The only thing I really knew about Grabbed by the Ghoulies before going into it is that even Rare themselves mock the game, making fun of it (and it’s poor sales) in later games.
The plot is fairly simple: two teenagers go into a haunted looking mansion, the girl gets captured and so on, but it’s presented in a style that’s a mix between comic book and a black and white film, and it’s definitely very charming, with some fun and amusing characters.
The game itself is very arcady, and I think it blends some classic and modern types of gaming quite well. In order to save your friend (and other people trapped in the house), you progress through the haunted out room by room. There’s only one route you can take at any given time, so you can’t explore freely.
Instead, each room is its own contained challenge. As soon as you enter, your health will change to a set amount that is curated for the challenge within and when you trigger the challenge (typically by approaching the exit door, but sometimes before), a set of conditions will appear: kill X amount of enemies, kill a certain type of enemy, only use weapons, don’t kill a particular kind of energy.
If you fail any condition, you don’t fail the challenge, as long as you kill the required enemies the door will open and you will progress. The punishment for failing is that a Grim Reaper (a rather stylish one, at that) will appear and hunt you down, if it touches you, you die. It’s a great mechanic and in some challenges, you may even decide to purposefully fail as attempting to deal with the reaper might possibly be easier than the challenge.
Combat itself is very simple, the right stick is used to attack in the direction you point, a bit like shooters like Robotron and Geometry Wars. You can pick up a wide array of items from objects scattered across the rooms, which do more damage but break after three hits, and some rooms will give you specific weapons.
Also dotted throughout the level are soup cans, which give you temporary power-ups like a mini version of yourself that attacks enemies, stops weapons from wearing, make you faster or possibly give you bad effects. These are all specifically placed, and sometimes finding these are vital for being able to beat a room. If the game puts you against many strong enemies you have to kill, there’s probably a one-hit-kill soup somewhere in the room.
Enemies are also varied and wonderful, from simple imps (which I’m sure are Jinjos) to mummies that cast curses and exploding worms. Each enemy behaves in a certain way, and understanding how they act is important to progressing.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies is fairly short, but also features extra challenges to complete. These are unlocked by finding a Rare Tome in each room. Unfortunately, sometimes these can be a pain as the game will sometimes automatically move you to the next room. On top of this, when you return to a previous room (which will have a new challenge), a new book will appear, so you are likely to miss some, but thankfully there’s a replay option to help pick these up.
I can see why Grabbed by the Ghoulies wasn’t a big seller, as it’s quite a unique game, but there is a lot to enjoy about the game.