Ghostory is a 2D, pixel art, puzzle game with the core premise centering around the idea of switching between two forms: ghost and physical. The game kicks off with the protagonist running away from a pack of wolves and escaping near a lake. After such an exhausting chase he drinks from the lake, but as luck would have it, the water is cursed. A nearby witch explains that he can now turn into a ghost and will die in one week. There is no cause for panic though, as she can make a cure that will lift the curse, and all she requires is a common yellow mushroom found in the nearby cave. As he ventures into the cave and finds the vital ingredient the floor gives way, leaving him trapped in the depths of the cave. If this seems like lazy and uninspiring storytelling, it's because it is.
The beginning plot seems more like a reason to explain your need for a backpack in the puzzles that follow rather than to craft an intriguing plot or build a world. The story as a whole falls quite flat and adds no depth to the game. This is mirrored by the dialogue which is poorly written and devoid of personality, talking to other characters brings nothing to the game. Interesting characters help to bring flavour and life to even the most mundane of surroundings, but here we are instead left with shallow puns that quickly grow old. This creates no emotional depth and as a result I didn't care about any of the characters, the story or the peril the protagonist found himself in.
The world these characters inhabit is bland, the pixel art look is well trodden, especially with Indie games. Whilst it doesn't look bad, it's more of a ‘does what it says on the tin’, than a beautiful example of the art style. The game takes the player through many caves, filled with moving platforms, switches, levers and keys. A good list of things that are hard to get excited by. Whilst the aesthetics of the levels are functional, the lack of quality and variety in the visuals help to contribute to the idea that the game can be a slog.
Ghostory is saved largely by its core concept. It is this interesting mechanic that is most likely to pull players in, and the most likely reason they will enjoy this game. The curse that has befallen the game's unlucky traveller allows him to switch between two forms on-the-fly. As a man he can pull levers, flick switches and carry his backpack. The backpack is vital to progression as it is needed to hold the yellow mushroom and to collect keys that are used in completing puzzles. As a ghost, however, he cannot carry his backpack but can fly through the air and pass through walls. This instantly creates the potential for some thought-provoking puzzles and it's here that Ghostory shines brightest. The levels are well designed, made with passion and genuinely challenging. Some of the puzzles are less about the thinking process and more about timing and speed. Ghostory can be played with a keyboard or a controller and for these sections the controller was far easier to maneuver with.
The gameplay creates its own problems and pacing issues, some that could easily be avoided. The game saves after every level, which on paper seems fair, but doesn't work as well in practice. The levels can be one long puzzle, that take up the whole stage or a series of smaller puzzles joined together. The puzzles can be time consuming, and the smaller puzzles can range in difficulty. Sometimes I would be able to complete all the puzzles in a level except for one, and I knew that if I quit I would have to redo all the previous puzzles again. A simple solution to this problem would be the inclusion of a checkpoint system. This way the game could save after every puzzle or halfway through, eliminating the dread of having to re-solve puzzles. One way the game does address this situation, as well as its difficulty, is the inclusion of the level skip system and a walkthrough. The level skip allows two levels to be skipped if they are too difficult. The only way to regain the ability to skip further levels is to complete the levels that were previously skipped. The walkthrough system is more forgiving and simply goes to a video which shows how to complete the level.
The very nature of the game makes it suitable to be played in short bursts, playing one or two puzzles at a time before continuing later. The design, however, with its long puzzles and hard difficulty require a long commitment of time from the player. Ghostory does feel like it could benefit from being adapted to a pick up and play, short burst formula. This would negate a lot of the other flaws in the game, such as the lack of variety in design and aesthetics, the lack of an intriguing story to drive the player forward and the monotony of pulling levers and jumping across platforms.
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
Ghostory offers some really challenging and thought-provoking puzzles based around a unique and genuinely enjoyable core mechanic. Beyond the gameplay there isn't much else on offer here and the infrequent save points can create real frustration.