Ghost Rider «

Say what you want about licensed games — it won’t be anything I haven’t said before — but the fact is, if it weren’t for them, aging systems like the GBA would probably already be out to pasture. Ghost Rider isn’t too picky in its multi-system road trip not to stop on the friendly-but-feeble confines of Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately, like the title’s PS2 and PSP exploits, its GBA incarnation isn’t much to write home about.

Chained to Convention

Other versions of Ghost Rider deal in God of War-style, combo-centric combat, and they do it pretty well. They also deal in stop/start obstacles where you have to defeat a screen full of enemies to advance, which they do pretty awfully. On GBA, you get all the detriment of that bad level design — which really is unnecessary with the 2D platformer approach — but none of the intuitive combat. The reason seems obvious: with only four buttons to assign, it’s difficult to craft a deep, intuitive battle system.

To its credit, Ghost Rider tries; B triggers normal punching, while A swings your chain. R is jump, and L is grab. Pressing down offers an alternate move, while up blocks. It’s about as deep as a side-scrolling GBA fighting could be, but you’re still relegated to mostly bashing B the whole time. Even with a growing combo meter like on PS2 and PSP (and inspired by Devil May Cry), the fighting isn’t that compelling. And even after hours of play I still wasn’t used to hitting R to jump. I literally cannot think of another GBA game in which R triggers jumps.

Another carry-over from other versions is a total lack of enemy variety. You’ll fight the same crouching demon, flying bat, and blade-armed monster over and over again. Even when you get to ninjas or clowns, differences are mainly aesthetic. The mini-boss is even worse, as its collision is absolutely unforgivable. You run into a variation of him about every other level, and it’s always the same mess of poor design. Even unlockable powers take much longer to reveal than in the other versions, and are a lot less beneficial. The fighting portions are just never become fun to play, and there are no puzzle or platforming elements to take some of the pressure off.

What I would’ve loved to see is a cooler implementation of the chains. They could’ve been used in a sort of Bionic Commando, Ninja Five-O capacity, where they complement platforming. In that way, Ghost Rider could’ve done away with the bothersome R-trigger jumping entirely. But then, I’m talking about Capcom-quality development on a shoestring budget from a developer best known for Catwoman on GBA.

When Ghost Rider hops on his Hell Cycle, business does start to pick up. This is more Pole Position than F-Zero, with you avoiding obstacles and fighting enemies. There’s nothing that stands out with it, but it doesn’t suffer from the litany of complaints that accompany the fighting stages.

Ghost Rider‘s visual quality is impressive. While the stages themselves are too flat and straightforward, the ambiance is there. Foregrounds and backgrounds both have some life to them, and like a Pop Tart, Ghost Rider looks so hot he’s cool. The sprites are a good size, but are still animated decently. Cutscenes that were lifelessly still in other versions are maintained on GBA, where they actually look pretty sweet. Even the menus have a touch of flair to them. If only the game’s designers were as inspired as the artists.

Crap Outta Hell

I didn’t come into Ghost Rider with very high expectations. After all, it’s a budget-priced, licensed tie-in released on a six-year-old handheld system. Even still, the game let me down in a lot of respects. I would’ve probably been happier with a by-the-numbers Castlevania-style hack-’n-slasher instead of this watered-down version of the mediocre Ghost Rider game we got on more advanced platforms. Given how much potential this character and his weapons have for 2D gameplay, it’s a little depressing just how lame the final game’s turned out.

 

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