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Ghost House Review

Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 1986 Also On: None

Ahhh, the good old 8-Bit era. There was certainly some suck back then, but
at the same time there was a ton of goodness to be had. When the NES was
first released there were a number of first-run titles, some of which were
arcade ports, frequently referred to as “black box,” which featured the
basic capabilities of the system (and the programmers) at that time, but in
such a way that the game mechanics were more important. Realizing they only
had so much to work with, a lot of thought had to be put into the actual
game, otherwise you’d end up with garbage like Mach Rider. Most of the
earlier titles are incredible, even to this day. When the Master System
first hit the market it had several arcade ports and a few titles of its own
to show off what the programmers were learning to do. Ghost House is
certainly at the top of these, and may in fact be the best of all.

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Though an early title, and certainly not up to par with later SMS releases
such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Ghost House really showed off what the system
could do in the first year it arrived on the market. The colors are vibrant,
unless meant to appear drab to fit the environment, and the enemies have
impressive detail. The only one that could have used some work was the
mummy, which is kind of a mess of white and black, but it’s really not that
bad when you get a glimpse of the fire blower. The animations are all very smooth and the overall theme is fitting, following
this strange gothic-cartoon concept. It’s definitely not meant to appear
like a horror game, but it does have some dark elements that have been
displayed rather nicely. I would compare the overall look of this game to
Mappy, just much better. Though they’re essentially the same idea each time, they’re
all different and extra features have been added as you go through the game
to keep it from seeming redundant. Some of your character’s movements are a
little static in that he doesn’t really move his body when jumping and such,
but overall the graphics are good.

The sound department gets definite high marks. Ghost House features a
clever, cute, but eerie theme that really fits the action and sets a perfect
atmosphere. You have essentially the same song for every level, but it’s
long enough to not become tedious and since it was programmed so well I
won’t take anything off for this minor fact. It only changes when you
actually fight the vampires, where it becomes more involving and spooky,
then it changes back again. The sound effects all work quite well. Some
Master System fans often comment that they’re annoyed with Mick’s
squeaky-sounding shuffle when he walks, but I found it to be not only
fitting to the theme, but a wonderful detail to the whole picture. Only a
few of the effects were a little drab, but generally they did a great job
here considering that the SMS is not known for having the best capabilities
in this department.

Ghost House is a clever little game following a simple format that’s not
seen anymore. Basically it’s an old form of platformer where you run around
a maze-like environment to collect objects in order to progress. There
actually isn’t a term for this, but anyway that’s the kind of game this is.
Mappy is the best reference I can think of, but not many people remember it.
As Mick, you’re off to collect your family jewels, which you’ve just
inherited, and which are being held by Dracula and his minions. You start
the game with three lives and no continues. A continue or two would have
been nice, but really I feel it would have been superfluous to this title
since when you master it it’s not long enough to warrant one. You can jump,
punch, pick up a dagger to attack with, and do a variety of different things
while searching for the jewels. To get them you have to kill five vampires,
one of whom is Dracula, and capture each jewel. The vampires are in coffins,
of course, that can only be opened after you locate the secret keys. These are always found after defeating random enemies, and you need one each time
you find a coffin. When you kill all the vampires, you progress to the next
level and it gets harder.

The house is nicely arranged with tons of secrets, traps, warps and puzzles
to get through while searching for the jewels. Of course, in addition to the
vampires, you have several different enemies to avoid or kill. Though
they’re used over and over, they fit the game so well I didn’t find it
annoying at all. In order to counter the possibility of this being a problem
for someone, Sega took the most obvious route, making the game harder as you
go along. It has a nice difficulty curve, getting dang hard right when it
needs to. I myself have yet to beat it. The controls are smooth and there’s
plenty to be found, great job. I found myself really getting into this game
as I progressed, it’s definitely more involving than you’d think. However,
there is one issue that’s a major problem. Sega did this with a small
number of SMS games and it’s a shame they chose this to be one of the few.
The problem is, they’ve switched the typical button functions around.
Therefore, Button 1 is to jump and Button 2 is to attack. So what? As I
said for Alex Kidd in Miracle World, this is the most counter-intuitive
arrangement in the world. It feels so unnatural in the hands that it takes
a bit to get used to it, and even when you do it still doesn’t feel right.
I’m not sure why they did this. It’s a bit of history we may never know.
This game would have scored a perfect ten in the gameplay category if it
wasn’t for this. It seriously affects it that much.

Sega was creative with this title and did an excellent job taking a simple,
though then not entirely common idea and making a great title out of it.
Considering how restricted the concept is it’s pretty amazing how original
they were with Ghost House. It has plenty of its own features to take away
from the fact that’s it just a platformer with items to collect. A few more enemies would have made it even better, but I find that a
very minor detail that I shouldn’t have even mentioned as it doesn’t effect
the score here in my opinion.

I’ve played this title numerous times. It was one of the first Master System
games I acquired and one of the few that I still sit down with. This is
mainly because I haven’t beaten it yet, which further add to the replay
value found here. It’s very, very doubtful anyone would be able to sit
down with this the first go and complete it without cheating, it throws too
many tricks at you and simply requires constant play in order to master it.
Judging from the levels I have beaten, I would say the game length is
perfect. It takes around ten minutes, if you’re good, to beat each level,
making the entire game about an hour long. Very good, for this type of game,
where things are repeated a lot, it’s simply the only way things should be

Ghost House is a great little game and has plenty to offer for even the most
modern gamer, a feature you don’t find very often in older titles. The only
issue that really affects everything is the control problem I mentioned
above, but other than that this title is nearly flawless. It has a heaping
helping of variety and a difficulty setting the most advanced of gamers will
have problems adjusting to. It was actually released in two formats, one in
cartridge the other in card, but there is no difference in the actual
content. Not sure why they did that either. Regardless, this is a core
title every Master System fan needs to own and is a prime example of where
to begin if you’re just starting out.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 8
Creativity: 9
Replay Value/Game Length: 10
Final: 8.9
Written by Stan Review Guide