Quoth the video game critic: Nevermore. Ghost Parade is an undoubtedly beautiful game with compelling characters, story, and setting. Unfortunately, this game about spirits is haunted by some pretty underwhelming controls.
Something is following me since my playthrough of Lentera Studio’s Ghost Parade. I can feel it as I walk down the street at night. It shares the same space as something that moves slowly in the corner of my eye but disappears as soon as I look at it, a presence both heavy and sorrowful, as if my shadow is peeling itself off of the sidewalk to stand upright and place its cold hands upon my shoulders.
I think I’m being haunted by the ghost of what could have been a really great game. Or at least, a memorable one. I’ll never know.
Ghost Parade is a side scrolling, puzzle jumper that hearkens back to old classics like Super Mario and Rayman. You play Suri, a little girl who gets lost in a haunted forest as she attempts to make her way home from school. The journey evolves into something more than a simple jaunt home as Suri is entrusted with a magic lantern, meeting a variety of ghosts and forest spirits that help her protect the forest from men that seek to destroy it for profit.
As Suri, you’ll bash enemies with your lantern, dash, and wall jump your way across multiple stages, set in lush forests, windy mountain passes, and busy seaports. Suri will unlock more abilities for you to use as the story progresses. Ghost Parade is a metroidvania-style game, meaning as you unlock new abilities, you go back through older stages in order to access places you weren’t able to prior due to your expanded controls.
The namesake of this game comes from the spirits you meet, who accompany Suri the entire time. Although your inventory has multiple ghosts, you can only use three at a time, each with their own unique moves. Combine the right ghosts, and you can even access an ultimate move to use during combat. This addition shakes up your play style, allowing you to tailor your combat experience for different situations, a component that becomes particularly useful during boss fights.
From a visual standpoint, the game design is absolutely stunning. Lentera studios, which poignantly translates to “lamp”, describes itself as a technology and art property, and it shows. The animation shines, and it is so vibrant and wholly unique that Ghost Parade’s aesthetic is destined to be copied in the future by other games. The adorable characters are a stunning blend of pop Indonesian folklore, with pocong ghosts wearing bowties and kunti vampires with hearts stitched on their dresses. It’s funny, it’s cute, and it screams merchandise.
The audio works too. Levels are set to rich, orchestral composition, which amplifies the beauty of the game. The sound effects are decent too, if not a little repetitive at times. Hearing Suri yell “HA!” with every lamp swing gets a little annoying after a while, but the variance in the soundtrack does more than make up for it.
If I was judging the merits of Ghost Parade by its beautiful blend of story, characters, and interesting folklore, then this game would be an indie hit. Sadly, it isn’t. If only Lentera had spent a little more time on the controls.
Ghost Parade is a frustrating console experience. I immediately had my doubts when I was forced to use the control stick on a side scrolling game instead of the D-pad, but that’s the least of problems associated with this game. The interface is also difficult to navigate. Pulling up the map, accessing your potion inventory, and leveling up your skill tree all involves pausing the game and slogging through menus. The game needs more hotkeys.
Other issues with the interface include navigation. Ghost Parade is MASSIVE, and yet there are only a few shrines that you can access to teleport your character to where you need to go. This leads to you walking a bit too much in order to backtrack through the game. This is a mistake, especially if one of the points of gameplay is to backtrack.
Moving Suri around in general is a terrifying experience. There is a sense of weightlessness about the character, as if her actions and movements aren’t really registering in the game. The character floats around as she jumps, and if she misses the platform by a fraction of an inch, consider yourself dead. For a side scrolling platform jumper, it seems an odd choice to make the character so gravity free.
I was particularly miffed by the fact that there was no invincibility counter. Usually in games, when you get hit, you’re given a second of invulnerability to right yourself and rebound from the attack. This doesn’t exist in Ghost Parade, meaning, if you get hit by something, you’ll probably get hurt from it multiple times. Pointless deaths ensue, and this is very noticeable during boss fights, which require you to be quite accurate in order to attack and avoid damage.
There is zero reward for a gamer to be innovative with the controls, which are glaringly unresponsive. You can slide, but you must finish your slide before you attack. You can jump, but not mid-slide. If Suri falls off a ledge then you cannot jump to get back on it — you lose the ability to rebound jump and are doomed to plummet to your death. Because of this rigid acceptance of only doing one move at a time, you can’t combine certain moves to attack or dodge, which leads to countless infuriating moments of you being hit when you feel you shouldn’t have been and being on the receiving end of more, pointless deaths that feel like the fault of the game architects more so than anything you’ve done.
Ghost Parade forgets that it’s a side-scrolling game. The controls need to be on point. Allowing Suri to jump in and out of moves and speeding up the game just a little bit would combat the sense of sluggishness that the gameplay currently exists in.
I wish I could recommend Ghost Parade, because it is such a unique and beautiful game that could be a pop culture hit with young audiences, but alas, this isn’t the case. It’s just simply too unforgiving and difficult to play through. Until the game embraces some better controls I’ll have to continue to be haunted by what could have been.