#5: Ghost House (1986 Sega)

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If the title of the game and the clip art bats that make up the “cover art” haven’t tipped you off, this is a arcade-like platformer with a Halloween theme. You’re put in the shoes of a young vampire hunter named Mick (who could pass as Alex Kidd’s long-lost Romanian cousin) who’s on a mission to reclaim his family’s treasure which have been hidden for centuries inside Count Dracula’s mansion. As you might expect this is far easier said than done as you must search the different floors of the mansion to locate the five jewels, each of which are being held by one of five Draculas. Of course you have plenty of the vampires’ minions to contend with along the way such as flying bats, creeping blue ghouls, red fire-breathing monsters and mummies that chase after you, not to mention false floors and walls. You mainly dispatch your foes by either jumping on top of them them or punching them, though you have to get in close since your range is pretty short. The house also contains some elements to help you out which add a nice touch of strategy; touching an overhead light will freeze your foes for several seconds, allowing you to get in your shots, while passing a mounted candlebra will cause a sword to fly onto the screen and if you can jump on top of it you can wield it as a temporary weapon. In addition you can utilize the teleporting doors and portals to zap yourself to different areas in the mansion.

You, sir, are no Simon Belmont

You, sir, are no Simon Belmont

As mentioned earlier the main object is to find the five coffins scattered through each level and once you open each coffin with a key (which you get from killing a random enemy so they’re not too hard to find) Dracula pops out for a one-on-one battle. After hitting him enough times with either your fist or the sword Dracula crumbes and you earn one of the five gems, after which you set out to find the next Dracula. If you manage to defeat all five Draculas a portal opens and sends you to the next level where you do it all over again.

While Ghost House tries to win you over with its Sega charm and character, it’s hard to ignore the limitations of the Sega Card format. The graphics are decent enough with brightly colored sprites (though the mummy looks like a jumbled mess) and some okay backgrounds but the three levels are pretty much identical save for some pallette swaps and layout changes. The music, on the other hand, consists of a boppy background tune that doesn’t quite fit the setting, though it switches to a nice tense theme when Dracula appears. The sound effects are the usual SMS fare while Mick makes a really annoying squeaking sound with every step he takes. But ultimately there’s very little depth as you play the same three levels over and over with nothing new introduced in the later stages; after 10 minutes of playing you’ve basically seen everything there is to see in this title.

Mick vs. Drac, mano-a-(bat-)mano

Mick vs. Drac, mano-a-(bat-)mano

In addition the game is not without its frustrating moments which also knock it down a few pegs. The controls work well enough but this title debuts a bothersome quirk found in most SMS platform titles where Button 1 jumps and Button 2 attacks, which can feel unnatural especially for vets of NES platformers who are used to the layout being the other way around. In addition Mick gets knocked around very easy by the blows the enemies land and he can go flying with no way to recover. This can get very annoying as you’re often knocked down a ladder or through a false floor and you can also end up trapped between the wall and your foe, leaving you helpless to stop him from pummeling you and draining your lifebar mercilessly. The battles with the vampires can also be a pain as you often have to try and maneuver in a cramped space while Drac has no such problem flying around plus he doesn’t flinch when you land any blows, meaning he’ll always get his shots in. If that wasn’t enough if you beat Dracula but punch him one too many times, he may come back to life and you have to beat him all over again.

Drac's called his mummy in to make this a family affair

Drac’s called his mummy in to make this a family affair

So Ghost House almost turns out to be a decent effort from Sega but doesn’t quite get there due to the lack of depth and some cheap difficulty. This game would have benefitted greatly from being in a cartridge format which could have allowed more room for some variety, and some tweaks with the gameplay would have made this a more enjoyable title. Ghost House may be a nice place to visit at first but odds are you won’t be staying long.

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One thought on “#5: Ghost House (1986 Sega)

  1. Best Sega Card game IMO. It does get frustrating after a few rounds as the Draculas get crazy fast; darting across the screen, leaving the player with very little time to act. Still I keep coming back to this game now and then.

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