Developed By: @unepic_fran
Published By: Francis Cota
Category: Action, Adventure, Metroidvania, Platformer
Release Date: 7.12.18
Years and years (and years!) ago, Blizzard announced a stealth action game set in the Starcraft universe tentatively titled Ghost. I’m a huge fan of any Blizzard property, so I was psyched to see them try their hand at a new genre in my favorite one of their worlds. It was cancelled and never saw the light of day. Ghost 1.0 for the Nintendo Switch is not the game Blizzard promised, but when I saw the title I couldn’t help but start seeing some parallels. Robotic stealthy assassin woman protagonist? Check. Sci-fi/cyberpunk setting? Check. The word “ghost” in the title? Check. Ghost 1.0 doesn’t really have much in the way of stealth action like the unmade game I’m unfairly comparing it to, but it approximates it with a neat ghosting mechanic and more importantly it’s a solid action platformer on its own merits.
Corporate Espionage Action
Players assume the role of Ghost, a freelance agent hired to infiltrate a space station owned by AI manufacturer the Nakamura Corporation. She believes she’s been hired by a rival company, but it turns out she’s just been hired by these two guys named Boogan and Jacker. They’re really skilled hackers, though, so their dreams of stealing some experimental Nakamura AI tech and striking it rich are still a decent enough proposal for a mercenary like Ghost… as long as they pay what they promised. They are attempting to steal the source code for Nakamura’s popular Naka line of home AI, but they stumble upon some sci-fi corporate dystopia-level stuff and have to make use of Ghost’s unique abilities to fight their way out and bring Nakamura down for good.
Ghost 1.0 has a pretty cool story, and a small summary doesn’t really do it justice. The interplay and chemistry between Ghost, Boogan, and Jacker during cutscenes is natural and entertaining. The writing is strong overall, granting each character a unique personality. Most importantly, the dialogue never feels forced; the banter between characters is quick and natural and explanations for the sci-fi concepts never comes off as a random jumble of the only science words the writers know. The character interactions provide a welcome, relatable backdrop for the heavier sci-fi and moral challenges Ghost and company face throughout the game.
Tried and True Gameplay
I assume we’re all familiar with the metroidvania concept by now, but in case you’re not here’s a quick primer. The metroidvania genre takes its name from games like Metroid and Castlevania. They are side-scrolling action platformers that have one map instead of multiple levels like the Mega Man or Super Mario series. Players can choose different paths to take, but occasionally there are blocked paths that players need to attain certain items or abilities to bypass. It’s as close as side-scrollers can get to open world. Ghost 1.0 sticks pretty close to the metroidvania conventions; the majority of the game consists of run, jump, and shoot.
It does offer some diversity in its gameplay to keep things interesting, however. Like a lot of modern metroidvanias, players can collect items and power-ups to enhance Ghost’s abilities. Players can collect and use items that restore health, stun enemies, or gather collectibles. There are also items that have a permanent effect, from increasing the ammo limit of Ghost’s gun to increasing her health pool. Finally, Ghost can pick up new weapons that can be fired in addition to her main gun. Probably my favorite item was a small drone that floats behind Ghost and fires beams at enemies on the screen; it was super-helpful. If I was too busy dodging, the drone would automatically handle counterattacks. Get a drone as fast as you can. Items and upgrades can be purchased with credits dropped by enemies or found in rooms after clearing them of enemies.
Ghost in a Machine
The most unique aspect of Ghost’s abilities, however, is her ability to project her consciousness into robots. Ghost is already remotely controlling her robot chassis during the game, so she can use that as a relay to take control of other robots in the station. You can take over a robot and start a fight with other robots in a room full of enemies to thin out their numbers. You can use other robots to flip switches you can’t reach. Or you can just project your ghost out and do some scouting. It’s a really neat mechanic that has some fantastic tactical applications. It’s the main – and really, only – stealth mechanic in the game. Considering the dialogue early on emphasizes that Ghost should be stealthy on her mission, I expected more stealth stuff to be introduced. Still, it was really cool to play around with Ghost’s ghost.
I always think it’s cool when in-game mechanics and lore are used to enhance each other, so I’ll just make quick mention of the respawn system here as well. Scattered throughout Nakamura Space Station are some huge 3D printers that can recreate anything scanned into them. Boogan and Jacker hack them to rebuild a body for Ghost whenever hers is destroyed, so her ghost can just go back to a printer room and restart from there. I just think it’s a cool bit of world-building to have gameplay and story interact like that, so I appreciated the way the developers explained everything. I’d still like to hear why I can’t possess bosses and make them go away, but… well. That wouldn’t really be a challenge, would it?
Speaking of challenge, the difficulty of Ghost 1.0 is fairly balanced on all its different levels. Easy is just a good way to enjoy the story. Medium will give casual gamers a decent challenge in addition to a great story. Hard… is well-named. You can also unlock challenges for the game’s challenge mode, which is a neat way to extend your enjoyment of the game after the story is finished. It’s also a good way to sharpen your skills if you’re having a hard time getting past a certain point in the story mode.
I’m a sucker for old-school style pixel graphics, especially when they’re done well. Frankly, I even have some affinity for it when it’s done poorly, too, but it’s always better when it’s done right. Ghost 1.0 does it right. The character sprites are fairly detailed and the animations are smooth. The backgrounds are gorgeously detailed and a pleasure to stop and appreciate from time to time when you’re scouting around as a ghost. In a move that I can’t quite tell if it’s intentional or not, the only sprite that doesn’t feel like it fits is Ghost. Her sprites are more detailed than the enemies or backgrounds; which is to say she looks less pixelly than the rest of the game’s assets. Considering she’s an intruder in her surroundings, it’s kind of a cool, subtle visual cue to build her character as an infiltrator. I’ll give the developers the benefit of the doubt and say that was their idea all along; but even if they just wanted to make their protagonist stand out at all times, they still deserve credit for the care they put into Ghost’s sprite. Cutscenes have a pixel-anime vibe. The style reminds me a lot of Akira, but in 16-bit graphics.
The music brought me right back to my Mega Man X days. Ghost 1.0 enjoys a fast-paced electronic soundtrack that accentuates the action when it’s happening and just gives you something to groove to when it’s not. In a surprising move for a game that is so heavily retro-inspired, it also has full voice acting. The performances are universally strong, and their delivery is a huge part of making the dialogue sound natural and the characters so relatable.
Ghost 1.0 doesn’t use the Nintendo Switch’s touch or motion controls, so it really doesn’t make a difference whether you play it docked or undocked. The character models looked a little small on the Switch’s screen, so I preferred playing it docked on my TV since I felt like I could get a better handle on all the action that way. Your mileage may vary, but I recommend this game for docked play.
TL;DR: Pretty metroidvania with some solid gameplay innovations.
Buy Ghost 1.0