Ghost Parade
Nintendo Switch

Developed By : Lentera Studio
Published By : Aksys Games
Category : Platformer / Metroidvania
Release Date : Oct 31, 2019

It’s not often that ghosts are counted as allies instead of enemies, so Ghost Parade’s Indonesian folklore inspired setting, filled with spirits and other creatures, seemed like a good change of pace. It certainly makes a strong first impression, thanks to some outstanding artwork and distinctive character designs, and we were ready to explore what the game had to offer. However, our enthusiasm quickly faded away after countless deaths due to poorly designed platforming sections and a story that doesn’t make use of the game’s unique setting.

Ghost Parade stars Suri, a young schoolgirl who manages to miss the bus home after sleeping through class. After deciding to walk home instead, she thinks that the fastest way back would be to go through a nearby forest. These are no ordinary woods though, and Suri finds herself coming to the aid of its various otherworldly inhabitants, who are attempting to stop greedy humans from destroying the forest for an easy profit. 

For a game teeming with spectres its actually very light-hearted, with a simple environmental message to tell. Suri and her ghostly companions are rather one-dimensional, and most scenes rely on comedy instead of anything too serious. At first this was a nice breather from the more serious games we had been playing recently, but the way the story is told starts to grate after a few hours. 

For starters, there is no voice acting at all. Not a deal breaker, though it would have injected some much-needed personality into the main cast. The actual problem is that many conversations are very dull to read through, either because of jokes that fall flat or dialogue that is poorly written. Adding to this are a noticeable number of small grammatical errors and typos, making it even harder to care about the story. 

While the narrative side of the game is simply uninteresting, its gameplay is downright frustrating. At its core, Ghost Parade is a platformer interspersed with some light metroidvania elements. Suri only has access to a double jump to begin with, though she quickly acquires a basic melee attack as well. Both of these elements should be simple enough to pull off, but in this game they’re not implemented well at all. 

As you’ll be jumping for most of the game, it’s what ends up being the most annoying part to deal with. Suri’s jumps are incredibly floaty, lacking the weight or precision of her platforming peers. Judging where she’s going to land ends up being more difficult than it should be, made worse by how little height she gains even when using both jumps. Attacking also comes across as imprecise, fights with enemies often devolving into button mashing in the hopes that you can hit them before they hit you. 

Further adding to the poor controls is the way levels are designed. Traps are often placed off-screen, or suddenly appear without giving you time to react. The lack of any invincibility after getting hit means that getting juggled to death by a swinging ball or enemy is a frequent occurrence. That’s before mentioning the fact that Suri can take fall damage for some inexplicable reason, making traversing some areas even more of a pain. 

We mentioned that Ghost Parade has light metroidvania elements, however in practice most of them have little to no impact on how you play. You can backtrack to previously explored areas, something that you’ll be doing often when following the main storyline. There isn’t much incentive to explore since secrets usually contain paltry rewards, and it often feels like the game would be better off if it were more linear.  

This also applies to the leveling and item systems. Killing enemies grants experience, and gaining enough will level you up. Fairly self-explanatory, but the actual benefits from leveling are uninteresting. Your stats are increased, allowing you to take more hits and removing a little of the frustration found in platforming, and you also acquire a skill point. There’s a basic skill tree in place for you to spend skill points, though most of the options are just ‘more attack’ or ‘more health’ instead of meaningful upgrades. 

Even the spirits that feature so heavily in the story are cumbersome to use, taking up the shoulder buttons on a controller that could have been used for other functions, like easier access to the map. Suri can equip three spirits at a time, each with their own attack that is tied to a cooldown timer. Some of these are helpful, like a bubble that can kill most weak enemies in one hit, while others are awkward to aim in the middle of platforming. The problem with them is that they just don’t come across as impactful, especially when contrasted with the designs of the spirits themselves. Using different spirits is never fun, is rarely necessary to progress, and many are locked behind tedious sidequests that test your patience further. 

Most disappointingly, the main draw of the game – its visuals – isn’t even used to its fullest potential. Environments are made up of the same bland platforms copied over and over again, the occasional well-drawn backdrop being the only thing that manages to look visually unique. Areas with more enemies and objects end up suffering from framerate drops too, even when playing in docked more. Characters are also animated like puppets, Suri herself being one of the worst offenders for this. During her basic attack combo, she just swings her arm around in a circle which comes across as wooden. At least the handful of animated cutscenes feature some great artwork, but even these barely use much animation. 

It’s a shame that Ghost Parade fails so heavily at creating an experience that can live up to the myths that inspired it. If the game’s scope had been scaled back, focusing more on linear platforming with tighter controls and better level design, it may have been a success. Instead, we’re left with gameplay that is far more frightening than any of the spirits you can encounter. 

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*The Switch Effect was provided a code for this game*