Platform: Master System Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega Released: 1991 Genre: Lightgun Shooter - Protection Players: 1
Laser Ghost is one of the few 'protection' lightgun shooters out there, where the focus is less on shooting bad guys and more on protecting a character that's not under your control, and while it does the job well enough, it's not the best interpretation of the idea. Using either the controller (which auto-centres after you stop moving the cursor) or the Light Phaser (which requires a CRT TV but is surprisingly accurate) you have to protect young Catherine from all the ghouls and monsters that stand in her way during her journey into the heart of Ghost City. Make sure she gets through to the end of each of the seven chapters to get her soul back, no matter what might try and kill her- be it a haunted painting, a gang of skeletons or, heaven forfend, a possessed car.
The mechanics are pretty simple- use your normal shot to protect Catherine from anything that might hurt her (or to shoot Catherine herself- it'll hurt her, but if might knock her out of harm's way) and, in a pinch, use one of your limited Special Shots to destroy everything on screen. On a purely mechanical level, the game works- your normal shot covers a fair bit of ground so hitting enemies is easy, and while enemies may send Catherine for a loop when they hit her, she usually gets her bearings back quickly so you rarely get stuck waiting for her. Also, taking away from Catherine's health when you shoot her is one of the more important elements that works well with the game, as it makes you focus on protecting her, resorting to blasting her only in emergency situations.
The main problem you're going to find with the game is the very uneven difficulty- sometimes it feels far too easy, and other times the odds are stacked against you unfairly. What really drives this point home is the reliance on shock-tactics involving the bats- they're incredibly fast, will constantly harass Catherine until you shoot them, and almost always attack in packs, so you're usually forced to use a Special Shot on them. Of course, the Special Shot has a slight delay so Catherine's still going to get hurt no matter what you do. The worst part is that of the six main chapters in the game, only one of them is bat-free, so you'll eventually start to groan involuntarily when they inevitably show up. Other difficulty spikes include the ludicrous four-part possessed car gauntlet (they're the hardest non-boss enemy in the game) and the insane final boss. At the same time, the other parts are incredibly easy, with little to no threat to Catherine's safety- the ghost hands and the apple orchard segments spring to mind. The game can't seem to decide how it wants to play it, resulting in a very uneven experience that, in parts, bores and frustrates.
It's a shame the level design and over-reliance on annoying enemies do their best to ruin the experience, because like I said, it's relatively solid otherwise- the mechanics work pretty well, the non-bat/non-car enemies are interesting (the possessed paintings and the hanging corpses are stand-outs) and it's also visually impressive title for the Master System, with some neat details here and there (mostly Catherine's facial expressions). When you're not being assaulted constantly by flying rodents, it's quite fun! It's just the constantly see-sawing difficulty creates a game that can get annoying and actually gets quite dull in places. If the idea of a lightgun protection shooter intrigues you- as it did for me- then Laser Ghost is a decent-enough spin on the idea, but is a bit too scatterbrained to be considered great.
For taking a great idea and doing a decent job with it, Laser Ghost is awarded...