There was a game called Ghost Squadigan. Begin again!
Imagine you had the chance to relive the same day over and over again until you could get it just right. Okay, so Bill Murray already has. But let’s imagine there was a video game that gave you that chance. How differently would you play it each time? Would you make nice with your enemies and invite them for tea and crumpets? Maybe you could perfect your romantic skills and woo a fair NPC to come with you and be your love and all the pleasures prove.
Ghost Squad is an experiment on the limits of replayability. There are only three short levels, and when played for the first time, the game will only take you around twenty minutes. Yeah, tell your girlfriend that if she wakes up, you’re already done. But like that fateful day Bill Murray relived in thousands of different ways, Ghost Squad is meant to be revisited. And revisited. And revisited.
Like Sega’s other recent arcade transplant, Sega Rally Revo, Ghost Squad brings all of the sights and sounds of the arcade experience to your console. Ghost Squad is a rail shooter in the best kind of way. There are very few console adaptations of light-gun shooters that so faithfully capture the feel of shooting a bright blue vibrating gun at hapless digital on-screen fiends amidst the fetid stench of skee-ball wizards and crane-game junkies. And since Ghost Squad is so short, it can’t be bothered with time-suckers like “story”.
To compensate, Ghost Squad has more unlockable goodies than a Nevada brothel. You’ll unlock tons of different weapons, outfits, game modes, and difficulty levels. Each of the three stages has multiple branches you can take to reach the end. At certain junctures, you’ll be presented with two or three options like “go left” or “go right”. How well you perform in each section of a stage and which branches you choose determine what other branches open up. In addition, each time you defeat a boss from one of the three stages, a new “mission level” gets unlocked for that mission. With each new mission level, conditions like the time of day and enemy behavior change. You’ll still be playing the same stages over and over, but they’ll rarely look exactly the same way twice.
Yes, the environments look slightly different, the enemies behave a little differently each time, and your path changes ever so slightly. But like Bill Murray, you’ll be driven to the brink of insanity, because you’re stuck with just those three stages. Leaderboards add a little more replay value with local and online score tracking, and multiplayer adds a few more layers to this short game. But no matter where you go or what you do, you’ll always be confined to those three stages.
You can play through the main Arcade mode with either one or two players. You can also play in Party mode with up to four people, or with two players using two guns (or with one player creatively using all four). In Party mode, you also can use one of two unlockable themes. In the Ninja theme, everyone’s dressed like a ninja, and all the vehicles, locales, and weapons get all dressed up for the Ninja party. Where your enemies were riding jet skis in normal mode, they are now riding speeding toads in Ninja mode. And the helicopters are… you guessed it, flying toads. Toadjitsu must be a secret Ninja art only now being revealed to the world. In the Paradise theme, everyone’s a bikini-clad woman. One man’s paradise is another’s sheer ecstasy, I say. The replay options are virtually limitless.
As great as the gunplay is, there are some minor annoying control issues. Since the reticule is sensitive to the Wii sensor bar and not your TV, the sightline is a bit off. There’s a calibration option, but in order to calibrate the reticule, you have to orient your TV, sensor bar, and playing position perfectly. Even then, you’ll never be able to get the calibration just right. The best solution is not to aim by sighting down the remote; instead, just aim from the hip. The game also allows you the option of turning on and off the reticule, but real men play without any stinking reticules.
The game’s also as hard or as easy as you want it to be. Expect to die often, but instead of needing a pocketful of quarters, just press the “+” button and you’ll pick up right where you left off. You can adjust the difficulty, but you have infinite continues and infinite ammo, so there’s not much of a penalty to dying and even less of a penalty for freely using your ammo. You could set yourself some lofty goals like beating the game without using a continue on the hardest difficulty, but there’s no substantial payoff for doing so.
The game runs great and maintains a smooth framerate throughout. The camera bobs convincingly with your steps and peeks around corners on its own. However, since it’s a rail shooter and you have no control over the camera, you have to suffer through a 4:3 aspect ratio regardless of whether you have a widescreen display.
Despite all of its possible variations, Ghost Squad does get repetitive quickly. It’s a load of fun for the first couple of hours, but very few players will have the patience to get all of the unlockables. The game’s relatively cheap price tag makes its length much more palatable, and it offers a great way to re-experience the heyday of the arcade light gun games at home. The Wii is seeing a small resurgence in rail shooters, and additions like Ghost Squad to the console’s library are definitely welcome, even if it’s over far too quickly.
Instead of burdening the game with things like story or length or multiple stages, the developers have instead decided to pack Ghost Squad’s three brief levels with as much replay value as possible. While they’ve done a good job of giving you many reasons to replay those levels for higher scores and more unlockables, replaying these levels many times over will barely bring the game’s total length to more than a few hours. This bumbling groundhog should have seen its shadow much sooner and ushered in a much longer springtime full of rail-shooting joy.