Look, I know it’s not for everyone, but I am a big fan of homage. There is just something about creative people acknowledging their influences and celebrating them in a fun and unique way that really warms the cockles of my heart. Although the ‘Metroidvania’ tag seems to be battling it out with ‘Souls-like’ and ‘farming sim’ for market saturation supremacy, occasionally a little gem will come along and cut through the noise, demanding your attention. Ghost Song is one such title, which developer Old Moon has had cooking away for quite some time after a successful Kickstarter campaign way back in 2013. They’ve used that time to fill it full of love, taking tonnes of inspiration from games like Metroid, Hollow Knight, even Ori and the Blind Forest, and wrapping it up in a surprisingly heartfelt package.
From the influences I’ve listed, you’ll likely understand the kind of game you’re in for, but for the uninitiated, Ghost Song is a beautifully illustrated 2D action platformer with an emphasis on combat and exploration. You play as the strangely adorable Deadsuit, who mysteriously awakens on a lush but hostile moon with a head full of broken memories and naught but a Samus-style arm blaster to keep you safe. What starts as a search for answers swiftly becomes an adventure into the enemy infested bowels of Lorian, trying to find a way off the cursed rock.
In true Metriodvania fashion, you’ll shoot and smash your way through the moon, finding new weapons, upgrade modules for your suit and blaster (think Hollow Knight’s Charms), and new abilities that will help you dispatch your foes more easily and access even deeper areas. Some of these rewards will be found behind cleverly hidden destructible walls, floors and ceilings and some will need to be wrenched from the cold, dead hands of optional bosses, so careful and attentive spelunking is essential. Drawing inspiration again from Hollow Knight (which is already borrowing from Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls), each enemy you kill will drop Nano Gel, which can in turn be used to upgrade your Deadsuit’s overall heath and power. Of course, dying means dropping what you have but if you can find your corpse before perishing again, you can recover it.
One of the first quirks of combat that I discovered and enjoyed was that using your arm blaster repeatedly causes it to heat up, which slows down the rate of fire. The trade-off for this is that your melee attack gains bonus heat damage, which encourages tactics like juggling gunplay from a safer distance then getting up close and personal to the bad guys with your red-hot weapon. This applies to your standard blaster and punch attack, but also to the unlockable weapons like the missile launcher and giant hammer. Surprisingly, Ghost Song is quite punishing early on, so I recommend learning the ins and outs of your abilities as soon as possible.
Despite the clear focus towards isolation and loneliness, Ghost Song is actually full of charming and unique NPCs to befriend (and sometimes fight). Not only are the cast of characters well written, but their dialogue is also partially voiced by some lovely performances, making each one a joy to interact with. Even the Deadsuit sounds like a delightful little anime robot girl. The NPCs also move around the world, sometimes fighting alongside you, sometimes giving you side quests and sometimes handing over incredibly powerful weapon modules, making them feel like believable inhabitants of Lorian, rather than just window dressing. Most of the narrative delivery of the game is also from these characters, which also changes as you progress, so I highly encourage you to keep an eye out for them as you play.
From a technical standpoint, Ghost Song is a very solid package on PC, with no noticeable bugs or issues plaguing my playthrough. The beautifully illustrated artwork and fairly simple level design place this game on the less demanding side of things, so I anticipate a similar experience on whichever platform you choose to play it, even last gen consoles. If you do choose to play on PC, I recommend using a controller (as does the game), because keyboard controls are not great.
She’s havin’ a ball!
Although I do have a few gripes, they are fairly minor and mostly come from personal taste and (perhaps unfair) comparisons to similar titles. Clarity and pacing were the two biggest offenders, with the game being broken down into three distinct and different arcs. Without spoiling anything, the first arc feels mysterious, but a little aimless with no real information on your objective other than a vague marker on an empty map screen. This is likely to encourage exploration, but I feel that the lack of guidance combined with some progression paths being hidden and the higher difficulty of the restricted abilities can make for an opening that some people will bounce off.
The second act is much more enjoyable with clear objectives and access to better gear and a better understanding of how exploration works in Ghost Song. The third act, however, had minimal guidance again and no clear markers which led to me wandering around the map for literal hours, looking for an NPC and wondering if my game was buggy and not loading the next state correctly. Turns out, I had just neglected to check one tiny corner of the map near to where I’d started the act, but if I’d gone there immediately then my third act experience would have lasted all of 15 minutes. I also think that the level-up mechanic may frustrate some people (and may indeed need some post-launch tuning), as although I dumped a tonne of NanoGel into my Gun Power stat, my arm blaster never felt any more powerful than when I first started, which led to me only using it to heat up my melee attack and relying on my special blasters for ranged combat. Overall, I think that veterans of the genre may feel like they want a little more and newcomers may have trouble getting truly immersed in the game.
One thing that isn’t really a problem, but I thought was worth mentioning, is that Ghost Song feels a little short. I tried to explore every nook and cranny I could find and took down a fair number of optional bosses, but not including my aimless wandering in the last chapter, my playthrough would have only been around 11–12 hours. I only collected about 75% of the available modules, so I’ve no doubt missed a few hidden areas or bosses, but I suspect that even completionists would find it easy to come in under 15 hours. The narrative also feels a little rushed towards the ending which some players may find unsatisfying.
This interaction reminds me of going to the shops during lockdowns
Ghost Song is a wonderfully atmospheric adventure filled with loveable characters, fantastic writing, beautiful artwork, and a sensational soundtrack. Old Moon’s debut title is a little short and at times frustratingly vague, but a triumph nonetheless. It should more than satisfy your cravings while you wait patiently for Hollow Knight: Silksong. You’ll have a blast on whatever platform you decide to play it on, but for the frugal among you, it will also be available day one on Xbox Games Pass.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Old Moon
- Humble Games
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / PC / Mac / Linux
- November 3, 2022