By Drew D. / July 25th, 2019
|Original Release Date||June 7th, 2016|
|Genre||2D Shooter / Metroidvania|
|Platform||PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4, Wii U|
I’m always impressed when an indie developer successfully tackles a beloved genre like Metroidvania, mainly due to the fact that these genres include some of the greatest games ever produced. And to develop a game that can compete with the big names of those styles is deserving of any recognition it gets. That’s exactly what Ghost 1.0 is, a Metroidvania style game that successfully employs the best aspects of the genre, while also possessing its own charm and brilliance.
Ghost 1.0 is set in the future in which robots are advanced to the point that their physical and mental abilities are comparable to humans in every way. These robots, called Nakas, are so much like humans that efforts to grant them human rights and freedoms are ongoing. However, Nakamura, the creators and producers of the Nakas, are resisting these efforts, claiming that Nakas are no more than a material good, despite their human-level intelligence, learning abilities, and personalities. Meanwhile, a pair of individuals, Jacker the hacker and Boogan the engineer, are more concerned with acquiring Nakamura’s AI algorithm for the sake of personal profit. After many failed attempts at hacking their servers, which reside on the Nakamura Space Station (NSS), they decide to build a robot Chassis and sneak it onto the station. Through a mutual contact named Viktor, the two hire Ghost, an expert at infiltration, capable of masterfully controlling any robot. The Chassis is successfully delivered to the NSS and what starts as a simple procurement mission for Ghost spirals into a far deeper and more personal journey.
I really enjoyed Ghost 1.0’s story, as it kept me thoroughly intrigued from start to finish. Using the covers of theft of technology and the simple premise of a destruction-filled infiltration, the story has far more depth than first perceived. The reveal of secret after secret to build this web of mystery is fantastic and the resolutions are equally satisfying. I’m most impressed with the quality of the story itself, as it’s not only incredibly creative, it’s also well executed through its narrative.
Mainly told through dialogue between Ghost, Jacker, and Boogan, the narrative is outstandingly clever and entertaining. The lighthearted banter between the three expands their personalities and brings quality immersion. I love how Ghost has a mischievous sense of humor and how Jacker conveys his stubborn unwillingness as the recipient of it. I also appreciate Boogan’s implied role as mediator between the two, though more often siding with Ghost’s joking at Jacker’s expense. I especially like the tones the dialogue brings, as it makes everyone not only more likeable and memorable, but more human, which ties into that Naka plot point perfectly. Just as impressive are the changes in tones as the story progresses. These moods are implemented in such a way that they never feel forced, rather they are convincingly palpable and further add to the experience.
The story and narrative are only further strengthened by the character development. We’re treated to the personalities of these characters, from their sarcastic responses to each other to the way they react to the events unfolding. Ghost is definitely the outgoing, energetic type, preferring action and chaos to the alternatives. One aspect of the gameplay is the need to trigger alarms and clear the room of enemies and through her dialogue, it’s heavily implied that she’s doing it on purpose just for the rush and the havoc. And yet through her sarcasm and jovial behavior, she’s incredibly charming. And it’s not just her mischievous side that makes her so appealing; she shows genuine concern for Jacker and Boogan as if they are her friends, despite their only initial relation being a contract for services rendered. It’s these additional sides of Ghost that make her such a memorable and complete character.
Jacker and Boogan, though somewhat less developed than Ghost, are just as memorable. Jacker’s responses to Ghost and his behaviors don’t really change throughout, yet they’re full of humor. Jacker even has a few noteworthy moments of expressing his genuine feelings. Boogan is much more vocal and straightforward with his thoughts and again, his role as mediator make him a likeable personality, especially with his blatant favoritism. Also, even after mysteries are brought to light, his trust in Ghost never wavers. Yet, I would have liked to have seen the same levels of dimension or additions in personality that we see with Ghost. These two have more defined or clear-cut personalities, but they are still so well developed to the point that I wanted more cutscenes and discussions amongst the three of them together. Overall, the story, narrative, and character development are all amazing and are an absolute pleasure to experience.
