Friday, April 2, 2010

Cheap Thrills: GhostSlayer (WiiWare, 2010)

I have a fondness for downloadable games, because they tend to be inexpensive and simple; they appeal to the retro fan in me while giving me something arguably new to experience.  So I'm inaugurating a new Cheap Thrills feature, in which I will present informal reviews of these kinds of under-$10 titles.  I picked up Gevo Entertainment's GhostSlayer for the Wii a few weeks back, a sword-fighting game pitting the player against a series of creepy ghost warriors in deserted villages, forests and canyons.  It's a quality effort, and with all the rising from the dead on view, it's a reasonable choice for this Good Friday post.

I'm not saying Ghostslayer is a GREAT game.  It's not a technological showpiece, even by Wii standards -- it's in fully-rendered 3-D, but the enemy models are repetitive and the generic, muddy background textures call too many early Playstation games to mind.  And it's hardly a deep experience -- it's on rails, with the player guided automatically through the game's eight levels, so it's more of a ride than a game as far as exploration goes.  There are some power-ups like new swords and additional hit points that can be earned by completing levels, but the gameplay is pretty much the same throughout.  And there's no real story -- just a series of threatening spirits to dispatch from whence they came, using a sword, in a series of varied but generally bland environments. 

Still, GhostSlayer costs 600 Wii points, approximately US$6.00, and provides three or four hours of entertainment.  That seems pretty reasonable to me, because it's the kind of game best played for twenty or thirty minutes at a time, then put away until the urge strikes again.

What particularly tickles me about GhostSlayer is that it's exactly the kind of game experience we were always being promised, but that the technology simply couldn't deliver, back in the 1980's.  Just like in those vintage ads, we're finally wielding what feels like an actual sword against 3-D ghost warriors who rise from the ground and emerge from the fog -- and we're doing it with Wii Motion-Plus controls, so the sword swinging and blocking of enemy blows feels pretty natural (aside from having to hold a "block button" to switch from offense to defense.)  The enemies react differently depending on where and how hard we hit them, and there's a palpable sense of tension as we hold our sword at the ready, preparing to take on the next foe. 

The game doesn't deliver much more than that, but it really doesn't need to -- it's simply fun to knock creepy ghosts down with a sword.  The Wii experience at its best is virtual reality on the cheap, and many would gladly have paid a dollar a go for this privilege in arcades of the past.  For six bucks, GhostSlayer delivers straightforward entertainment that's easy to pick up and play.

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