Ghost Blade HD Review – Xbox One

In this era of video game as narrative experience, it’s not very often that you get to jump right into playing. Usually there’s an opening cinematic, sometimes a character creation screen, a tutorial section, and sometimes even further hoops to jump through before a game lets go of your hand and allows you to, y’know, play. This isn’t the case with Ghost Blade HD, which comes from German developer Hucast Games. You launch the game, press a button at the title screen, choose a mode, and you’re blasting away at enemies without a care in the world. Apart from the thousands of projectiles heading towards you, of course. Ghost Blade HD is, after all, a bullet-hell game.

There is some form of story, somewhere, behind why you’re doing what you’re doing in Ghost Blade HD, but it’s the typical 1980’s arcade game story. A minimal summary of some wrong that needs to be righted, and a hero (or group of heroes, in this case), that set out to do some good. In Ghost Blade HD, you’re fighting across space and a number of different planets, blowing up enemies and avoiding as many projectiles as you can. There’s no mention of any form of narrative, and honestly, the game barely addresses the player at all, aside from the continue and game over screens.

This lack of information initially counted against my experience with Ghost Blade HD, but the more that I played of it, the more that I realized it didn’t really matter. I didn’t have any idea of my ships’ health, or how I was supposed to avoid the huge amounts of chaos occurring around my craft. Eventually, the more I played, my conscious mind began to regress, and a primal form of thinking came to the fore. This is a game as much about pattern recognition as it is about tactical awareness, and in a strange way, this bright-colored smorgasbord of death and destruction became quite relaxing.

Visually, Ghost Blade HD does a great job of aping the bullet hell shooters of the past. Using modern visual techniques to mirror the style of 80’s arcade games, Hucast Games has managed to create an experience eerily reminiscent of the games that it clearly reveres. Sometimes when I think back to games that I played as a kid, and then go back to actually play them, I realize that the image I have in my mind in no way matches up with what appears on screen. What I imagined as smooth, almost-HD graphics are, in reality, jagged lines and blocky textures. Ghost Blade HD, on the other hand, looks as if the image on the screen has been pulled directly from the image in my mind, and that’s testament to the great job the developer has done of nailing the feel of a bullet hell shooter.

The main downside that I found to Ghost Blade HD is the overall shallowness of the experience, and the lack of reason to continue playing the game once you’ve seen what it has to offer. Perhaps the most damning indictment of the lack of content within the game is the fact that the PS4 version has a trophy that’s awarded if you play the game for more than two hours. There are five levels to play through, and three different ships to try out, and the fact that the game is ridiculously hard at times means that you won’t make it from start to finish very easily. However, the lack of variety also means that you’ll be seeing the same things over and over again. If you’re alright with this, and see it as an opportunity to really nail a particular section, then this won’t bother you one bit, but I started to feel a little bored, as early as my fourth or fifth playthrough.

While my interest lasted, I had fun playing Ghost Blade HD. It’s a simple premise, as many bullet hell shooters are, but it’s clear that those who wish to truly excel at the game have their work cut out for them. Where Ghost Blade HD fell short, for me at least, is that it doesn’t take long to see everything that the game has to offer, and once that’s happened, you have the choice to either get really familiar with the experience, or move on. I didn’t find enough personal reason to invest myself in the game further than seemed immediately necessary, but I’m not often one to return to a game once I’ve finished the main component of it. If you’re a player who seeks to challenge themselves to be the best they can be at a particular experience, Ghost Blade HD offers you a good opportunity to do just that, but otherwise I can see I lot of players moving on fairly quickly.

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