Though it seems all too likely that history won't be too kind to the Wii U, it's difficult to dispute the fact that it has been the couch multiplayer console of the generation. Aside from featuring highly polished iterations of classic Nintendo franchises with games such as Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, it's also played host to some quirky indie experiences – such as Starwhal and Runbow – which offer some interesting and fresh takes on local competitive multiplayer. EctoPlaza belongs in this latter category, and while it falls short in some places, it does a wonderful job of delivering an easy to pick-up, addictive multiplayer experience.
In EctoPlaza you and up to three friends take control of a variety of ghosts, wreaking havoc on haunted resorts as you battle each other for glory across three separate game modes. There are six different poltergeists to choose from, differing in terms of mobility and offensive capabilities, and you can battle it out across five (technically fifteen) different stages. If we were to make any complaints here, it's that EctoPlaza can feel a bit light on content during longer play sessions. Déjà vu begins to set in more frequently the longer you play past thirty minutes, and you may find yourself wishing the game had a bit more to offer. Thankfully, this issue is largely mitigated by the competitive nature of the rapid-fire gameplay.
Gameplay is primarily centered around flinging ghosts around stages like pinballs between bumpers, and it's all done by a simple control scheme. Simply holding the stick in a direction and tapping the chomp button causes your ghost to do a quick, short ranged attack, ideal for catching nearby opponents unaware. Holding the button a bit longer before releasing it lets you do a "Trick Shot", which launches your ghost in a direction while allowing you to alter your trajectory once mid-flight. Holding the button down even longer before releasing causes your ghost to do a burst attack, which sends them rocketing across the screen at blistering speeds, often bouncing off a few walls before stopping. It's got a very short learning curve and works the same across the various Wii U controllers, which is perfect for a game that's exclusively focused on playing with others.
The three game modes are all fundamentally centered on the same concept of knocking out opponents. Afterlives is a simple deathmatch mode where everyone has a set number of lives and the last one standing wins. Naturally, things get pretty heated when more players join in, though this mode tends to feel a bit barebones after several matches. The next game mode, Collectoplaza, builds on this concept by introducing collectable ectoplasm orbs. Knocking out an opponent causes orbs to scatter everywhere, and these must then be deposited in a ring at the center of the stage for points, with the first player to cross a certain threshold being declared winner.
The final mode is called Ghostball, and stands as the most addictive mode by far. A beachball is dropped in the stage and the first ghost to blast it into the center hoop three times wins the match. This is the most distilled and well realized variant of the concept of EctoPlaza, as you focus on getting the ball into the hoop with the secondary goal of knocking out your opponent to temporarily remove them from the field. Though there's a clear progression to the game modes from one to the next, each of them does have something unique and fun to offer. Unfortunately, your mileage with them may greatly vary according to how many friends you have on hand.
The biggest issue that we have with EctoPlaza is its single-minded focus on couch multiplayer gaming. Though there's nothing inherently wrong with focusing on multiplayer, it works to the game's detriment if you don't happen to have four willing players in the same room on every occasion you fancy a game. For one thing, there's absolutely no single player content, meaning that this game is only playable if you have somebody else with you. Moreover, it feels like you're not getting the full experience if you only have two or three people. Both of these issues could've been dealt with by including bots, but alas there aren't any, and this certainly hurts the game's appeal and longevity.
From a presentation standpoint, EctoPlaza manages to impress with its visual style and charming soundtrack. The art style is something akin to a modernized take on the look of Yoshi's Island or Kirby's Dream Land 3, characterized by soft lines and vibrant colours which create the effect of a coloured pencil drawing come to life. It's quite easy on the eyes and is bursting with personality; this is a game that's just as good to spectate as it is to play. This is further backed up by the excellent soundtrack, which consists of masterfully arranged Halloween-themed tracks. Music here is characterized by organs, pianos, strings and ghostly sounds, and while it may all sound the same after a bit of time, it does a great job of setting a playful and mischievous tone.
All told, EctoPlaza is a simple and wonderfully crafted couch multiplayer game. All of our complaints ultimately boil down to the fact that we just wish there was more of it; much of this game is ripe for expansion and feels a bit unfulfilled as a result. That being said, what is here is a joy to play, and we would recommend it to anyone who has a group of friends that still like to get together from time to time for a game night. Ectoplaza does a great job of offering a competitive and easy to pick up multiplayer experience, and it's one that no social Wii U owners will want to miss out on.