The Outbound Ghost Review - Screenshot 1 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Described by developer Condradical as "Paper Mario + Undertale" on the game's Kickstarter page, The Outbound Ghost garnered some attention with its aesthetic and gameplay along with its premise: the residents of the town of Outbound all quite suddenly died. Many of them have lingering burdens that keep them from moving onto the afterlife. You initially assume the role of an amnesiac ghost as he explores the town, meeting its spectral residents and uncovering a bit by bit what exactly happened. It sounds grim, sure, but it’s all wrapped up in a cutesy package that never devolves too much into the macabre. The game has finally arrived (though not without drama between Conradical and publisher Digerati) and can be played on a Nintendo platform, as all papery RPGs should.

If you’ve played Paper Mario before, the gameplay loop is quite similar. While exploring the areas around Outbound, touching a malevolent enemy in the overworld will trigger a turn-based battle. In battle you control four of a selection of figments of your own psyche – Solitude, Spite, Comradery, and so on – that manifest themselves as party members. Attacks are reflex-based, with an improperly timed button press resulting in a miss and a perfectly timed one increasing damage.

The Outbound Ghost Review - Screenshot 2 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

There are quite a lot of figments that unlock as you progress, giving you a wide range to choose from when you make up your party of four. Some heal, some focus on attacking multiple times per turn, some spread debuffs like it's their ghostly day job, but unlike the allies in Paper Mario, these figments have no personality to them.

To mix combat up a little, each figment can ‘Aether Up’ to save its action and attack twice or more in a later turn, and enemies have a stun gauge to fill. Once the battle’s done, it’s off exploring again, picking up dozens of different items scattered about each zone to craft and equip stat buffs and new skills.

Yes, there’s quite a lot of freedom to the combat that we appreciated, though it comes at the cost with some wonky balancing and an oversaturation of skills. We never used quite a lot of figments and even more buff and debuff types – there was simply too much to really keep track of when other strategies worked just fine. Combat felt more like a wide, shallow pond than a deep lake, especially because on normal difficulty, regular enemies rarely posed a threat or required much strategy to defeat. On harder difficulties, they became a gruelling pain to defeat.

The Outbound Ghost Review - Screenshot 3 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

Frequent bosses, however, fared better. Some bouts end up being lengthy battles of attrition as one of your early figments can replenish the resource used for skills in order to heal ad nauseum. Quite a few other bosses allowed us to think up some clever tactics to speed up the process. For example, a boss near the end of the first chapter had one giant mushroom poisoning our ghastly party and the other attacking us thrice each round. As poison deals damage per action, we poisoned the attacking mushroom back, defended, and healed until it defeated itself, then carefully took care of the poisoning mushroom baddie once the other wasn’t a threat. On the whole, we found ourselves avoiding regular battles where we could — especially because loading into them took several seconds — while looking forward to some of the boss fights.

The gameplay outside of battle fares about the same. A barebones minigame to pick locks functions as the only other diversion aside from finding hidden items behind bushes and lighting the odd torch to open up a path. Rarely did we feel rewarded for exploration, since most of the items we found were for crafting, but sometimes we stumbled upon a pleasant little vista that showcased some nice setpieces.

The Switch, however, doesn’t do these scenic spaces justice: the entire game has a fuzzy, low-res sheen over it that is quite apparent when comparing to PC footage, made worse when undocked as the skill menu text is often too blurry to read clearly in battle. The music, on the other hand, did an overall great job at setting a whimsical, adventurous mood.

The Outbound Ghost Review - Screenshot 4 of 4
Captured on Nintendo Switch (Docked)

We wouldn’t mind the drawbacks too much if The Outbound Ghost gave us a serviceable story to keep us invested. While the premise did grab our attention initially, the story quickly meandered and lost it. For much of the game, you chase an angry little ghost called Adrian who may or may not have answers to what happened to Outbound. Along the way, a cast of villagers will tag along with you to provide context and push the narrative along. Problem is, there’s so many of these characters – such as Michael the wannabe detective, and a cowardly ghost named Craig – that we never grew attached to any of them. In fact, we began to actively dread meeting new additions to the cast and the ample dialogue that followed. Again, wide and shallow rather than concise and deep.

Each chapter also changes the protagonist you control – from the voiceless amnesiac you begin with to others we won’t spoil, including a new character unlocked post-game – but these continual shifts in perspective and flashbacks took us out of the narrative rather than kept us in it. It felt quite strange to be given a voiceless protagonist and then shift to characters that we didn’t care much about that had established personalities.

Conclusion

Much like a shimmering ghost seen for just a fleeting moment, The Outbound Ghost flirts with taking the corporeal form of a great Paper Mario-style game but it never fully materialises. The heart is definitely there, with some great music and environments to go along with adorable little ghost characters, but a shallow battle system, a meandering narrative, and fuzzy presentation left us wanting in just about every ghostly regard.