It’s unfortunately been a while since we have seen a brand new Castlevania game. While the more recent entries in the series have been a little more divisive, the originals still remain classics for Nintendo fans. Ghoulboy is a low price indie title, that portrays itself as a Castlevania-like platformer. Unfortunately, Ghoulboy has trouble living up to the nostalgia of it’s predecessor.
Goblin King’s Tyranny
Ghoulboy is a 16 bit 2D platformer developed by Serkan Bakar, and published by Dolores Entertainment. Ghoulboy sees you playing as a young boy named Thulgar. You are the son of a ghoul slayer, and your father is prophesised to kill the tyrant Goblin King that rules the land.
One day the Goblin King imprisons your father, and it is learned that the slayer the prophecy spoke of is you. The story is pretty bland, and it’s not really necessary. The story isn’t brought up much after that, which makes it pretty irrelevant to the game.
Ghoulboy plays much like the series it feels based off, Castlevania. You go through each level, with the goal of getting to the end, and reaching the boss. Once you have fought the boss you move on to a new location. There’s a few levels that accompany each location (4-5). To get through each of these levels, you will have to defeat monsters, venture through dangerous traps and platforming segments. There’s also a bit of a puzzle element to Ghoulboy like finding switches, and keys to unlock the next part of a level.
No adventurer is complete without his trusty arsenal of weapons. Ghoulboy actually differentiates from the Castlevania formula in this regard. You have access to three different weapons. You will start with a smaller sword. Shortly afterwards, you receive a bigger, more threatening sword. There’s also an ability to get a mace that does even more damage. I’ll talk a bit more about that after.
Staying true to the Castlevania formula, there’s also a sub weapon system. You can collect Spears or spinning daggers to be thrown at enemies. Instead of using an energy system, you simply have a specific number of each. By exploring, and defeating enemies, you can replenish your stock. I rarely every found myself running out of them, which was nice.
What wasn’t so nice was the shallow variety in these sub weapons. Castlevania had a great variety, with each having their own use. Unfortunately, here you just have the two previously mentioned options, and the ability to throw two spinning daggers at once. The Spears can be used as an extra ledge, which is kind of neat I must say. I think the sub weapons could have been fleshed out a lot more, and it would have helped give some more depth to Ghoulboy’s gameplay.
In each level there are gems and coins that can be found, and added, to your total money. Your money can be used either by finding the shopkeeper in every level, or back at the main menu screen.
The shopkeeper in each level will sell you health to replenish your meter, and you can also buy extra Spears and daggers. If you return to the main menu, and have a lot of money, you can purchase permanent upgrades. There are three options; maximum health increase, maximum sub weapon capacity, and the mace. Each of these cost quite a bit, and throughout my playthrough, I only purchased the mace.
There’s not much for extras in Ghoulboy. The only extra I could find, was the ability to change the game into one of three retro-style modes. They act as filters, to replicate the retro era of video games. They’re not a huge addition, but they’re a neat little addition.
Visually, Ghoulboy looks pretty bland. The game’s graphics are definitely inspired by Castlevania, in the sense that they’re very Gothic. It does do a good job at potraying that dark and somber tone throughout the levels.
The problem is that the visuals feel so simplistic. Yes it is somber, and dark, and I got what the developers were going for, but they just didn’t feel unique. The environments were dull, and the games graphics just lacked character. I kept hoping that the new locations would make me feel refreshed. Instead, I was let down by every new location I visited. They just weren’t very appealing. Everything was so generic, and because of that, by the end of the game I was exhausted at looking at it.
I do have to give some credit to Ghoulboy’s enemy design. I was never dissapointed by the diverse cast of enemies I had to face off against. The enemies made great use of the games color palette, and each one acted differently from one another. Whenever I came across a new enemy, I always had my guard up because I had no idea what they were capable of.
The bosses looked good too, but their battles felt repetitive, and I caught on to their movements and attacks too quickly. Boss fights definitely would have felt better if the bosses had stages, that changed how they acted after taking a certain amount of damage.
Sound design was pretty mediocre across the board. Some retro fans may like the games 16-bit soundtrack. I found the tracks didn’t go great with the game, and got old really quick.
From a technical standpoint, there are some things Ghoulboy could improve on. I’ll start out with the obligatory statement on the fps, and resolution. They were fine in both handheld, and docked mode. I had absolutely no problems in these areas.
Controls were also very responsive. I always felt like I had control over my movements. They’re simple controls, but they worked smoothly, and I was happy it didn’t suffer from the problem that some retro indie games have with their controls.
Design Problems (You know it’s getting serious when I don’t try to come up with cool heading names)
While the controls worked well, there were some other choices that were made, that did not work well at all with the gameplay. One major flaw was the very small amount of time you are invulnerable after taking damage. The little time you get, does not give you enough time to react, and this led to a lot of unfair deaths. This was definitely a massive oversight that I felt really damaged my experience.
Another annoyance was the fact that the game didn’t pause while in the shop menu. That’s right. If you are visiting a shop in the middle of the level, something can kill you while you are in the purchasing menu. Even worse, the game has a bug where it will let you spend money on health even if you already have full health, and it doesn’t stack under it. You may ask why do you know this? Well, I did it by accident. So, yes, I’m not that “bright”, but that’s still an annoying bug to find.
One more little thing I will mention is, in one level there is a locked gate, that can only be opened by killing all the enemies in the area below it. However, there was nothing there to let me know that I had to do that. I was searching around for a key, for quite a while, until I did a search online. In one of the other versions of the game, there’s an NPC that tells you have to do that. However, she is no where to be found in the Switch version. Maybe I should have thought to kill all of the monsters, but it would be nice if they added the NPC back into the game.
Bugs & Glitches
There were a few bugs and issues I witnessed during my play-through of Ghoulboy. The one that stands out the most was the clipping through levels.
There were times where I would jump, and get into a part of the level I should not have been able to get into. When this happened, I would usually walk around, and eventually die or get stuck, and have to do a reset. This really took away from the games ability to immerse me into it, by this happening every now and then.
I also had a problem with some of the hitboxes on enemies. I found sometimes I would be swinging my sword at them, and it would go right through them. This usually happened when the enemy was close to me, and would result in me getting hit while the enemy passed right through me.
Ghoulboy is not a bad game, but it’s not a great one either. The controls are solid, and it offers some decent 2D platforming that fans of the genre may enjoy.
When you start to take a harder look at it, however, it’s hard not to notice its shortcomings. With the bugs, the dull visuals, and poor design choices, there’s just too much that affect the game negatively to warrant a play-through of it.
For big fans of the retro style platformers, and those who are really missing the old Castlevania games, I give Ghoulboy a recommendation. It’s got a good price point, and might fill that urge you’re having. For other fans of the platformer genre, check somewhere else. The nostalgic feeling this game gives is not enough to offset its problems.
5/10 Average 2D Retro PlatformerA nostalgic game that falls short of it’s target
- Pretty Solid Controls
- Cool Retro Filters
- Great Enemy Design
- Bland Visuals
- Dull Environments
- Mediocre Soundtrack
- Poor Design Choices
- Few Bugs That Spoil the Gameplay
- Lack of Variety For Sub Weapons
- Fairly Irrelevant Story