2.5 out of 5. A love letter to 90s Adventure Games and PC Platformers that captures the entire experience of that era, including design features that have since been forgotten. A fun mystery to solve.
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How Metroidvania is it? Medium Fit. There is exactly one movement based upgrade and one weapon that is required to progress. The rest of progression is done through object and riddle puzzle solving, similar to La-Mulana but not nearly as difficult.
Primary Challenge: Riddle-Solving Puzzles
Time to beat: ~16 hours
Review Info: The Steam review code for Ghostly Matter was provided by the developer.

More Info

Developer: Small Bros
Publisher: Milestone S.r.l.
Sub-genre: Adventure Game Hybrid
Features: Map System, Multiple Difficulty modes, 2D Platformer, Ranged Combat, Riddle Solving Puzzles, Fast Travel/Teleporters, Resource Management, Horror, Blood and Gore
Difficulty: High, Brutal
Linearity/Openness: Open Low Gating - Guided
Platforms: Windows, Steam
Release Date: 2018/07/12
Available Languages: English, French, Italian

Store Links

    Steam    

Buy Ghostly Matter if you like…

  • 90s Adventure Games and PC Platformers
  • Enticing mysteries with a fun protagonist
  • The Lens of Truth from Zelda Games
  • Ghosts, Zombies, Ghouls and other Grotesque monsters
  • References to 80s TV and Horror Films

▼ Review continues below ▼

If you’ve read the excerpt, then you have already seen the score of 2.5 I’ve given this title. This score indicates that I am pretty close to the edge of recommendation with Ghostly Matter, however, foreknowledge of at least one future patch and a love for all of the good things this game does has tipped me to the thumbs-up, though this is definitely not a game for everyone. If you grew up playing games in the 90s, Ghostly Matter has the feel of Lucas Arts adventure games like Maniac Mansion or PC platformers like Commander Keen. Many indie games use this sort of aesthetic to provide a nostalgic high, but it’s more common that these games only capture the look of the past. Ghostly Matter on the other hand fully embraces much of the past that has been since discarded, including ambitious level design ideas and hardcore mechanics that some might consider “Unfair.” While I do think that Ghostly Matter is absolutely and completely unfair with some of its systems – and that is my primary warning against buying this game – I also think that most of its egregious errors are simply a patch away from fixing, and everything else is fine as-is, being more a matter of preference rather than poor game design.

At its heart, Ghostly Matter is an Adventure Game and Metroidvania hybrid. Before you find a single monster you’ll be searching for the right widget to shove into a puzzle keyhole, setting the tone for the primary challenge of the game. This focus is bound to create a lot of “Where the crap do I go?” moments, but in my opinion the puzzles are the best designed part of the game. If you are observant and have a good memory (or take good notes), the game provides enough clues that simply exploring the mansion and carefully checking every nook and cranny will avoid too much backtracking. In the game’s current state there are a couple of instances that did require me to traverse the entire map (taking up to 10 minutes at times) which did feel a little tedious. Furthermore the map on the inventory screen does not allow you to scroll around to see the whole mansion, which makes it next to useless to look for hidden doors that you might have missed. However, Small Bros has contacted me and informed me that based on player feedback, sometime in September 2018 there will be a patch that will add in fast travel, which could potentially address all of these complaints, leaving only a fine Adventure Game experience left.

Where the game gets trying for me though is the action segments. I am grateful that the difficulty is adjustable at any point in the game because Ghostly Matter can be very frustrating. The primary mechanic of the game is centered around these goggles that allow you to see ghosts and other secrets, a la the Lens of Truth in many Zelda games. The goggles use batteries as well as drain your health, so you can’t simply walk around in viewfinder mode, which forces you to stop every few steps to check for said ghosts lest you be oogie boogied in the face and lose up to a quarter of your health on the default difficulty. If I ever forgot to use the goggles at any point in time I was usually punished in a “throw my controller” sort of way. However, I think this mechanic is fine, for the most part. The game makes you use it basically all the time so there are no surprises.

The thing that tips Ghostly Matter into “actually unfair” territory is the placement of some enemies, and the item drop system. I had kind of hoped for a Survival Horror type of design, with enemies that stay permanently dead and you have to manage strictly limited resources to survive the action of the game. Instead, most (but not all) enemies respawn when you re-enter rooms and items found are completely random, whether they are found in chests or dropped from enemies. Once I found the amulet that lets enemies drop items 25% of the time, I discovered quickly that the benefit was dubious. One of the mechanics associated with the ghost goggles is that some items could be secretly a bomb or a jar of poison, and you can only discern this by checking them before grabbing them. This is fine, except when an enemy drops one of these “traps” right in your pathway. You either notice the trick before you grab it and have to wait 10-20 seconds for the item to disappear (I say you should be able to shoot items with the flamethrower to get rid of them), or on more than one occasion the bad item spawned on top of me as I was walking past a dying enemy, leading to a death by RNG. Furthermore some pathways had me entering a new room with an enemy already flying at my face, leaving no reasonable time to react. This is especially bad when said enemy takes off half of your life bar. Expect to die, a lot, in Ghostly Matter.

I could spend a lot more time griping about the length of some of the areas and the tedium of some of the bosses, but I’m reaching into nitpicking territory on items that that I think could be addressed in a future patch anyway. Ultimately while the combat is wonky and tiresome, it’s crunchy enough to not be a major burden. The level design can feel drawn out, but it does a great job looping back on itself, preventing retreading the same challenges most of the time. For a first project, I am impressed by Ghostly Matter overall, and for me the flaws of the game aren’t the most memorable part. In some ways they serve to make the Professor’s journey feel like the harsh adventure that it’s trying to portray. The mystery and characters are well-written enough that I felt a drive to see the adventure to the end. If you like 90s adventure games and Metroidvania exploration, I encourage you to check Ghostly Matter out.


Final Score

2.5/5

Scoring system overview


Metroidvania Breakdown

Combat
– 2

Combat is generally tedious, but just interesting enough not to break the game. Random ''Trap'' Items can be completely unfair

Platforming
– 2.5

Good challenges, but only one ''metroidvania'' upgrade with the double jump, making them feel samey by the end

Exploration
– 3

The sprawling mansion is mostly a delight to explore the first time through each area

Puzzle
– 3.5

If you exercise good observation and memory skills, the puzzles are fair, well-designed, and most importantly fun

Story
– 3

The main Protagonist is excellent and the mystery hook carries the game nicely

Graphics
– 3

The pixel art is gorgeous, though the animations occasionally jank around, or play slower than what seems natural

Music
– 3

Catchy 8-bit style tunes add a nice nostalgic ambience

Replayability
– 2

Because items are randomized each playthrough may be slightly different, though the core game will not change


Want a second opinion? See what other reviews say:

Steam Reviews
All Time: Mostly Positive
(70% of 24 Reviews)


TBD Metacritic
Read critic reviews