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Ghost House – Sega Master System

Ghost House – Sega Master System

Platform: Sega Master System

Developer: SEGA of America, Inc.

Publisher: SEGA Enterprises, Ltd.

Release Date (NA): 1986

Genre: Action

Nerd Rating: 3 out of 10

Allow me to set the scene…

I was all alone in a modestly-lit room with a silence that was disturbingly palpable. The cold air was passively breathing down my neck, keeping me tense and alert. With an abundance of video games as my only company, I bravely and cautiously sifted through cartridge after cartridge in search of the perfect specimen for my next review. As my eyes began to wander, I noticed a dark, eerie corner with a console that had long been neglected: the Sega Master System.

Yes, my paltry Sega Master System collection.

With only a moment’s hesitation, I crept toward the foreboding corner and took careful inventory of what was in my stash, ever aware of the supernatural presence permeating the air. As trembling hand picked up Golvellius: Valley of Doom, something struck me from behind!

I fell forward – heart pounding, fear dancing in my stomach. This was it. My end for sure.

Blurred vision came into focus after I scurried as far away from the foreign object as I could. There it was. The menace. I was afraid for my life.

It was a Sega Card.

No! It can’t be!

But it was!

As I’m sure many of you already know, the Sega Master System originally came equipped with a cartridge slot and a card slot. This is because Sega released Master System games on both cartridges and cards. Why they did this, I have no idea, nor do I care to put in the necessary research. But, what I do know is there was one of these Sega Cards in my spooky game room. That game was Ghost House, which I have, up to the point of drafting this very paragraph, never played before. I don’t think I ever even tested it out. So as I write this, I am entering this “ghost house” completely and totally blind. Who’s to say what sorts of horrors await. Is it a good game? Or is it a horrific monstrosity. We shall soon find out!

Oh sure, by the time you read this you know the rating. But me at this very moment? I have no clue.

I’m scared.

With an iron will and nerves of steel, I popped in the card and-

Shit. Isn’t working. Let’s try this again…

Nope. Still nothing.

My heart was pounding. Time was running out. Thinking on my feet, I made a dash for the alcohol, soon followed by a trusty cotton swab. A quick drag across the board ought to fix this.

I popped in the card once again.

Nothing!?!

The fate of this review was looking grim. Desperate measures led me to a quick blow in the card slot and…

It worked!

And…boy is this game a mess.

No, this isn’t some shitty fan art (like this game has fans). This is the official drawing of our hero, straight from the original manual

Okay, so you’re some chump named Mick who’s about to inherit some “family jewels.” And after you overcome the disappointment of learning that “family jewels” are just…regular old jewels…you’ll find that the plot is as paper thin as the effort the developers put into this game.

Basically, each round you explore the ghost house looking for five jewels. But here’s the catch – Dracula’s got them all. So you’ve got to wander around a maze of uninspired rooms punching bats, mummies, and other various monsters until a key appears, which won’t take too long to find. Once you’ve procured the key, it’s time to find a coffin and release Dracula.

Four of the five Draculas are decoys, but the fifth is the real deal. How do you know which one’s real? After you kill him, he comes back for one more go. Just don’t punch the heart he leaves behind, or else even a decoy will come back.

Once you’ve grabbed all five jewels, look for the exit. You’re done. Move on to the next stage.

Your attacks are as basic as they come. Jump on enemies or punch. Need a weapon? Touching a candelabra will cause a sword to fly at you from off the screen. If you jump on top of the sword, you can collect it and use it for a limited number of strikes, increasing both attack range and power. If it hits you, you take damage.

Touching a magic lamp will cause an arrow to fly at you from off-screen. If you jump on 16 of these you become invincible for a short duration. Great in theory, but without a counter, how am I supposed to keep track of how many I collect in order to save it for Dracula?

Health can be collected in the form of tiny question mark blocks-

I know what you’re thinking. Yes, do I have to say it? Either way, I don’t know what the question is here. It’s not a coin, it’s not a star, it’s not a flower. It’s health. Every time.

Okay, I think that about sums up the basics, yeah? Time to sully this game’s reputation.

When I first played Ghost House I had no idea what I was doing. As I progressed, I began piecing some things together. During a heated brawl with Dracula (which was damn-near impossible), just as my character was about to meet his maker, the famous vampire and his goons suddenly froze, giving me the time I needed to strike him down. I eventually figured out just from dumb luck that jumping into ceiling lights would freeze everything on screen. Awesome! Or at least I thought. Next time I tried this it didn’t work. So after I had my first game over, I decided to browse the internet for a PDF of the instruction manual (my copy of Ghost House is card only). Of course, like everything else with this game, the instructions give you the bare minimum (including some misleading information), so I was left without a clue or an explanation of what the hell was going on.

Thanks to an online walkthrough, I learned exactly how certain things are triggered and that the ceiling lights do, in fact, freeze everyone on screen. But you can only do it five times. Which makes sense. Five times, five Draculas. Good deal, right?

Well, I’ll tell ya, as much as you want to save it for The Count himself, you sometimes hit that overhead light by accident. And even when you don’t, you might freeze him in an inconvenient/inaccessible spot. It won’t last long either, so make sure you get to him quickly.

