Imagine this scenario: you’re one of the most celebrated game development studios of all time, with nearly every single game you’ve made becoming a massive hit. You’ve been working with Nintendo properties for years when suddenly you’ve been bought up by Microsoft to start making games for their fancy new game console called the Xbox. This is the scenario that faced Rare in the early 2000s. Having put out legendary titles such as Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, it would only make sense for expectations to be high for Rare’s first title with Microsoft. Enter Grabbed by the Ghoulies: an action-adventure title forced to pivot from the Nintendo Gamecube to being a Xbox exclusive after Microsoft’s buyout of rare. This was the first Microsoft-published title developed by Rare that released in 2003, and was rereleased on the Xbox One through Rare Replay in 2015. Does Grabbed by the Ghoulies retain the Rare magic that we say on the Nintendo 64, or is this truly the beginning of the downfall for the legendary studio?
Grabbed by the Ghoulies stars young Cooper Chance, who must task himself with saving his girlfriend Amber after she has just been kidnapped by the owner of creepy Ghoulhaven Hall with a very normal sounding name, Baron Von Ghoul. Cooper has to venture through Ghoulhaven Hall while fending off the evil Ghoulies in order to catch up with Amber and escape the mansion with her. Cooper will also encounter a few friendly faces along the way such as Ma Soupswill the cook, and Fiddlesworth Dunfiddlin the groundskeeper that will help Cooper with his mission. It’s a very simple setup, with a very simple story. There’s a few surprises to be had during the story, but they opt for subversion of expectations rather than earth-shattering plot twists. Don’t come in to this game expecting a narrative masterpiece.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies looks…odd. The art style just doesn’t look right, but it’s hard for me to describe why. It’s something about the character models that just don’t sit well with me. Despite that however, the way the game presents everything within the total package gives it a certain kind of charm. The story is told within a storybook with comic book style panels, while cutscenes and dialogue both have their separate panels. It’s an interesting way to present a story and I quite enjoy it. The soundtrack is quite good as well, being composed by the legendary Grant Kirkhope. It may not be as memorable as his work on the Banjo-Kazooie games, but I love his style of music composition and will always welcome it in any game. Even the sounds that the Ghoulies made were fun, regardless of the fact that I found myself making fun of the “UNGA”s throughout my playthrough.
The gameplay itself is easily the worst part of Grabbed by the Ghoulies, which is a very bad thing. The game fashions itself as an action-adventure game with some beat-‘em-up flavours, but it ends up morphing into a pseudo-puzzle game by the end. The game is structured by rooms, with each visit into a room within Ghoulhaven Hall putting you up against a group of Ghoulies to fight. Each different room visit has its own specific set of rules to play around as well; fail to obey the rules and you summon the Grim Reaper, who can instantly kill anything he touches and will hunt you down until you leave the room.
The structure doesn’t sound so bad, but this game controls like booty. I don’t really know how else to describe the controls other than “booty”. You’re able to move around with the left stick, attack with the right stick, and move the camera with the triggers. Sounds kind of like how the Batman Arkham games work right? Unfortunately, Grabbed by the Ghoulies is nowhere near accurate as the Arkham games. Not only are the combat controls clunky and inaccurate, but the camera is also pretty brutal. That’s basically the two cardinal sins of action games right there: bad controls, and bad camera. Oh, and quick time events; make that three cardinal sins. The lack of precision can really put you into an even worse mess than bad controls normally would, as in certain rooms if you kill the wrong Ghoulie you break the rules of the room and summon the Grim Reaper. Not only are you now fumbling around with bad controls, you’re also fumbling around with bad controls while trying to avoid instant-death. Oh, and even if you don’t have to deal with the Grim Reaper, your life total is semi-randomized in each room. There’s also an issue with the rules for each room where by the time you reach the late-game, it feels more like you’re playing an action-puzzle game than an action-adventure game. There’s times where the only way to abide by the rules of the room is to abuse the power-ups you can only find by breaking crates and such, and even some times where you have to intentionally summon the Grim Reaper in order kill an enemy that can’t be killed otherwise. Admittedly, it can feel rewarding when you figure out the trick, but it’s all so inconsistent that it just felt frustrating in the end.
Ultimately, I expected more out of Grabbed by the Ghoulies. The game’s charm doesn’t nearly do enough to make up for the frustration the bad controls and weird design decisions caused me. The game wasn’t even that long either, with my final in-game time being just over 4 hours. I would hazard a guess that the forced pivot in console platform cause a lot of harm to the final product, and it definitely seems like it could have used a bit more time in the oven. If you want to play a game set in a haunted mansion released in the same console generation, just go play Luigi’s Mansion and save yourself the pain.
I do not recommend Grabbed by the Ghoulies.
Total time played: 5 hours, 32 minutes.