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Grabbed by the Ghoulies Xbox

Published by Microsoft Game Studios
Developed by Rare Ltd.
Released - 21st November 2003
Price : £39.99

Much was made over the sale of Rare from Nintendo to Microsoft but now that all the fuss has gone away we finally have the first Rare developed title for Xbox. Grabbed by the Ghoulies is that first title and it's fair to say it's unlike anything you've played before. Once more we return to the mansion full of evil things theme only this time it's an enjoyable family orientated romp instead of being a blood and guts psychological thriller.

The game begins with our hero, Cooper, and his girlfriend walking, at night in a storm, in the middle of nowhere when suddenly they come across Ghoulhaven Hall. Cooper's girlfriend wants to go to Ghoulhaven Hall to seek shelter but Cooper refuses saying it looks like it's full of creeps. The owner of Ghoulhaven Hall, Baron von Ghoul, overhears this remark and sends out his minions to capture Cooper's girlfriend. Needless to say Cooper runs in after them in an attempt to rescue her which, of course, is the aim of the game. The game is split into five chapters and I would imagine the game will take around 8-12 hours to complete depending on how well you progress.

Ghoulhaven Hall is split up into a mass of rooms and locations all of which contain enemies that must be defeated. More often than not your exit will be barred until you defeat all the enemies (or all the enemies of a certain type) in the room. You'll face enemies such as zombies, skeletons, ninja imps, vain hunchbacks and possessed doors as well as the Grim Reaper himself. Occasionally you get an extra twist to spice things up. For instance sometimes you'll have the Grim Reaper icon appear at the top left of the screen and a limited amount of time to defeat your enemies. If you don't make it out of the room before the time is up, the Grim Reaper will enter the room and if he manages to touch you, it will be game over. The Baron also likes to play about with your health and every time you enter a new room your health will be reduced to a point that makes it essential to hunt for energy boosts if you are attacked a few times. Occasionally Cooper will get a fright and you'll have to press the buttons in a specific order (shown onscreen) in order to calm him down otherwise he'll loose health.

Essentially then the game is all about combat. In another twist though Rare decided to make the right analogue stick the combative baton and you won't use any of the buttons to carry out your fighting (although A is used for picking up weapons). It's simply a question of pushing the right analogue stick in the direction of your enemies. It certainly is a simple way to indulge in combat but it's not without it's problems and it's rather tricky when Cooper is surrounded by a multitude of enemies. You can use a fair amount of items for weapons and whether it is a chair, a pile of burgers or a collection of bottles they will all give you additional fighting power but they are all destructible so you'll only have a few hits with them. There are also some temporary power ups, some of which are an invincibility power up that makes you invincible for a while, a freeze power up that freezes your enemies, a super weapons power up and a RIP power up that allows you to destroy enemies with one touch. Cooper will occasionally be given a special weapon (not all the characters are evil in Ghoulhaven Hall) such as the water pistol that contains holy water. Weapons such as this have a meter that will deplete with use. If the meter goes all the way to empty it will be unusable although it does refill when not in use so you'll have to be careful how you use such weapons.

Grabbed by the Ghoulies uses a kind of 3D cel-shaded look that's not too far away from The Wind Waker. This gives the game a sophisticated cartoon look and suits the mood of the game perfectly. Whilst visually there is little to fault the game, the camera control leaves a lot to be desired. We've already mentioned that the right analogue stick (the preferred method of control for camera manipulation) is already being used as a combative baton so that means that the left and right triggers are used to rotate the camera. This doesn't work too well at all and is very irritating when you're trying to move the camera while you're being attacked by zombies, skeletons and other such nasties. On the topic of nasties the enemies in the game all look good and animate as you would expect them to, from the ninja imps to the hunchback who likes to protect his not so handsome face.

Incredibly there is no speech in Grabbed by the Ghoulies. The story is told via an interactive comic strip book. You see the events and then a black frame with text in, that relays the events or the characters thoughts and speech. It actually has a silent movie feel to it and it works extremely well. This method is also totally deaf gamer friendly too. When the text appears, either in the comic strip or tutorial messages that you receive from time to time, you'll have to press the A button in order to progress so you'll have the time you need in order to read the text. All things considered it's excellent for deaf gamers.

It's a shame that Grabbed by the Ghoulies is arriving towards the end of November because it would have made an excellent Halloween game. It captures the cartoonish, haunted house atmosphere perfectly and most people should find the game enjoyable. There are two main issues with the game though. The first is the length of the game. At around a dozen hours tops it's not going to last too long, even with casual play. Rare also included some mini-games (that are unlocked during the course of the story mode) but these aren't enough to keep you interested once you've finished the game. Secondly the control system for the camera and combat is awkward at times. The right analogue stick would have been better left to control the camera and simply used the primary buttons for combat. All things considered though Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a promising Xbox debut for Rare and it's definitely a good game to play in front of the family. It might not last long but what's here is enjoyable and entertaining.

Overall Game Rating: 7.9/10
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is a good first game on Xbox for Rare. The combat control could have been better and the camera control should have used the right analogue stick but it's still fun to play.

Deaf Gamers comment:
No problems at all for deaf gamers. There isn't any speech in the game and the story is told exclusively in text.