For a game to be a good Metroidvania (games that emulate the style and structure of early Metroid and Castlevania games), it needs to do a few very specific things well. For starters, it needs to have a large, labyrinthine map full of twists, turns, interconnected passageways, and secrets. Then, you need an ongoing upgrade system in which you slowly discover new weapons, gear, and items to grow in strength over time. And finally, most Metroidvanias involve a lot of backtracking to previous areas to unlock new passages using your updated gear.
All of that and much more is the case here in Ghost 1.0 and it comes together in a polished package that’s oozing charm. In fact, it’s got so much personality, sometimes we find ourselves grateful to have it on Switch so we can just turn it off for a bit and take a break. The cheesy jokes and often cringey voice acting tend to wear on you after a while.
In Ghost 1.0 you take control of the titular character as a stealth infiltration expert. You’re tasked with sneaking into a high-tech facility, taking out any resistance that stands in your way, and shutting down the evil corporation. Like most Metroidvania’s, the story is light in terms of its tone and content, but it does a good job of pushing you along. That tongue-in-cheek style is consistent throughout the game as Ghost’s handlers back at operations are constantly riffing back and forth and Ghost herself even makes sly quips here and there. It’s at least a serviceable way to break up the action.
There’s a lot of room for nuance in this genre as it’s grown in popularity so much over the years. Axiom Verge is one of the best indie Metroidvanias of recent years, as well as the recently launched Hollow Knight. Now Dead Cells is coming soon and even Dust: An Elysian Tale is due out to release on Switch eventually. It’s a popular target for indie developers to hit - especially Francisco Tellez De Meneses, the creator of Ghost 1.0. He also created Unepic, another Metroidvania with heavy RPG influences that was ported to Switch earlier this year.
Everything from the art style, animations, and general flow of gameplay feels similar to Unepic which is both good and bad. On the one hand, it’s a crisp, modern 16-bit art style that looks really sharp either on the Switch screen or blown up on the TV while docked. But at the same time a lot of the environments feel like they were built using a limited tileset and if it weren’t for the map we’d have gotten lost more times than once just from everything looking the same.
Like Samus before her, Ghost does a lot of shooting. Her base weapon has unlimited ammo, but it has to charge before and after each shot with a max charge of 32 at first. That means if you fire off too many rounds in rapid succession you’ll eventually be stuck waiting for the clip to recharge. Thanks to the Switch’s comfortable dual analog sticks you aim her arm using the right stick and move her body with the left, similar to how you’d play a twin-stick shooter. Thankfully there’s a generous lock-on assist feature because we found it difficult to line up distant shots this way manually.
She can also 'walk' away from her body, spiritually (kind of like a ghost, get it?) and pass through walls, floors, ceilings and other solid objects to take control of other robots. Enemies will notice almost immediately, but it's often used as a puzzle-solving mechanic and can be a fun way to mix things up in combat. When possessing something it leaves your actual body completely defenseless so you have to be careful.
Despite its awkward attempt at humor, Ghost 1.0 actually has some really subtle and clever mechanics that do a great job of selling the world itself. We’re big fans of when a game doesn’t break the immersion by gamifying things too far and the save system here is a great example. In most games, it doesn’t make lore-friendly sense that the player can save progress to reload after dying. But in Ghost 1.0 each save terminal is a computer in which you scan a copy of yourself and load it into a 3D printer. When you die, you just reprint yourself. That’s a really elegant and useful way of explaining things.
Throughout the game, you’ll discover all manner of new weapons and upgrades, many of which do a great job of filling the screen with explosions and bullets to dodge. The default layout maps the jump button to L, which feels really odd, so we’d recommend changing that. Otherwise, gameplay feels great and isn’t too stiff at all. The rocking sci-fi soundtrack helps round things out and ensured that we always played either with the volume turned up or headphones in.
Ghost 1.0 is a lighthearted Metroidvania that adapts a sprawling sci-fi setting with some really creative takes on the genre. Even though it originally released on PC two years ago, it still manages to fit right into the Switch’s growing library of quality sprite-based action adventures. If you’re looking for a less somber journey after the harrowing depths of Hollow Knight, you could do far worse than Ghost 1.0 as long as the forgettable story and cringe-inducing humor aren’t too off-putting..