In 2D puzzle platformer Solomon’s Key, the aim of the game is to clear rooms by finding a key and then reach the door it unlocks, collecting treasure along the way. Ghosts, monsters and saw blades that travel along the surface of the walls and floors stand in your way. To overcome these obstacles, you have the ability to create and destroy blocks across the level.
Now read that first paragraph back but substitute “Solomon’s Key” for “Ghost Sweeper” and it’s still entirely accurate. While Solomon’s Key first released in 1986 and Ghost Sweeper released on PC and mobile back in 2016, they share more than a fleeting similarity. Some might even call Ghost Sweeper a Solomon’s Key clone. Now Ghost Sweeper, which makes no attempt to hide its “retro inspiration”, has made its way to the Xbox One and Nintendo Switch for another bite of the cherry.
In Ghost Sweeper you play as a pair of ghost hunters, John and Indy, one of whom wears a bucket on their head for unknown reasons. Maybe it’s makeshift head protection or maybe he’s just really ugly, your guess is as good as mine. The Dark Lord has risen and brought a load of ghosts, zombies, skeleton warriors and other beasties with him. It’s your job as one of the Ghost Sweepers to fight your way to the Dark Lords tower and defeat it. A 2D platformer that feels as though it might have been made 35 years ago, it’s retro inspiration even goes as deep as being as clunky to play as a Commodore 64 game.
One of the only ways that Ghost Sweeper differentiates itself from Solomon’s Key is by having 2 playable characters with differing special abilities. Johnny Bucket Head has a vacuum which can suck in ghosts that are turned away from you and Indy has a fire ball gun, much like Dana’s spell from Solomon’s Key. The fire balls destroy most ghosts it is fired at and stuns the one’s it doesn’t. Use of these weapons are limited to the amount of magic you have (something that can be refilled with potion bottles). None of the puzzle rooms in the game require the use of these powers but they do make them significantly easier if used properly.
Your main tool is the ability to create and destroy blocks of ice either in front of you or in the space you’d next walk over, creating a platform. These blocks can create platforms to jump too (a jump that can carry you the height of a single block and no more) or can be used to block oncoming projectiles or enemies. Existing blocks can also be removed with a tap of a button in order to make a way through or remove the ground on which an undead foe stands, sending them tumbling. These blocks were a neat mechanic 34 years ago and it still works well now.
Ghost Sweeper isn’t quite as well designed as Solomon’s Key though. There was a symmetry to a lot of the levels in the elder game that made it quite beautiful. That’s not as prevalent in Ghost Sweepers. Many of the levels feel like traditional platformer fare that need to be tackled piece by piece rather than as a whole.
There’s the occasional difficulty spike too. Throughout the game’s 10 worlds, there’s a path (which occasionally branches) from one side to the other, start to end. The vast majority of the levels barring the path are at a decent standard of challenge. They’re not too easy but might cause you to die a few times before you pass them. There’s not really a difficulty increase as the game goes on – new enemy types and obstacles are added but they’re normally a variation on something you’ve already seen, just faster or more numerous. There’s an occasional level that’s a total pain though that halted my progress and undoubtedly stand out as difficulty spikes.
Each of the game’s 10 worlds (the 9th and 10th unlocked by finding all the hidden treasures in the rooms of the other chapters) have their own tile set and soundtrack. Visually, it’s nice to have a change as your progress but the entire game has a dark, medieval and gothic feel that doesn’t really differentiate all that much. It all falls in line with the clean, bold but simplistic art style. Each world has a soundtrack and if you happen to get snagged on one of those difficulty spikes, you’ll be listening to each one on repeat for a while. It becomes grating very quickly.
There’s some very repetitive sound effects too. One particular enemy type spits out fire balls and when it does so, a belch sound effect triggers. It’s the kind of burp that usually precedes someone being very unwell and I’ll be honest, it made me feel physically unwell after a time. I had to mute the game.
If you’re a veteran of Solomon’s Key and are desperate for more, Ghost Sweeper will provide you with what feels like the levels from the 1980’s classic that didn’t make the cut. The mechanics and enemy types have been recreated with a spit shine for modern TV’s and having a second playable character is a nice touch. Compared to modern day puzzle platformers though, Ghost Sweeper feels like a relic from the past that needed more of a refresh that simply updated visuals.
Ghost Sweeper is available now on Nintendo Switch (review version), Xbox One, PC and mobile devices.
Developer: 7 Raven Studios
Publisher: 7 Raven Studios
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
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