Spooky Ghosts Dot Com

Switch, PC

It’s never easy to remember that other people are allowed to like different stuff than we do. Because, well, we’re right! Well, I am. I’m still not entirely convinced about you. And so it is I have to force myself to remember that people legitimately enjoy boss fights, and not just because they’re vast gargling idiots.

The pile of games I would have enjoyed were it not for boss fights teeters precariously above our heads, likely to collapse and kill us all at any moment. So watch it, I’m stacking another, and I’m unlikely to take care as I do it. Spooky Ghosts Dot Com is supposed to be, and for the most part is, a very adorable minimal Metroidvania.

Super-pixelly graphics, to the degree of squares for pick-ups, but charmingly delivered, while it doesn’t offer any surprises, it certainly had me smiling. At £4, that it’s just a few hours long pitches it perfectly, and I’d be recommending this whole-heartedly… but for those bloody bosses.

I don’t get it. I don’t understand why people enjoy them. I certainly cannot fathom how in the last decade they’ve somehow become an entire genre on their own. I enjoy playing games for the process of playing games. I like learning, progressing, advancing. And but for a very few examples, I don’t understand how boss fights are almost always difficulty walls. Just utterly disproportionate challenges that in no way equal the requirements both before and after them, seeming to exist only as a barrier to fun. I’m enjoying this game -> I can’t do this incongruously difficult moment -> I am no longer enjoying this game. I don’t understand who’s benefiting here.

But I come back to where I started. Loads, inconceivably large numbers of people adore this. They want it. They must do, or every other bloody game wouldn’t include it. And I’d get it if a boss fight required the application of all the skills learned so far, in a larger arena, like a sort of English comprehension test of gaming abilities – but almost all the time they’re just about doing something far, far harder, that when you think you’ve almost defeated it, suddenly changes into someone else and wallops you to death yet again. But you like that. You want that bit. Perhaps you’re also the people who like it when highlighting a sentence of text suddenly highlights the entire page, then nothing at all, then somehow the gaps between all the text. I mean, all software is programmed to highlight that way, so it must be what a decent number of people are after. I’m as bewildered by that desire as I am for a stupidly hard bit in a game you were otherwise ploughing through nicely, but I assume the Venn circle for each overlaps almost exactly.

If so, then definitely pick up the sweet little Spooky Ghosts, and perhaps you’ll be able to do the Gravekeeper boss, and you’ll think me an incompetent fool whose opinions should be locked in cupboards, not paid for by crowds. Me, I’ll keep getting past the first three-quarters, then being entirely unable to hit the floaty head because of the seventeen million other things dashing about underneath it, as it fires downward in the fractions of seconds where I’d otherwise be able to fire upward. You’ll like that bit best of all.

OK, I have comprehensively failed in my attempts to be magnanimous about this, but perhaps somewhere in my moaning you can take on board that Spooky Ghosts Dot Com is a cute little mini-Metroidish, with a deep love for cats, that is rather gated for access by whether one enjoys difficulty-spiked boss fights.

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  1. I wholeheartedly agree with your position on boss fights and will sign a petition to initiate important change in the video game world.

    I’m presently playing Remnant: From the Ashes and am stuck at the Root Mother boss and the endless death cycle is making me want to kick my television out the window. ? ?

    Also grabbing this game because why not it’s $5.

  2. I do remember back in the Amiga Power days, Stuart Campbell constantly raging against boss fights, so you’re not the only one.
    For me, I do like a good boss fight, but it’s hard to make a good one and it has to be aligned with the game’s difficulty. There’s some games that I was enjoying a lot and never got to finish because of disproportionally tough boss fights (e.g. Gianna Sisters twisted dreams)

  3. “I like learning, progressing, advancing.”

    This is exactly why I like boss fights, to be honest. I really enjoy, say, seeing a boss’ attack pattern for the first time, thinking “this is impossible,” then, some (or a lot of) time later, being able to “dance” said pattern: knowing when the boss is about to use it, being prepared even before the pattern starts, moving and acting in just the right way to deal with it. I would consider that to be a form of learning, progressing, advancing (though obviously not the only one and probably not even one that is somehow better than others!).

    Probably not what you had in mind, but I’m thinking about English comprehension tests. Specifically a very simplistic example of a test you might get in an undergrad class: you’re given a reasonably short story or poem, one that was not covered in the class at all, and you have to answer a few questions about it, write a short essay about it, or both. This arguably constitutes a difficulty spike: you do not have your teacher to guide you, your textbook to help you remember the various techniques or frameworks for reading, or your classmates to suggest things you might have otherwise missed. But you’re expected to apply the skills you learned in a different way and in a different context. It would be too mechanical to just say “this specific interpretation works with this specific poem we covered in class, so it must work for this different poem.” The fun (if you’re the type to enjoy English tests lol) is in developing something new for the text and with less guiding elements to help you.

    Since this reply is already unstructured, forgive me for a quick tangent: what did you think of Puzzle 4-1 in Hexcells Infinite? It’s the puzzle where they introduce the blue numbered cells. I found that to be a huge difficulty spike, and always had a bit of a rough time of it even on subsequent playthroughs. It even introduces a completely new mechanic! But it’s still one of my favorite crafted levels from the game: having to use all of the little tricks and techniques you’ve picked up along the way, having to use these in a very different manner that really changes how you approach the puzzle, it all adds up to a super enjoyable and memorable challenge.

    Finally, I’d like to apologize for the long post and thank you for writing these articles. Sorry, and thank you! Would like to thank you with CASH but I cannot; hopefully encouraging you and saying that I immensely enjoy your work and have always loved your stuff (even though I disagree with you on quite a number of things) is enough. Thanks again!

  4. I decided to pick this up based on this review, as it looked cute and I wanted something to play on Switch. Argh, I wish I tried it before I purchased it. While it is *extremely* cute – I honestly love the aesthetic – the level design and placement of enemies is aggravating, let alone the boss fights. The controls are simple, which is fine, but the jump is too floaty and stiff – and making matters far worse, the placement of platforms and ceilings make for dozens of unnecessarily (and probably unintentionally) precise jumps. Too many times in the first few areas do you find yourself landing on platforms directly under spiders you couldn’t see or falling on spikes you didn’t know would be below you. Better level design and placement of enemies could have mitigated sooo much frustration here. Agh, it’s so annoying, I was looking forward to loving this.

    If you’re in the mood for a low-fi metroidy romp, though, I would definitely recommend ‘Catmaze’ on Steam, though. That game, while far from perfect either, has a hell of a lot more thought and polish and I ended up feeling compelled enough to see it through to the end.

  5. Addendum to my earlier comment:
    While this game is more “rough” than just around the edges, I’ve still put more energy into finishing it than I do bother with a lot of other games. I don’t exactly admire it, because so many of the issues I have with it I think could have been addressed by the developer if they’d just had one other human being play it and tell them what’s up. But what it lacks in “being good” it makes up for in being kind of aspirational. I have a bit of a goal to complete a game to the point where it would be viable to release on the Switch. While you might construe this as “lowering the bar,” in a way it makes my goal feel achievable. Which is cool, and dare I say: inspiring.

    Anyway, the graphics are still cute. 🙂

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