Review: Mini Ghost

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Mini Ghost is a funny little title, at least in the realm of release and intention. The good people of unepic_fran made a really solid name with their first title, UnEpic, and followed through with Ghost 1.0, which is one of my favorite titles in the last few years. It’s very clear this team is great at making Metrovania titles, and I think everyone was eagerly awaiting what would be coming next. So when Mini Ghost, a prequel to Ghost 1.0 showed up, done in the style of a MSX classic, people were…confused. Was this a late April Fool’s joke? The answer, thankfully, is a resounding “no”: it’s one of the best retro adventures I’ve had in a while.

First and foremost, if you’re a fan of Ghost 1.0 and need something to add onto the canon, you can skip Mini Ghost. The “prequel” is a hilariously short idea of taking the core story from the original, boiling it down to barebones and then adding tiny, cartoony versions of the characters. You literally have Mini Viktor hiring Mini Jacker to hack a space station (Mini Nakamura?) and then send Mini Ghost in to “fix” it for a price. That’s it. Everything that comes afterwards is mostly without narration, just some straight forward pixel perfection.

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There are a lot of ways to approach retro-inspired/styled games nowadays. Owlboy shows how to make something pixel art but still make it high fidelity. La-Mulana leans heavily on the MSX style but still injects a ton of finesse and modern design. Mini Ghost looks like it could have come straight out of the 8-bit era, and it suits it perfectly. Each room has enough variety to it to not be a carbon copy of the original, yet still keeps to a pretty base pallet when it comes to colors and shapes. You won’t experience any kind of confusion of “wasn’t I just here?” In fact, unepic_fran has done a bang up job of sorting each of the areas to make sure it’s distinctly still on the same space ship yet a different environment altogether. It screams “METROID” in a very sincere tribute, because I never once thought I was playing an NES game, but someone’s own creation.

Mini Ghost plays fairly straightforward as well. Different areas are locked away either through keycards or important items that you need to find scattered throughout the rooms. Along the way, you get XP from destroying enemies and cubes that are randomly dropped and hidden inside crates. The cubes are currency that unlock items from some shops. As far as I can tell, these shop items are totally incidental and not needed to beat the game at all. However, increased health and firepower can definitely help as you delve deeper into the ship. XP serves only to heal you for one health unit after you max out your experience bar. This was a little frustrating, as I either a.) didn’t need the single point of health and, as such, didn’t get it, or b.) I was ass-deep in the ship and needed a little more than a single bar to keep me going. There is a hospital that will completely heal you for free, and it’s right near the spawn point. More on that in a moment, but you can imagine that isn’t the most accessible area when you need to be healed RIGHT NOW. And if you die, you retain all the items you found, but lose all cubes on hand. Oh, and shunted back to the spawn.

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Mini Ghost handles fairly well, as far as a metrovania game goes. You run, you shoot and you have alternative weapons that enemies sometimes drop. You can hold up to three of an alt weapon at a time, and you need to use them all up before changing to a different one. Some, like a wide ring scatter shot, are amazing and really help to clear a room since enemies can shoot at different angles but you normally can’t. Others, like the floating space mine, seem worthless until they work. A lot of the biggest problem enemies you encounter (turrets, shock poles) are stationary and thus couldn’t care less about the mines. The patrolling missile launcher dudes, however, can really mess you up and the mines help do the dirty work as long as you’re fast and patient. What I’m saying is that all the alt weapons have their place, but it really comes down to you and your main blaster. Once you get an upgrade that allows you to run and shoot at the same time (a shocking element that’s locked from the start) you realize that you can probably do the whole game with your base weapon. And, if you’re good, you can do just that.

The items necessary are scattered throughout in a logical order; you won’t end up with the key card to area 3 before you get into area 2. Some of the items are very obvious in location, such as a boss fight or inside the ONLY crate in an otherwise empty room. Others are also in crates, but could be easily passed over on the way to the next room, giving incentive for players to explore a bit in order to really get the most out of their game. The cubes you get from the crates will pile up quickly, and you may want to backtrack in order to get wallet-expanding items from the shops. The shops are the antithesis to the key items, seemingly placed at random and sometimes rather difficult to get back to. I suppose that fits further into the “these aren’t necessary” idea, but, especially for first time players, you end up wasting a lot of time trying to remember exactly which shops you have and haven’t been to. Thankfully, you get two pretty handy key items early on: a map and a reset button that teleports you back to spawn without losing any gems. The button can be invaluable if you’ve been playing for a while and saving up for the coveted double damage upgrade (200 cubes). It can also be the only way to heal, as the aforementioned hospital is ridiculously far away depending on how long you’ve been into it.

You can probably do your first playthrough of Mini Ghost in an afternoon, maybe a bit longer if you’re reflexes are slower. After that, you can start working on your speed run, and this is where a whole another level of Mini Ghost comes out of the woodwork. You see, instead of just being a great retro adventure, unepic_fran packed some goodies in here that add a lot to it. The online leaderboard entices you to go for the speed run record and leave other ghosts in the dust. There are several editors that are available in the options that allow you to make characters, tiles and even a whole version of the game yourself. With enough time and effort, you can essentially re-create other metrovania experiences within Mini Ghost, or make your own. The Steam Workshop is full of carefully made character sprites from other popular video games, and several maps that are devious and really enjoyable. And if you have any friends playing Mini Ghost, good news; there’s actually the option to “Troll Friends” (literally what it says on the menu screen. You can be helpful and add stuff in while they’re playing, like platforms, or you can add super inconvenient stuff, like poorly timed platforms. Hurl insults that flash on their screen, increase enemy tenacity…I mean, it’s pretty mean, and you need to have the right friends to do this to, but it’s a cool concept that I wouldn’t have thought to put into such a tiny game.

I can’t think of a single reason to NOT get Mini Ghost, unless you abhor retro games with a fiery passion. It’s fun, it’s got a decent playtime, it actually has a TON of replayability, and it’s polished. I own MP3s that have a larger data footprint, and you could run it on any computer made within the last 15 years. If you’ve got time and a little bit of patience for the game to gather speed, you’re gonna love Mini Ghost.

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