Harkening back to my days of yore, I recall all those hours I spent in the arcade (or as my grandma would say, “Throwing my money down the toilet”) playing all kinds of low-impact, high-action games, one of which being 1942, a personal favorite of mine. What made it so special to me was how accessible it was to my young mind. The few buttons on the arcade kiosk indicated what they did, and that was all the direction I needed. Top-down rail shooters all bring me back to that time when I was young, escaping the frustrations of my childhood with the frustrations of ships shooting all kinds of on-screen hell at me. This is the type of game that Ghost Blade HD is: blasting your way through waves of ships, tanks, and whatever else they can throw at you all while avoiding their steady barrage of bullets. Ghost Blade HD ebbs of the 90s vibe that made top-down shooters like it so entrancing, but it’s not all adrenaline and fanfare here, because somewhere along the line the team behind it forgot what year it was.
All features to Ghost Blade HD are retrofitted, from the lack of true dimension in ships to the bombastic, borderline pixelated explosions and down to the simplistic menu and score text. Actions and sounds reek of that olden style as well, setting in nostalgia with each explosion, weapon fire, and tune from the soundtrack. Controls are simplistic as well, with each of the three ship types having a standard, more spread out shot that does less damage or a stronger, more concentrated stream of damage. The ships have their own advantages too, one being a bit quicker with less damage, one with more damage and less speed, and one that balances the two factors. All of these things are great, but one part of this retrofitting has kept me from enjoying Ghost Blade HD as much as I could: the game screen orientation.
By default, screen orientation mimics the standard view of what would be found on an arcade kiosk, narrow and tall, which as a consequence leaves about 2/3rds of the screen dedicated to a background and displaying points, health bar, etc. While this looks decent on paper, the issue with playing this game in a living room is the distance between you and the TV, especially since the actual playing field on the TV is drastically smaller. Couple that with how small some enemies and projectiles are, and you’re bound to start cussing; I know I did on many occasions. For most of this review, I had to sally up right in front of my TV in order to play effectively, and while the result of this move helped me in the long run, I hated having to change HOW I physically played the game.
To “counter” this, a screen orientation is available where the screen tilts either left or right (your choice) so you can run the gauntlet from side to side. I would much prefer this if in fact the controls themselves shifted to accommodate such a change, but instead they remained the same. Initially, before I learned that controls could be altered, I lay down on my side so that the screen appeared to be going up so that I didn’t have to interpret controls based on my perspective. After playing this way for a while, I gave up, returned everything to default, and sat right in front of my TV so I could play effectively.
Another major issue I came across was how much neon appears on-screen. Before that, though, it’s necessary to understand one aspect of Ghost Blade HD. Certain enemies, mostly larger ones, send out crazy amounts of neon projectiles in crazy arrays, and the advantage to destroying these bigger enemies is that their projectiles will each turn into bonus stars to boost your score while also clearing out your surroundings.
You would think that having different colors of neon would make each of them stand out, but when they’re all flying at you and they’re all highlighted with white, they begin to blend together, which becomes a problem in and of itself. No one enemy has its own colored ammunition, so determining the source of it all with so much going on on-screen is far from possible oftentimes; and even when you’re able to determine what’s coming from what, you’re still having to deal with the other waves of projectiles coming from wherever the hell they’re being fired from. Ultimately, this game comes down mostly to memorization rather than skill, and while that IS in fact part of the way these games are played, this is left too much to the variable of memorization, especially as difficulty goes up.
Your ship’s hit box is a bit strange, too. Plenty of times, projectiles went over my wings incredibly close to the core of my ship, and I should have died, and other times I felt like that same clearance isn’t always there as some bullets got me from one of my wings. Again, these distances have mere pixels differentiating them, but in a game of limited space, every pixel is important.
It’s not all bad, though.
Honestly, while Ghost Blade HD is quite brief–clocking in at about 30 minutes to complete all five stages–it’s quite engaging and will keep you locked in for the entire session. It ebbs that 90s feel from olden arcade shooters, and the appeal of that is hard to ignore, especially for $9.99. While it makes the experience too easy, local co-op is available for anyone looking for fun with friends and family.