Oh, and technically there’s six Draculas since you fight the real once twice.

Alright, so aside from the esoteric nature of Ghost House, what else is wrong here?

Let’s start with the graphics. This game looks more devastating than my toilet the day after lunch at White Castle. It’s lazy, piss-poor design is only amplified by the terrible burning, mismatched colors. If you thought the Virtual Boy hurts, you obviously haven’t played the second stage in Ghost House.

Gah! My eyes!

Speaking of piss-poor design, each level pretty much looks the same, aside from a color palette swap and the addition of mummies in the second level.

Oh, by the way, there are also tons of invisible holes in the ground and annoying spiderwebs that grab hold of you. Have fun with that.

Throughout the stages there are ladders to climb and doors to take.

The doors are not assigned to specific rooms in the house and re-entry never returns you to the same place. Entering a door takes a second or two, but what’s really cool is you can actually get hit while this is happening. Neat, huh? Aaaand, if a big enough enemy touches you during this “door-entering process,” it cancels out and you have to enter again. Swell!

See that little fireball next to Mick’s head? In the time it took for me to enter another room a bat hit me, which inflicted damage

Ladders can be a source of frustration too as any damage you take will knock you off and onto the ground. What’s also fun is trying to climb to another platform while a monster is hovering right over you, making it 100 percent impossible to get to the top.

I love when it’s impossible to reach a higher platform

The controls are manageable. They can be a bit touchy, though the game handles better than you’d expect. My complaint is more with the Master System controller than the game’s mechanics. The D-pad is not nearly as intuitive as the one found on an NES controller. Regardless, climbing up ladders is a pain and you’ll accidentally duck a lot. This isn’t a huge problem as you can move while ducking, though you can’t attack when you’re down on the ground.

While we’re on the subject, it’s a major hassle to have to walk up to the console to hit pause, but that’s again more of a Master System design flaw. The nonstop pace of this game certainly doesn’t help though. And I mean nonstop. I don’t think there’s a moment when you can stand still without getting hit.

The game’s difficulty is, well…once I got the hang of it I blew through the first two levels rather quickly. If you can save the ceiling lights for all the Dracula battles, in theory you should be good. Plus, after each battle with a vampire, you receive a heart that restores your health.

However, as I mentioned before, using the freeze power doesn’t always go as you want. And having to fight Dracula without it is at times impossible. He keeps flying at you quickly and erratically as a bat and randomly transforming into a man. The best time to strike is when he’s in his human form, but those moments are brief and unpredictable. Plus, you’ll constantly fight him in rooms with multiple levels, making it hard to be on the same plane when he transforms into The Count. With no discernible patterns, you’ll just be punching at random, hoping to strike him enough times, which is sheer laziness and incompetence on the developers’ parts. And boy, does he becomes relentless after the second level.

Don’t even try to attack without the sword. And grabbing it during the battle is next to impossible with him in bat form flying at you every two seconds, along with all the other enemies on screen. Oh, and let’s say you are about to kill him but move to a point where he’s no longer on screen. He disappears and you have to re-open the coffin. Back to square one with little to no health left. And restoring health is such a lengthy process, you might as well give up.

After the second level, this game really fucking sucks. It becomes nearly impossible and inconceivable to beat without save states. Problem is, enemies will often corner you into a position where you absolutely can’t fight back, and your health is drained at a steady rate without any kind of momentary invincibility to bounce back. This is often the case when you fight Dracula, whose incessant attacking makes any kind of rebound a literal impossibility in many situations. This is the mark of talentless game developers who don’t know how to make a properly balanced game with well-designed boss battles.

Who the hell programmed this, Bevis and Butthead?

Alright. Time to talk about the horrible assault on my ears that is the audio of Ghost House. The music is not bad, if you can get over the fact that there are only two tracks in the entire game. It’s quick, succinct, and kinda spooky, setting the right tone for a game that totally lacks atmosphere otherwise. Of course, this is when you can actually hear the soundtrack. The soundscape is a horrid mess of annoying beeps and blips from characters on the screen, and your own Mick is the biggest culprit in this crime against eardrums. Every step he takes is accentuated by a grating squeak sound. And don’t even get me started on the fucking Fire Blower…

Everything about this game feels lazy. It looks like garbage, has no effort put into the story, plot, or overall design, and the concept is pretty average. And while I know I should hate this game…I dunno, I kinda had fun. Successfully defeating Dracula and navigating the game’s strange interface is sorta satisfying. And while Ghost House is incredibly repetitive, the task of collecting jewels is quick enough that it feels like an accomplishment.

Look, objectively this ain’t a good game. But after I figured out how it works, did I have a good time? A little, yes. But I know better. This game stinks.

You may not be afraid of no ghosts, but be afraid of Ghost House.

Written by ZB

ZB

Since the tender age of four, I have been playing video games to occupy my free time. Raised on Nintendo and Sega Genesis, I have an extensive knowledge and enthusiasm for the classics. Also an avid collector, I have accrued such consoles as the Atari Jaguar, Super Famicom, Odyssey 2, Sega Nomad, just to name a few.

Got any questions, comments, concerns, or threats? Feel free to email me at zb@nerdbacon.com. I am happy to hear your feedback!

 
 

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