After the success of Soulless in 2012, the much-lauded duo of Georg Rottensteiner and Trevor Storey reunited a year later for the arcade run and gun platformer, Guns ’n’ Ghosts. Assisted in the musical department by Richard Bayliss, this is somewhat of a development dream team and the resulting game doesn’t disappoint.
Spurred into action by reports of strange disappearances, our developers come deadite hunters and are ready to purge the U.S. states of the unholy, the rotten and a bunch of reanimated freaks. The narrative is loose but has a clear sense of fun, providing a suitable set-up to introduce a whole range of monsters.
Firing this up I was instantly impressed by Bayliss’ loading and title tunes, indicating that some strong production values lay ahead. A plethora of options greet you, including various two-player modes, SFX/music toggles and a character select, allowing you to choose either Georg with his trusty shotgun or Trev’s lightning mind powers.
The graphics are well-presented with the relatively small character and enemy sprites displaying a good level of detail. As the action is very frantic, a savvy design choice taken by the developers is to employ a distinct colour palette. Character and foreground sprites are bright and vibrant, with two or three tone backgrounds providing contrast, ensuring that when action becomes busy, it doesn’t become muddled.
As Guns ‘n’ Ghosts minion slaying is confined to a single screen, there are no scrolling or parallax issues to contend with, meaning the game is highly optimised, never dropping a frame even during its more hectic moments. Animations are simple but effectively communicate some of the game mechanics, such as Georg’s shotgun reload, which plays a big part in the overall dynamics of the game, such as knowing when the animation cycle ends to make sure you’ve popped another shell in the boomstick.
Level interludes are a nice addition as the duo head all over the country to exorcise the demonic presence, furthering the story and tying together the different locales you will be visiting every dozen levels or so.
The environments offer up enough variety to keep proceedings interesting, from visiting graveyards to dusty deserts, Georg and Trev have such sights to show you.
While it may not contain the most flamboyant of sprite work, it certainly serves to focus the player on the gameplay, with graphics taking a backseat to fluidity.
Bayliss’ soundtrack is really the only way to play the game with SFX being slightly lacklustre and sparse. The loading, title screen, interlude and main game compositions are extremely energetic, complementing the on-screen action. While it would have been nice to have a little more variation in-game, it’s testament to the main SID tune that it never gets old or repetitive, seamlessly matching the ebb and flow of your killing spree.
Guns ‘n’ Ghosts doesn’t stray too far away from your standard action platformer but still manages to forge an identity of its own with a mix of power-ups and two completely different play styles for each character, bringing a layer of strategy to the carnage. As previously mentioned, the only way for Georg to reload is to stand still, allowing the animation to finish. This can take a little bit of time so keeping an eye on your ammo count is a must if you want to survive. Failure to do so will be invitation to death so retreating and reloading becomes integral to progression. Also, playing as Georg means you will be able to pick off enemies at a distance while Trev’s mind powers have a limited range and is more difficult to play as a result.
Extra lives are quite plentiful in helping you navigate the 72 levels but that’s not to say it’s easy. Death will initially come quick but repeated plays and learning enemy attack patterns will be rewarded with advancement. Power-ups such as one hit kills, increased weapon range and upgraded ammo capacity will empower you against the undead. Thankfully, controls are tight and responsive allowing you to pull off some great escapes when it looks like all is lost. The jumping arc feels great but platforming will require a degree of precision as not hitting a ledge flush means you could fall into the brood waiting below.
The various two player modes are where the game really excels. If players decide to take a character each, team work is essential and can lead to some heated moments, on and off screen. For those just wanting a quick blast, two Georg’s are the way to go.
As there is no password or checkpoint facility it can seem initially harsh to replay earlier levels after exhausting lives. But a little bit of perseverance goes a long way and what may seem a daunting challenge, soon becomes an addictive and enjoyable romp best played in short sessions like any true arcade game.
The cartridge version by RGCD is now out of print but a physical version, with a free digital download, can be purchased from the Psytronik store here.
Guns ‘n’ Ghosts is an incredibly solid example of the genre that does enough right to elevate it amongst its peers. Veering on the right side of challenging, its core gameplay loop provides a rewarding experience that draws you back time and again. Sometimes, dead is better.
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