Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ghost Guidance

I want to spend this week looking at a game that I feel has a ton of potential to be a truly great title in the future, but which manages to be pretty entertaining even now. Coming to us from Arcade Bomb, Ghost Guidance provides old school side-scrolling action with an interesting twist on the typical Artificial Intelligence character. Rather than playing a lone warrior trying to tackle an evil supercomputer, this time you are the supercomputer, or at least some kind of self-aware energy orb. Realising that humans are the biggest threat to your continued existence, but that wiping out the entire human race is impractical, you instead decide to escape by taking possession of a rocket ship and hauling ass out of the secret government lab that birthed you.

This is one of the intriguing elements of Ghost Guidance: the ability to jump from one ship to another (as long as it doesn't have some kind of forcefield around it) means you can play in several different ways, utilising each craft's strengths and weaknesses. Effort has been made to really ensure the different vehicles actually feel like different vehicles. The smallest craft are faster and have a higher rate of fire but can be destroyed with a single hit, while tank-like flyers shoot rockets that fly off in all directions. It's possible to play through an entire game using just one kind of ship but finding out what everything does is one of the pleasures of playing.

The game plays and looks really swell, though complaints of lag are justified in Challenge Mode. Still, with a huge number of ships, projectiles and explosions on screen at any one time, it's remarkable that slow down in gameplay was so rare in my experience. When you've got dozens of aircraft whizzing across the screen, it's satisfying to see it all look so damn good.

The old-school feel under a fresh paint job means Ghost Guidance should be popular with older and younger gamers alike. It keeps things simple and is all the better for it. My biggest complaint, however, is that the game is just too short.

There are only three levels overall, with checkpoints in all three so that you don't have to repeat a whole level should you die. That's all well and good, but the levels are hardly long enough to justify checkpoints, anyway. If the game was longer then this would make sense. As it stands, though, the whole thing is over in less than ten minutes. Great for coffee breaks, but not so great if you're looking for something with a lot of replay value.

Another issue is the ease with which the bosses can be defeated. Sure, they're big and you have to avoid falling debris as they break apart, but more often than not there's a single spot where you can stay and fire continuously at the boss without fear of being killed. For gamers who enjoy a real challenge and like the sense of accomplishment that comes with defeating a boss, this would be a major letdown.

Still, I can see great potential in Ghost Guidance. Many times I deride a game for its compelling concept but wasted opportunities. Ghost Guidance has a similar, though less extreme, problem. It embraces some of its innovations and unique elements but doesn't go quite far enough. Hopefully a sequel is imminent - something greater in scope and longer in duration, but still featuring the excellent tweaks that make the original a small pleasure.


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