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CONSOLE: Sega Master System DEVELOPER: Sega PUBLISHER: Sega
RELEASE DATE (NA): 1986 GENRE: Platformer
// review by Jeff

Scary for the wrong reasons.

It's getting close to Halloween, and you know what THAT means. That's right: I'm about to be frightened by the quality of a Sega Master System game! And what better game to play than Ghost House, a 1986 game by Sega themselves based on an arcade game released four years older, Monster Bash. I've had my fair share of incidents and encounters with ghost houses. Those of the Super Mario series have given me their fair share of grief, and I've had several simultaneous heart attacks from that one haunted house in Niagara Falls where the proprietors attempt to scare visitors by blowing hardcore poofs of air at their legs in an attempt to simulate someone grasping at your limbs.

But I wasn't quite prepared for Ghost House on the Sega Master System!

Ghost House stars a random young lad named Mick, tasked with seeking valuable loot within the home of the almighty Count Dracula. He is described in the game manual as "the normal-looking guy in the blue shirt", alongside what could qualify as the most amateur visual depiction of a protagonist in instruction manual history. Also of note: there are five Draculas, though four of them are fake.

The same manual also uses the phrase "Ghoul luck". Where's a match when you need it?

From the get-go, you're implanted into a mansion-like environment, filled with multiple floors and a variety of ladders (or are they staircases?) to traverse three, count 'em, THREE different levels. Your goal is to find the hidden jewel in each stage, and by defeating creepy crawly enemies and locating the golden key, then using THAT key to unleash the vampire locked away somewhere in the area by opening a coffin. Defeating him (and not a fake) will land you a lovely jewel, and then you can move on to the next level. Keep going until you arrive at the genuine bona fide vampire king himself, Dracula, who needs a seriously slaying.


The first level lasted 63 years, by my unofficial measure.
On the surface, that sounds wonderfully generic, like just another ripple in the vast retro gaming ocean. But there are some things that separate Ghost House from the rest of the pack. Upon immediately starting a new quest, I discovered that Mick shares many similarities to Alex Kidd, another of Sega's cavalcade of characterless characters, which does not bode well in Mick's favour. His primary form of attack is punching with a big fist, just as Alex had started doing that same year. It works...if it connects. I found that with larger enemies, you can't just touch it to cause damage; you need to literally have your fist in the middle of the sprite. Fighting the vampires at the end of each stage is even worse; I felt like I could barely deal any sufficient blows at all. At least Ghost House doesn't have you go full-on Alex Kidd by challenging Dracula to a game of rock-paper-scissors.

But Alex... I mean, Mick's arsenal isn't limited to his gigantism-infected hands. He can also wield a mighty yellow sword! So...how do you get one? Step 1: Don't bother looking around for it. Step 2: Walk under a candle. Yes, walk under a candle. Step 3: Watch for a sword to literally come flying at you from off-screen. Step 4: Jump on it! The sword will drop to the ground, allowing you to pick it up and swing it around for a while until the darn thing just disappears into thin air for no discernible reason. And that thing is the key to defeating a vampire; otherwise, there's really not much hope. Oh, and for the first few times you do it, jumping into light fixtures freezes all the enemies on the screen temporarily. Then the move stops working. I don't know. It's run by specters. They don't follow any rules.

Add to the navigation of this maze-like house a few dark doors that lead to other parts of the level when entered, and you have the recipe for fun, fun, wish I was done. I just wish I knew where I was when I came OUT of a doorway. Everything looks the same around here!

The pause function is broken. Anyone who has a Sega Master System knows that the pause button is on the console itself, so it's not the button. It's the function itself. Oh, it pauses the game, for sure... while stopping on whatever sound you hit the button on and never letting go until you unpause. Nothing beats taking a bathroom break while hearing the wraithlike squeals of a Master System gone berserk. It's just a titch worse than the annoying crunchy twinkle sound Mick makes whenever he walks ANYWHERE. But at least that button is what it's supposed to be. Goodness, Sega decided to take what Nintendo did well and mess it up by making the standard jump button punch and the standard punch button make Mick jump. It's backwards thinking like that which made Sonic the Hedgehog a laughingstock for ten years.

And... WHAT IS THIS?!

Stop hiring your children's children to create your promotional artwork. At least the in-game graphics are what think I'll describe as "functional". Only semi-ugly. The ghosts look like ghosts, even if they're blue. Dracula has a really large head here, but that design choice was probably implemented to slightly distract me from the fact that every, EVERY platform in the entire game is made of two layers of bricks. Whose house has bricks on the INSIDE?!

You won't finish Ghost House. You really won't. And it's not because the title screen is impressively effort-free, but because the game is simply too challenging to bother with. I see what they were going for with having to explore a spooky haunted house and such. People seem to enjoy that. No, the combination of surviving with a weak punch, fighting vampires with little intention of dying at the hands of some "normal-looking guy", limited lives with high difficulty, and the sheer repetitiveness of everything you do may have set Ghost House back into obscurity as soon as it was released. Sega hasn't done a darn thing with the game since its release in 1986; they haven't even slapped it on any modern console with a five-dollar price tag, as they like to do. It's a Ghost Louse of a game.

Even if Sega wants us to never remember, leave it to the fine citizens of Brazil to keep this puppy alive. The Master System lives on in that South American country, where the console is literally still selling in the hundreds of thousands. The company responsible is Tectoy, who, in 1993, re-released this game in Brazil as "Chapolim x Dracula: Um Duelo Assustador", using the license from a 70s Mexican show known for its superhero parodies, "El Chapulín Colorado", as its source material. Mick is now a hero in a crimson insect costume. The game is mostly the same, save for some revamped graphics. They didn't dare touch that bland brick platform motif, though. That stuff is pure "ouro".


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