Hanging Mr. Cooper.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is acclaimed developer Rare's first entry as a member of team Microsoft, a merger that made big news. Does the game validate Microsoft's enormous investment?Â
Nope, not really. The game hits just in time for Halloween, but it's more of a trick than a treat. It has a unique perverse wackiness, but the somewhat interesting gameplay grows tiresome despite the short length of the game.
Cooper is your average earnest but unlikely hero who ventures into haunted Ghoulhaven Hall with his girlfriend Amber.Â To no real big surprise, the hapless Amber is kidnapped by the spirits within the ancient manor. And thus, Cooper must brave through the estate to track his lost love, rescue other kids and take down the villainous Baron von Ghoul.
What sets Grabbed by the Ghoulies apart is its combat system.Â Contrary to just about every other Rare game, Cooper doesn't jump at all, opting instead to just whack away at monsters mercilessly. But rather than the standard button-mashing, attacks are controlled with the right thumbstick via tapping or holding in the direction of enemies.Â It's different and worth the old college try, but the system is just not quite there.Â The lack of deeper combos and maneuvers hurts the depth, and you never really grow comfortable with it.
There are also plenty of items to pick up and use. Most of these accessories are of the swing and throw variety, such as chairs to smash or bottles to lob.Â Sometimes friendly NPC's will briefly equip Cooper with some heavier artillery, like a watergun with Zombie melting water or an egg gun.Â Even with these additions, you are relegated to simple taps and holds of the right stick.
Part of the problem lies with the camera control, which is on the clunky side. It swings around a bit and you'll struggle trying to get it back on track. You'll fight with it almost as much as the ghoulies.
The many rooms of Ghoulhaven Hall are divided into "scenes."Â Each scene offers up a different challenge, such as beating up all the enemies or beating a timed challenge. Sometimes a rule restriction is imposed like having to use one item in particular or only beating up one species while leaving the others alone. This helps break the monotony of just killing everything and moving on, which is a nice change of pace.
While traversing hallways between scenes, you'll be treated to some intermittent Shenmue-style "happenings."Â A spook will give Cooper a scare, causing a button sequence to appear on screen.Â You must quickly tap through the combination to calm down our easily disturbed hero.Â This again merits a smile, but the button-tapping feels a touch out of place.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is linear and straightforward in its progression from scene to scene.Â Saving also works on a scene basis, so the game is very forgiving and easy to plow through, especially since it's so short.
The visual tone of Ghoulies is like a sharper, clearer version of Banjo Kazooie in flatly drab, darker tones.Â Nothing particularly revolutionary or noteworthy here; it looks just as it should, which is to say, pretty good. The familiar Rare style of character design is back as well.Â I used to chalk up the blocky designs on polygon limitations, but considering the power difference between the N64 and the Xbox, the character designs still seem tied down to the past.Â Nonetheless, it's nice to see the various cameos from other Rare games hidden throughout the environments.
There are no voices, only the classic Rare garbledy-gook sounds and silent-movie text cards.Â The sound effects and music are fittingly cartoon wacky with the occasional dose of darkness; the sound of a monster getting whacked is especially gruesome. I actually like the little theme song in the opening, where monsters pop out shouting "Grabbed by the Ghoulies!" Hey, it beats the DK rap, but then again, that's not a tall order.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies can't quite scare up something groundbreaking, but it should manage to tide over the tykes on the Xbox.Â It feels like Rare isn't quite sure where its voice is, currently lost somewhere in between the Nintendo and Microsoft camps. Grabbed by the Ghoulies is simple and quirky, but ultimately too short and repetitive to really break out.