The glossier the cover, the duller the content and vice versa. It is a good rule to live by, especially when buying paperback novels. Invariably, the more exciting the jacket the more tedious the story, and inversely, the duffer the cover the better the tale. This rule often pays dividends when applied to software selection too. For instance, Ghost Battle has "dull" written all over it, but actually proves to be an intriguing discovery.
Ghost Battle is little more than a platform jaunt, that concerns a hero rescuing a Princess. It does not win friends with originality though, but with exquisite timing puzzles allied with strong console-type graphics. All backed up with a good Jochen Hippel soundtrack.
The hero has to work his way across a number of horizontally scrolling landscapes. The most pressing problems on all levels is killing the horror-movie refugees - Jason, chainsaw murderers etc. - who all insist on trying to top him. Secondly, and far more taxing, is working out a route past the absorbing array of timing and platform problems.
To kill folk the hero chucks rocks in a short arc, but to kill the bigger end-of-level beasts, special tokens have to be won and used at the correct time. These include shields and bombs, which will help at any time but are targeted as solutions to specific posers.
It is the puzzles though, not the end-of-level guardians, that really impress. At one point on the second level for example, the hero encounters five disembodied heads bouncing in arcs near the ceiling. These follow a three-point route, spitting instant-death fireballs at each point.
The challenge is to get past, without being fried: which entails watching, waiting and nipping in between the falling fireballs. In most of these puzzles there is no room for error and a single slip will cost a hard won life. But, getting everything right has a satisfying confidence payoff.
Working with the excellent puzzles is a range of rich graphics. The characters are drawn in a cartoon style, unrealistic but fun, they are bright, bold and brash. They are far from fault free, the animation flicks rather than flows, while jumps are made more perilous by varied collision detection on the intended target blocks. These remain constant though, and only prove to be a minor irritation.
There are two big downers with Ghost Battle, however. First is the relative toughness of the whole affair. Easy, normal and hard modes of game can be chosen at the title screen, but have little discernable effect on the tricky gameplay.
Worst of all is the lack of credits. The game restarts very fairly where you died, provided you have lives left. But once they run out, you are lumped back at the start, no continues, no chance.
The downers do drag Ghost Battle down and spoil the surprise of discovering such excellent timing puzzles. It is a frustratingly enjoyable experience. The frustration eventually outweighs the enjoyment, but that takes a while. It is not the best platform romp ever designed, but the evil puzzles, good pics and excitable soundtracks are far better than the box lets on.