. These crystals are abundant, much like coins in Mario 64. You can also rebuild damaged houses by collecting building supplies. These supplies are scattered around the hub world, in the main levels, and can be earned by completing side missions.
Side quests are an interesting mechanic but become incredibly repetitive after a few. Each side quest follows one of three formulas. You either collect a few items, fight a few enemies, or compete in a checkpoint race. There're maybe one or two unique side quests within the game, but the overwhelming majority repeats. The game also cannot track more than one side quest at a time, making them tedious to complete. This is pretty bad, considering how basic the quests are.
You can also improve the hub's morale by buying accessories for your townsfolk. You do this by spending your collected crystals at the merchant.
The mirror levels are the bulk of the game, each being a unique experience. These levels range from bad to amazing, and it all depends on the gimmick of the level. Each level usually has an entertaining scenario or fun distraction. This includes helping bears collect honey, competing in carnival games, and avoiding an Indiana Jones style boulder. My favorite of the bunch was a Resident Evil-inspired level in the second world, complete with door opening animations. The challenge levels are entertaining but stay the same throughout the game with minor variations.
Ultimately, the biggest enemy of the game is inconsistency. The introductory world is the worst of the bunch and doesn't set the proper tone of the quality of the game. The controls and presentation are all over the place (more on that later), and there're too many ideas going on at once. All of these elements are kind of thrown together, rather than woven. There's even an entire gameplay mechanic dedicated to unlockable outfits, but it never gets fleshed out enough to bother explaining. Sure, you can change into a mouse that can shrink, a wizard that can use magic, and even a vampire that can turn into a bat. However, you never use these abilities outside of pre-planned contextual instances.
Each world's final level ties up with a boss encounter. Bosses are reminders of a time gone past; a different era of games altogether. Unfortunately, two out of the three are uninspired and uninteresting. That's the entire structure of Ginger, rinse and repeat two more times.
Visuals and Audio
The inconsistency in quality stretches into the graphics department as well. While the game looks crisp and colorful, it struggles to run at a decent frame rate. The art style is cute and cuddly, and there's no true problem with the visual style. It's disappointing that the game stutters to embarrassingly low frame rates constantly. Navigating hub worlds is frustrating and choppy at times, whereas some levels play smooth and clean. There's a significant lack of post effects, so the drops in frame rate are almost inexcusable. This might be a console-only issue, and I truly hope it is. Large drops in performance can cause frustrating deaths and an unpleasant game experience. Dying is pretty much negligible, however, as there is no life counter or game overs.
On the audio side, it's surprisingly consistent. While the music and sound effects aren't great, they're never terrible. The whole score reminds me of Banjo Kazooie's music, actually. You won't be humming any of the tunes after completion, but you'll certainly enjoy it along the way.
Closing Remarks and conclusion
It was hard to consolidate my feelings about Ginger. On one hand, the game remains varied and entertaining throughout the approximately 8-hour experience. There were some great nostalgia moments littered throughout, thanks to the game's clear inspiration from genre classics. On the other hand, the game seems unfinished. Performance drops and design inconsistency keep it from rising above mediocrity. There're so many things going on at once, that Ginger ultimately feels cluttered. Ideas that should've been cut remain in the game, and core mechanics lack variety or expansion.
I feel like this could've been a great game. It could've truly been something special and worth investing time into. However, it stumbles in far too many places. There're glaring design flaws (you can't access options from the pause screen, by the way) that truly made me wonder if the game was ready for release. I can't recommend the game at full price, but its variety makes it worth experiencing.
|+ Cute art style||– Barely any story|
|+ Great parody levels||– Feels cluttered|
|+ Nostalgia goosebumps||– Massive performance issues|
|– Inconsistent quality|