With Rare Replay just days away we’ve busted out the Mr. Sheen and dusted off our Grabbed by the Ghoulies lookback from Halloween 2013.
Microsoft paid a vast sum for Rare ($375 million, if your memory needs a jog) and so it was understandable, at least from a business point of view, that they wanted a return on that outlay sooner rather than later. With Kameo: Elements of Power and the next Perfect Dark still some way off, Grabbed by the Ghoulies was called upon to begin filling Microsoft’s coffins, sorry, coffers, with cash.
Rare’s first Xbox-exclusive was both announced and released within a six month period. For a Rare production this was uncommon – their games were objects of affection long before release, with new info and batches of screenshots slowly drip-fed to the press in order to whip up a frenzy every time something new was shown.
Even from an early stage it was clear that Grabbed by the Ghoulies wasn’t going to be quite the labour of love as Rare’s previous efforts. Spiky haired protagonist Cooper could have only been more uncharismatic had Rare stuck a backwards baseball cap on his head, while his love interest – punkish teen Amber – was also rather undistinguished when compared to the company’s other creations. Together they were up against the eccentric Baron Von Ghoul, owner of Ghoulhaven Hall.
With each cob-webbed covered room presenting a challenge or obstacle to overcome, comparisons with Luigi’s Mansion were easy to make. The plot too shared some similarities – Luigi and Cooper both had to venture into haunted houses to save the ones they loved (albeit brotherly love in Luigi’s case). Another difference was the hindrances Cooper faced could mostly be overcome with brawn rather than brain due to a focus on combat.
This wasn’t the first game to feature melee attacks mapped out onto an analogue stick, but it was perhaps the most successful at doing so. Pushing the right stick caused Cooper to unleash a barrage of kicks in that direction, as well as a nifty elbow slam when attacking enemies from behind. Environments were fully destructible – after a ruckus the mansion’s rooms lay strewn with pieces of broken furniture along with the ghostly remains of whatever supernatural enemies Cooper had come up against.
Weapons too were breakable, but not in a pleasing fashion – most would fall to pieces after a paltry three uses. This did however keep players on their toes, forcing them to search rooms for other ways to maim. Not all enemies could be defeated by melee combat either – mummies, for instance, had to be booted into fireplaces and furnaces with a well-timed kick.
Each room had a challenge to beat in order to unlock the door to the next area. These started out relatively simple, such as having to vanquish all enemies within a time limit, and became more elaborate as the story unfolded. Challenges to defeat a bunch of enemies with only a certain number of attacks, or without weapons, would usually take a couple of attempts to successfully compete. Failure to meet these objectives resulted in the Grim Reaper turning up and killing Cooper with one touch from his long pointy finger. The Reaper would also kill any enemies that crossed his path, prompting him to play his scythe like an electric guitar in an amusing manner.