Review: Spooky Ghosts Dot Com
Review copy provided by developer via Curator Connect
How hard is it to make a metroidvania, really? You mash some rooms together, you put up some special doors and thingy-dos that open them, stick some monsters and items around, and you’re good, right? Well, no, actually, making even a decent metroidvania is pretty complicated. Just some of the nigh-infinite considerations include making your map easily traversable, ensuring the powers you grant your players are gratifying and well-paced, balancing your enemies so as to not wear players down too fast, and giving folks a reason to fill out the whole map. Spooky Ghosts Dot Com (which is indeed a game and not a website, I checked) manages to check almost all of those boxes despite its tiny scope, which puts it ahead of a lot of indie efforts in the genre.
Ghost hunter and extremely pink human Ruby runs Spooks Ghosts Dot Com, an internet business devoted to busting ghosts. An email on Halloween night sends her out to a sprawling mansion where a particularly punky ghost has horribly misunderstood the purpose of the site. The misunderstanding turns spooky, and plunges our heroine into the ghost-rich bowels of the estate. Now trapped in a classic haunted house situation, Ruby must blast her way past specters and skeletons to nab candy, hug kitties, and maybe escape this adorable nightmare.
That’s about all the story you’ll get, and all you need, really. As a metroidvania this one does a fine job of pushing you along to where you need to be by how the mansion is laid out. There are only a few powerups to find and most are keys or convenience items, so once you beat a boss for a new item it’s generally very obvious where to go next. You’ll find a fair number of side rooms and optional challenges to score candy buckets that extend your health and kitties that unlock the fast travel nodes, so it’s not entirely linear either. Overall it’s a nice, compact map that’s easy to get around and hard to get lost in.
The place is populated with plenty of spooks, though, and if anything they’re the part that’s going to trip you up. Enemies are mostly very simple foes that follow the contours of walls or chuck things in set patterns, but a few break the mold in pretty rough ways. In the early garden area you’ll have to deal with crow mages that can summon pillars of fire right under you, wherever you are, and before you get your health upgrades they can kill you in an instant. The shield skeletons that mimic your jumps are also a pain until you get the gun upgrade that allows you to actually fight them. And while none of the bosses are particularly hard, they have health bars that are perhaps a touch too long that might force you into a few retries just through sheer attrition.
It’s really just the early game where it’s at all frustrating, though I’m not thrilled about there being instant-death spikes in a metroidvania. They’re used sparingly enough, and I think that’s a good takeaway for the whole game. None of its shortcomings are very heavily used, and the simple charms on display make up for a lot. The graphics are very basic pixel art but capture the kooky atmosphere perfectly, and the music… well, it exists but I wouldn’t expect more than just background tunes to keep the silence away. Hunting kitties and candy is fun enough, especially once you get some upgrades and a better idea of how enemies work.
Obviously Spooky Ghosts Dot Com is not going to set the world on fire. There are stunning, sprawling metroidvanias out there that’ll last you dozens of hours and innovate on the formula in new and exciting ways. This isn’t one of them, but I definitely enjoyed my hour and a half tooling around a spooky mansion. It’s a fine first effort for a game and has all the elements for a solid little platformer, with only a few real weaknesses to the design. And you know, sometimes it helps to have a game that you don’t have to devote days or weeks to churning through. For times when you just want to shoot ghosts and hug kitties, I think we can all appreciate rough little gems like this.