Ghoulboy: Dark Sword of Goblin review for PS Vita, PS4, Switch

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: PS4, PC, Switch
Publisher: Hidden Trap
Developer: Hidden Trap
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

I feel like I?m on a run of playing somewhat decent retro platformers. There was Daggerhood not too long ago, and then Awesome Pea just after that, and now there?s Ghoulboy: Dark Sword of Goblin.

Of course, the emphasis in that last paragraph needs to be on the ?somewhat decent part. Much like Daggerhood and Awesome Pea before it, while I wouldn?t say the game was great, Ghoulboy undeniably solid (though, admittedly, Daggerhood and Ghoulboy are significantly better than Awesome Pea). More importantly, it does a good job of capturing the spirit of late ?80s/early ?90s platformers, in that it?s challenging, but it?s never impossible. It wasn?t uncommon for me to get killed (either by an environmental hazard or an enemy), feel a little bit frustrated, and then come back and move beyond where I last died. I?ve never been a fan of ridiculously hard games, but I do appreciate when a game makes it so that you can learn from your mistakes, rather than killing you over and over again.

I also like how expertly Ghoulboy invokes the feeling of Castlevania (or Ghosts ‘n Goblins, if you prefer). It marries together a creepy, monster-filled world with spooky chiptunes music, and it does so in a way that legitimately feels like it comes straight out of the ?80s.

That said, Ghoulboy also suffers from the same problem that afflicts a game like Awesome Pea: while it does a great job of imitating classic games — and in Ghoulboy?s case, imitating two specific games — it doesn?t do a great job of forging its own identity. While I?m not going to complain about playing Castlevania again, because Ghoulboy apes it so thoroughly, I?m also not going to remember much about this newer game. Like, if you asked me to name the 2D platformer where I ran around with a sword slicing monsters, I?m going to remember the classic, not the imitator that doesn?t add much to the formula.

There are also some weird design choices here and there that drag the game down a little. You can refill your life bar by buying extra health, except the game offers the option so infrequently that it barely makes a difference. Likewise, there are a few points where you absolutely must have certain projectile weapons to move forward, except then the game doesn?t make those weapons available in that level. None of these are game-breaking decisions by any means, but they still leave you wondering what the game was going for.

Actually, that?s not accurate. It?s clear that Ghoulboy is going for ?Castlevania/Ghosts ‘n Goblins clone. And, to its credit, it kind of succeeds on that front. But if you want a game that goes beyond imitating the classics, then you won?t find that here.

Hidden Trap provided us with a Ghoulboy: Dark Sword of Goblin PS4/Vita code for review purposes.

Grade: B