My brother let me borrow his entire 3DS over the holiday, so I got to play the games he bought on eShop (or, at least the ones that have more than one file. Damn you, Escape Vector!).
I’ve heard at least one person online describe the series as “baby’s first survival horror,” and as someone who hasn’t played any survival horror game at all, I don’t think that’s accurate. Survival horror games are more about conserving ammo and trying to avoid fights, right? Well, this game is quite the opposite: whenever enemies show up, you almost always have to stay and defeat all of them in order to progress to the next room, making this closer to a beat ‘em up or hack ‘n’ slash. You also don’t have to worry about ammo or weapon stamina or anything: the flashlight you use to stun ghosts never runs out of batteries, and the vacuum you use to drain ghosts’ HP (which can only be done while they’re stunned) never runs out of, uh…batteries. The Dark Light Device (which is used to make missing objects reappear) can overheat, but it quickly cools off and becomes usable again after, like, a second or two.
What the game does have in common with survival horror games are riddle-based puzzles. Sure, you only have a few things you can do, but the game regularly introduces new objects, so you have to go through the usual trial-and-error routine until you “figure out” what you have to do, and for the surprisingly frequent times where the game completely recycles these objects, there’s nothing for you to solve; you just regurgitate the actions you did last time. See a small green circle with a red rim? Use the Strobulb. See a large picture frame with a single object in it? Use the Dark Light Device. See ice or a spider web too thick to be vacuumed? Light it on fire. See a small sapling? Find a bucket and splash some water on it. I can at least see how trial-and-error riddles can be appealing, but at this point, it’s just busywork to keep the ghost-catching from becoming too monotonous. The only time in the game when this type of puzzle won’t be obvious is near the end when the map gets large enough that you might forget what all you can work with in the first place.
Speaking of the ghost catching, it works slightly different from the first game. Rather than just pointing the flashlight at the ghosts to stun them, you have to push the A button to use the Strobulb and make the flashlight…flash. While the ghost is stunned, you hold R to start vacuuming the ghost, and you can either hold back on the circle pad to drain the ghost’s HP or you can hold forward to move with the ghost in order to avoid attacks from other ghosts. While holding back, you fill up a meter, and when it gets full, you can push A to deal multiple points of damage at once, and if you defeat a ghost by doing this, you get extra money (which is used to upgrade the vacuum instead of getting you a better ending). The mechanics of this all work fine and can be fun (it’s why I played the game, after all), but there isn’t a huge variety of ghosts; the ones you’ll fight the most often are green ones (your standard “run up and hit you” enemies), blue ones (which hide in furniture and throw things at you while you try to capture other ghosts), and red ones (which are just more powerful versions of green ones; these might have attacks with longer range, though). The purple ghosts are probably the next most common, although they’re also similar to green ghosts, except rather than attack you, they just scare (stun) you for a second (I thought difficulty curves were supposed to go UP). There are more ghosts than these, but they’re few in number. I wouldn’t mind this as much if the game had…really any external hazards, but no: each room is effectively the same when it comes to fighting ghosts, with the only exceptions being a couple boss/mini boss arenas (so it’s not that different from the first game in this regard).
Another difference between this and the first game is that this one is mission based; rather than being able to save at any point by speaking to a Toad, you have to complete the mission before you can save. It isn’t a bad concept, and could even potentially play into that survival horror aspect since dying means you have to redo all those annoying riddles and repetitive ghost battles from earlier in the mission, but it isn’t uncommon for missions to have you go through the same rooms from previous missions, and since the game already doesn’t have a huge variety of enemies, it just helps make the game even more repetitive. However, what I really don’t like about this is how the game handles the optional Boo encounters: in the first game, there was one per room, and when you lit the room up (which means you defeated all the normal ghosts in the room), you could use a radar to find them. In this game, there’s one per mission, and you have no such radar. This means that, if you want 100% completion, you’ll have to check some rooms multiple times since the rooms are used in multiple missions. Plus, you don’t get the Dark Light Device (the item that lets you defeat them) until a few missions in, so you’ll also have to replay entire missions just to get them. Luckily, you don’t need to capture a certain number of Boos to beat the game like you did in the first game, so I just didn’t bother trying to find them (though I’d capture one if I stumbled across one).
The highlight of the game are the bosses, mainly because that’s where most of the game’s variety is. The first boss has you pulling a spider web ball toward a flame while sidestepping to avoid hazards. The second boss is a more traditional “avoid its attacks until its weak point appears” and, to be honest, is easier than the first boss; but, not to be outdone, it has a really annoying staircase riddle before it where if you go up the wrong one, you slide all the way back down. The third boss is just waves of normal enemies, but now you’re on a clock face and the clock hands can hurt you, so there’s at least something to distinguish it from the rest of the game.
The fourth boss completely changes the mechanics so now it’s a rail shooter, and your health is now suddenly represented by a pressure gauge on the top screen (rather than the number on the bottom screen). Also, you can only take, like, two or three hits before dying (less than any other part of the game). It’s actually kinda annoying since you have to destroy each part of the boss’s shield before you can attack it, but your projectiles are affected by gravity and the boss gets further away after each successful hit, and if you attack too early when its shields are down, the attack won’t register even if it visually connects with the boss’s weak point (and if that happens, you can’t correct this before you get hit and the boss restores its shield since there’s a full second delay between one attack and when you can attack again). In a better game, this would be one of the low points.
The final boss is also a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s one of the few times where environmental hazards are a thing, and the boss fight part was well executed. On the other hand, there’s a chase sequence between each phase of the fight, and I’m not sure if there’s a way to get past those parts unscathed. If there’s a way to slow down what’s chasing you, I never figured it out, but there’s also enough health in these parts that I never died and had to try again, so all evidence points to it being mandatory damage in an action game (which is the biggest pet peeve I never knew I had; thanks, Tales series). Plus, the halls you’re being chased down are dark, which, combined with the perspective, makes it unnecessarily difficult to tell whether you’ll make it past an object or if you’ll get caught on its corner (especially if you happen to be outside in the sun like I was).
So, would I recommend this game? Eh, not really. I can get that the riddles just aren’t for me, but the combat can also get fairly repetitive. If you do plan on playing it, I say only play one mission at a time so that the repetition doesn’t get to you as quick. Honestly, what’s up with beat ‘em ups/hack ‘n’ slash games and not having level design? It seems like it’s almost all just empty arenas with the same few enemies over and over; are there any that aren’t like that? Are there any that regularly have environmental hazards to spice up the combat, like pits or something? I know I asked this already back in my post about Nier: Gestalt, but I didn’t get any suggestions. Maybe I should just stick with platformers…