Ever play the classic arcade title Arkanoid… you know, the one where you smash your way through a bunch of blocks by constantly blasting and bouncing a ball their way? Well, Ghostanoid takes that formula and adds a spooky twist to it, with players tasked with demolishing an array of creaky old houses and disposing of any ghosts that are left lingering around.
Why call in the Ghostbusters when you can just smash a ball around, right?
Ghostanoid’s gameplay is simple in design, with players moving a small platform left-and-right to hit a ball across the screen in order to destroy the objects in the environment. There are two ways to progress through levels: one, by destroying all the objects in the level, or two, by taking out all of the tricky ghosts that are floating around causing trouble. After completing a level, you’ll be awarded up to three stars based upon your performance and then move on to the next level.
It’s a simple formula that has been utilised in plenty of different titles over the years, though there are different things to consider in levels that spice things up a little. For one, destroyed objects will often drop power-ups, with some having a positive effect for the player (these are marked in blue) and some causing problems (these are marked in red). Some of the useful power-ups such as having a larger ball to bounce around, a shield for your platform, or a more powerful ball are great and can really help you progress through levels quicker, but the nasty power-ups such as the light switch that completely darkens the environment or the controls-reverser (I REALLY hate this) can see you losing all of your lives quite quickly.
The other problem you’ll have is the ghosts themselves, with each not only floating awkwardly as you try to hit them with your ball but also trying to cause you problems along the way. You’ve got ghosts that’ll throw magic spells at your platform, ghosts that’ll re-build objects you have destroyed, ghosts that’ll summon other ghosts into the level, ghosts that’ll steal your power-ups, ghosts that will hide in objects… they’re just a troublesome bunch who are always bringing new tricks to each level to try and catch the player off-guard. I actually really liked their spooky presence, with their kooky abilities adding a neat twist to the established Arkanoid-style gameplay.
In fairness, it can help make Ghostanoid a more varied experience where you’ve always got to be prepared for some unpredictable antics – unfortunately, those ‘antics’ could often feel more frustrating in design than satisfyingly challenging. Ghostanoid is guilty of overwhelming the player with power-ups (both good and bad) with the screen filling quite quickly thanks to the constant destruction of objects and the ghosts sending attacks your way, with it often proving difficult to move out of the way of the things that are constantly dropping down the screen or even keep track of what is good and what is bad.
Worst of all, if you miss the ball with your platform you’ll lose a life, but sometimes there’s no way you can reach the ball to hit it without getting hit by a ghost’s attack in the process thanks to the sheer number of detrimental power-ups being dropped… causing you to lose a life anyway. It’s a frustrating catch-22 situation that happened way too often for my liking, with most of my failures in Ghostanoid coming down to the overwhelming nature of the gameplay as opposed to a lack of skill.
And sure, that can be the nature of an Arkanoid-style game with a good balance of skill and planning required to overcome the challenges, but believe me: it can get overwhelming in Ghostanoid to the point where the majority of lives lost simply feel out of the player’s control.
I found the level design could be a little bland in places too. Whilst there are seventy-eight levels available in total, they are spread over just three environment types that can get old fast. They do try to vary things up here and there by introducing levels that are a little bit darker, but honestly? They just made the overwhelming nature of each level’s setup that bit more annoying.
I’m being a bit harsh on Ghostanoid really because it is a smaller title that is being released at a pretty low price, whilst there are some neat extras included such as an upgrade system that’ll really allow you to swing the odds in your favour by utilising an array of permanent power-ups. It’ll take a bit of coin to unlock them all, but it added a nice sense of progress that proved satisfying as I worked through each of the game’s levels. There were certainly moments of fun to be had in between some of its more frustrating design choices too, with the charming nature of the ghost-hunting adding a cute little twist to the typical Arkanoid formula.
Ghostanoid certainly has some charm thanks to its cutesy ghost-hunting setup, but a lack of level variety and some frustrating design choices see it feeling like one of the weaker Arkanoid-style titles that are available. Still, with its low price point, it might be worth a punt if you’re interested in this type of game – just expect a few frustrations here and there…
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)