A pointless waste of 20 minutes
Believe it or not, complaining about videogames and telling everyone why Half-Life 2 is bad isn’t enough to pay off what we Millenials like to call “crippling student debt” all on its own. As a result, I work a second job helping university freshman with their homework and the strange, sudden freedom that comes from finally moving out of your parent’s house (actual question I’ve received, verbatim: “How much weed is too much weed?”) While I waited for students to come to my office during a particularly slow day at this second job, I decided I’d start up Ghost Blade HD, a game Hey Poor Player had asked me to review. I was looking forward to what promised to be a fast-paced shoot-em-up in the classic arcade style, and while I knew I wouldn’t have time to get very much into it, I could at least dip my toe into what the game had to offer.
Imagine my surprise when, twenty minutes later, I had entirely beaten the game’s campaign. Yep. This isn’t a joke or any sort of exaggeration – when I closed Steam it said I had been playing for exactly twenty minutes. And that was on normal difficulty.
Now, it’s not unreasonable for a shoot-em-up of this kind to have a shorter campaign (although: twenty minutes? Really?) Perhaps more telling is the fact that in that first 20 minute run, I also got 61% of the achievements. It’s one thing for a game to be this short when it has a lot of replayability, or when you felt like the time you spent with it was valuable, but neither is true of Ghost Blade HD, which really has nothing substantial to make it worth playing again. It offers less entertainment, time-wise, than a single episode of Scrubs.
Ghost Blade HD is, as I said above, a Japanese bullet hell shoot-em-up very much in the style of arcade classics like Galaga. You play as one of three female pilots with huge breasts in your quest to defeat an artificial intelligence named “Evil Shira.” The press kit for the game has three paragraphs of story describing how Evil Shira was thought dead but is now attacking several colonies on Mars, absolutely none of which is represented in the game. Even the names of the three pilots are only said in the achievement you get for picking each one, and since my pre-release review copy doesn’t let me look at the achievements I’ve got, I guess I’ll never again know what those names are. Generally, I wouldn’t mind if a game like this didn’t bother with any sort of real narrative, but in this case it would’ve been nice to have something to make the game’s ludicrously short runtime feel more fleshed out and substantial.
When it comes to the actual shooting, Ghost Blade HD is…competent. I’ll give it that much. It doesn’t do anything you haven’t seen before if you’ve picked up any arcade shmup in the last 35 years, but it at least puts in more effort than Starry Nights: Helix. Bosses are engaging, with a variety of attacks that require different ways of thinking and make sure you don’t get too complacent, and regular enemies are varied enough to keep things interesting. The graphics, likewise, get the job done without inspiring either hatred or awe – the 2D sprites used for projectiles and pickups are a bit drab, with flat colors, but the 3D models of the enemies and bosses are quite nice. Everything has that over-detailed bad anime look that favors showing off the artists’ technical skill over choosing a single cohesive art style, but it looks no worse than similar games in the same vein.
The biggest problem, gameplay-wise, is how easy everything is. I enjoy shoot-em-ups, but I’m no great talent, so if I can beat your game on the very first try you know it’s too easy. If you can hold down the fire button and dodge slow-moving projectiles at the same time, you’ll probably breeze through the game’s five levels on all but the hardest difficulty setting. Even if you can’t manage that, the game gives you bombs which can be used to detonate most of the enemies and all of the projectiles on the screen, and these bombs are given out frequently enough that there’s no reason not to spam them any time you’re having difficulty.
And the game’s easy difficulty is downright insulting. Not only do enemies go down faster, but projectiles are no-longer one hit kills. Worst of all, the game automatically fires bombs for you whenever you get close to death, making this the perfect difficulty setting for people who want to play the game without actually playing the game. I’m all for accessibility, but in a game that offers little challenge to begin with, the inclusion of this mode is just ridiculous.
I should state here that the game does include a training mode, a score attack mode, and two-player co-op. None of these do much to extend the game’s replayability. The training mode is just an even easier way to practice against the game’s enemies one at a time, in case holding down the fire button is too complicated for you. The score attack mode is literally just playing the game’s first level while trying to get the highest possible score – on my first attempt I topped the scoreboard with more than 212 million points and never returned. And two-player co-op just makes an already easy game even easier – you’ll spend most of the time sitting and staring at an empty screen, having destroyed the most recent wave of enemies as soon as they appeared. At least when you’ve finished the campaign, you and your friend will still have plenty of time to do something more fulfilling, like take turns punching each other in the head to see who blacks out first.
I had high hopes for this game based on its impressive marketing campaign and pre-release buzz, but I honestly cannot think of a single reason why you would play Ghost Blade HD. If the team behind Ghost Blade had bothered to put some more effort in and make a complete product, I could see this game being something, if not exceptional, at least interesting for genre fans. But as it is, there’s so many games that do the same things it’s trying to do, but better. Heck, Tyrian 2000 is free on GOG.com, and that’s a shoot-em-up with a lot of depth and a campaign that lasts – if you can believe in such a thing – multiple hours.
Honestly, yeah, that’s my final word on Ghost Blade HD. Just play Tyrian 2000 instead.
Final Verdict: 1.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Wii U, PS4, Xbox One; Publisher: 2Dream; Developer: Hucast Games; Players: 1-2; Released: February 28, 2017; MSRP: $9.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Ghost Blade HD given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.