Genre: Action Developer: Sega Ent. Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1-2 Released: 1986
Games can often be too complicated for their own good – too many options and combo attacks, and far too many objectives. People seem to be finally catching on to this reality, and score-based games have started to make a comeback, along with simple platformers. The simple, arcade-like experiences that were so easy to get into have experienced a bit of resurgence, showing what many of us have known all along: you don’t need 300 people and a $200 million budget to make a good game. Sometimes, simple works just fine.
Sega’s Ghost House fits nicely into that mold. Patterned loosely off the 1982 coin-op Monster Bash, it keeps things simple but challenging. Players take the role of Mick, a young treasure hunter out to rid his family’s spooky house of vampires and the evil Count Dracula so that he may claim his family jewels (honestly, I think anyone willing to take on the undead already has a good set of jewels, but that’s just me). There are tons of undead creatures standing between him and his goal, so Mick must use his powerful punch attack to dispatch them. Yes, I know that sounds outlandish, but that’s how the Master System rolls, son. No need for puny whips or holy water here. Sega heroes kill vampires and mummies with their bare fists.
Mick needs to kill monsters for points but also for a key. Once he finds it, he can unlock one of six coffins that are scattered throughout each stage, allowing him to fight the vampire lurking inside. Each vampire guards a precious jewel, and obtaining all six opens a portal to the next stage. There are also bits of treasure all around, which are vital for scoring an extra life. Killing monsters also nets Mick some points, but many times it’s better just to avoid them and save that life bar for the vampires.
And that kind of summarizes the way to play Ghost House. Mick’s life bar depletes rather quickly, and although killing a vampire will refill it, the undead can be merciless. The house itself is also an obstacle sometimes, as fireplaces release arrows, basement floors are fire pits, and there are spider webs everywhere that can trap Mick. On the other hand, the house also lets Mick warp through paintings to escape his foes, ceiling lamps can be jumped into to freeze everything onscreen, and jumping past candles will fire a knife that can be used as a weapon. This is essential for duels with the vampires, since the knife is much longer and more powerful than Mick’s standard fists. OK, so maybe this hero does use a weapon sometimes, but it’s optional!
Throughout the game’s six stages, players will fight off a small selection of enemies, like mummies, bats, Death, and fireblowers… wait, that’s actually all the enemies they’ll fight off. Ghost House is really skimpy on the monster selection, but given that it was released as a 32kb Sega Card, I’m not surprised (the later cartridge re-release didn’t change this). Most arcade games of this type didn’t have a huge variety of enemies either, so I don’t hold that against the game. I do find that it can be really annoying sometimes, particularly when fighting the vampires. In their bat forms, they will clobber Mick repeatedly, often causing him to fall off a platform or into a fire pit. Yes, poor Mick suffers from “Mega Man Syndrome,” the nasty habit of falling backwards when hit. It was the bane of the 8-bit platforming hero, and it’s very present here. The other problem is that like many Master System titles, the buttons are reversed, meaning that Mick jumps with the 1 button and attacks with the 2 button. The game is quite beatable, but it’s going to take some real old school practice and memorization to reach that goal.
Taken for what it is, Ghost House is a fun little romp that’s sure to invoke memories of when games were simple in premise and design but challenging by nature. It’s classic Sega at its finest, and while the basic gameplay and structure may bore some after a while, it’s a great game to play in short bursts or an all-out quest to beat Dracula. It’s one of the less expensive Master System titles, making it an easy and worthy addition to any Sega fan’s library. Find a copy and give Dracula a well-deserved beat down!
SCORE: 6 out of 10