We're always intrigued by the games that take a simple design concept and run with it. There’s never any middle ground with such an endeavour; either it’s strong enough to hold a player's attention for the entire span of play or its gimmick doesn’t hold up beyond the first few minutes of “that was neat” and promptly falls into a sea of forgettable titles. Star Ghost takes the wobbly control methodology of Donkey Kong Country Returns’ barrel rocket stages and builds an old school, side-scrolling shoot ‘em up that, weirdly enough, makes it something that is unique, fun and holds up to the scrutiny of long play sessions.
The main thrust of Star Ghost is that it can be played with one button. Rather than being able to move your circular space craft about the stage it’s self-propelled, barring it falling towards the bottom of the screen if left unattended. While holding or tapping the A button your ship bobs upwards, meaning you 'swim' through the universe in an attempt to keep a certain altitude.
While hard to describe, what it means is your main focus is keeping your verticality in check at all times. Your ship auto-shoots ahead of you, so the goal is to make it to the end of any given stage by maneuvering vertically to both blast your foes and avoid environmental obstacles as you press ever onward. You can move the analogue stick a little to offset your shots, but there's a learning curve to it and you're often better off just aiming the entire ship instead. It sounds odd because it is; yet after finding a certain rhythm you’ll find yourself dodging projectiles and weaving through jagged caves at a good clip.
No good shmup is worth its weight in meteorite dust without a solid power-up system to help you maximize your artillery, in order to crush the enemy armada as you move along. You can raise your rate of fire, the spread of your gun or the field at which power-ups will get sucked up with the appropriate doodad, as well as collect a currency that you can then spend between stages to raise any of these for a fee. There’s an ebb and flow to it all as these abilities will lessen in functionality as you keep going. Keep the coffers full and you won’t have a problem; let them slip and your potential will shrink. Rounding out the package are some more useful boosts like a shield generator to protect you or a repulsion field that keeps enemies at bay. There’s also a negative power-down known as a virus that’ll disable everything, forcing you to maneuver your way around without the assistance of your weapon.
Star Ghost tasks you with protecting twelve distinct regions that are split up into randomized stages filled with varying enemies that attack in different patterns, as well as environs that switch up their design so you never know what’s being thrown at you. It never gets terribly exciting or different to the point of noticeability, but shmup fans looking to memorize level layouts may be a bit disappointed at this fact. However, for the rest of us this makes for an arcade experience that’s worth revisiting over and over again simply because you never know what you’re going to get.
This fun little package is wrapped up in a neon-on-black aesthetic that looks as simple as the game's design philosophy, but also surprises when it unfurls its genius as you look further into it. Everything pops and is made distinct by its colour scheme, so you’ll never mistake what you’re picking up or what you’re fighting. The voice work is minimal but encouraging and most importantly not intrusive. The soundtrack, done by the seminal David Wise, is peppy, upbeat and keeps the pace in check.
While it’s probably said often, Star Ghost is a great fit for the Switch. Its pick up and play sensibilities and arcade roots fit perfectly on a system you can dip into at a moment’s notice. It has a learning curve that makes for a satisfying experience, where only having one control to deal with makes it feel as if you have all the control in the world. It is a bit one note, but what it lacks in variety it makes up in giving you a game you can sink all your efforts into; you only have to focus on the what’s in front of you. Not having an online or shared leaderboards is a miss for a title like this, but it doesn’t take away from the experience as a whole. Star Ghost is one of the most enjoyable - and turbulent - trips you can take through the stars.