Moving on to gameplay, Ghost 1.0 plays like a faster-paced Metroid. With healthy doses of platforming and 2D shooting as you explore a vast interconnected map, Ghost 1.0 plays as one would expect from this genre and the execution is impressive. In Classic Mode, you control Ghost as you explore the space station, discover new areas, acquire new weapons and powerups, and backtrack to previously locked locations. And although much of it may seem familiar, Ghost 1.0 has plenty of innovation too, so much so that I’m glad the first section of the game is a tutorial level, explaining the nuances of the unique elements of play.
While you start the game with a simple pistol, there are plenty of additional primary and secondary weapons to collect and upgrade. Although you have unlimited ammo for every weapon, weapons need to recharge, limiting shot number and fire rate, so upgrading is key. There are also plenty of power-ups that improve Ghost herself, such as health and defense. The skill tree featured in the game can not only improve Ghost’s abilities, but can add additional advantages and changes to gameplay as well. For example, progressing in the game requires the triggering of alarms and defeating all of the enemies that appear. Some skills improve Jacker’s ability to manipulate these Alarm Phases, either by shortening the alarm time, which in turn decreases the enemies that appear, send health containers for Ghost, cause instant death to some arriving enemies, or send friendly robots to fight alongside you.
Other skills can increase dropped energy cubes, which are the currency of the game, or decrease prices in shops. Others still can even increase the difficulty of the game, should you wish to do so. As for Ghost herself, a few examples include increasing her health, increase defense against certain types of attacks, improve firing rate, add a double jump, increase recharge rate for weapons, or reduce the penalties for dying. There are plenty to discover and trying different combinations can radically change the experience from one playthrough to the next.
Ghost 1.0 also features a very unique gameplay mechanic: the ability to possess other robots. Ghost is able to leave her Chassis by becoming an invulnerable digital ghost. In this ghost form, she can float to anywhere on the screen and if there’s a vulnerable robot, she can possess it. This opens gameplay to many possibilities, from solving more complex puzzles that require multiple robots, to protecting your Chassis by controlling other robots during a fight and dropping the number of potential threats while keeping your Chassis safe. There’s also a section of the skill tree that improves her ghost abilities, such as moving faster, strengthening possessed robots, or attracting souls.
Outside of standard gameplay, Ghost 1.0 has a lot to do in terms of collecting and unlocking. Items, upgrades, and plenty of achievements are just a few examples. One of my complaints is actually with a certain collection aspect of play; many upgrades to health, ammo amount, and defense are linked to the collecting of souls. Almost every room has souls to collect and triggering their appearance can honestly be a real pain. Many times, the trigger is not intuitive at all. From saving and quitting, to rapidly moving Ghost back and forth, to reaching a specific point in the incredibly large rooms, for every hidden trigger that makes sense, there are several that just don’t (examples in the gallery below). This is where a guide most definitely comes in handy.
Unfortunately, the pain doesn’t stop there, as collecting souls doesn’t always yield a helpful reward. Sometimes the reward is energy cubes, which can be helpful as cash is usually nice, but other times an item called a Geek is unlocked. Meant as jokes, Geeks will change something in the game for humor’s sake without changing the main story or affecting gameplay. For example, the White Plastic Geeks will reskin certain robots to look like storm troopers. Others may add audio and/or video clips from famous shows and movies. While they add humor, their appeal wears thin fast and I would have preferred more power-ups instead.
The reason this is a complaint of mine is because this game is tough. Although I played on medium difficulty, there were plenty of times I found myself frustrated with the need to survive rooms and Alarm Phases that felt more like playing a bullet hell than anything else. More upgrades and power-ups would have helped, rather than cash and joke items. As you progress, gaining certain upgrades definitely helps, as well as focusing on upgrading a few weapons rather than buying them all. Yet the higher difficulty stays consistent throughout and it will get frustrating at times, hence soul collecting and Geek items rubbing me the wrong way.
The last piece of gameplay to mention are the two distinct modes of play. Classic mode is exactly what you would expect, with a gradual increase in difficulty as you complete the game, buying new weapons and improvements along the way. Then there’s Survival mode, which is more of a rogue-like experience. Rather than purchasing items and weapons, you start with a random set. Difficulty increases the longer you survive and you lose everything upon death, starting the sequence of being assigned random items and resetting the difficulty again. This is definitely for veterans of Ghost 1.0, with much patience. Lastly, three difficulty settings for both modes are available. As I mentioned, I found medium on Classic Mode to be somewhat challenging, despite being very familiar with Metroid and Metroidvanias, so that may give you a sense of which mode you’d like to start with.
In terms of issues I had, besides the soul collection, a minor complaint is with the default controls. Playing through using an Xbox controller, the default controls did not feel natural to me. The firing assignments worked very well, but several of the secondary functions, such as opening doors and switching weapons, didn’t feel intuitive in their default assignments. Fortunately, there is full customization for both controller and keyboard/mouse controls. Once I played around and figured out what was most comfortable, I had no issues. Another issue I had is with the vastness of the NSS and, in turn, the sizes of the rooms. This again works against triggering the appearance of souls, but a bigger issue I had was that I found myself having trouble seeing. In order to demonstrate the sheer size of the place, many times I felt the camera was zoomed out to an uncomfortable level. There is a TV mode, but that didn’t help much when the issue was at its worst and this is as I play on a 32-inch screen. Ghost 1.0 is nearly flawless overall, which only makes these few shortcomings stand out.
And now for its aesthetics. Simply put, Ghost 1.0 looks and sounds absolutely amazing. Visually, every aspect of Ghost 1.0 looks as if a ton of love was put into the artistic efforts. From the character sprites to the cutscenes, it’s all truly stunning. I’m very impressed with the amount of detail that went into every sprite. Ghost looks incredible and the various new Chassis you can unlock all look distinct and equally impressive. The various enemy designs are also impressive, all alluding to the senses of a danger-filled, futuristic setting, yet possessing their own individuality in design. Even the backgrounds are fantastic, with their clear and vivid details that show the technological achievement that is the NSS while also conveying the major differences in purpose of each unique area. The cutscenes are great, bringing more life to Jacker and Boogan. I definitely found myself wanting more of them because of how great they look and sound.
Speaking of sound, the voice acting is phenomenal. Mirisha Lottich’s voicing for Ghost is perfect, as she flawlessly conveys the many sides of her personality. After hearing her work, I couldn’t imagine another voice for Ghost that would be at the same level. Andrew Miller’s Jacker is spot on and the sarcasm that defines this character is convincingly portrayed. Jonathan Jones’s Boogan is great too, as he manages the range of emotions Boogan faces as events unfold. The voicing adds so much depth to these characters that I found myself wanting so much more. The soundtrack, however, is not quite at the same level. Some of the tracks are great, fitting the sci-fi theme of the game and adding to the mood of the events on screen. Others don’t though, failing to contribute to the overall mood of the game. They don’t sound bad by any means, it’s just that the majority of them lack any significant impact.
Overall, Ghost 1.0 is a remarkable Metroid-style game that drips with creativity. Strong plot, stronger narrative, a memorable cast, and extraordinary aesthetics allow Ghost 1.0 to stand up to the best the genre can offer. The few flaws in gameplay in regards to difficulty and mechanics do stand out because of how much they contrast with the rest of the game’s polish. The frustration in those moments is real and can’t be ignored. Having said that, Ghost 1.0 will please any fan of the Metroid and the Metroidvania genres, as well as most casual players looking for a solid game full of mystery and action.
@unepic_franAndrew MillerFrancisco Téllez de MenesesfranfistroghostGhost 1.0Jonathan JonesMirisha LottichMirishalyn