Monday, September 13, 2010
Ghostlop is an excellent unreleased puzzle game for the Neo-Geo developed by Data East. It appears to be completely finished. Unlike a lot of unreleased games, there are no complications about who owns the rights to publish the game and although no plans to release Ghostlop have been announced, G-Mode, the owner, has actually put a modest amount of effort into promoting it.
Ghostlop is a head-to-head arcade style puzzle game featuring a unique mix of elements from Puzzle Bobble and Breakout, with a color-switching mechanic reminiscent of Silhouette Mirage and Ikaruga. (Although it predates them both, with an intended release year of 1996.)
As you can see in the video above, you aim shots the same way as in Puzzle Bobble, but there are only two main colors of bubbles to destroy--or in this case ghosts. The A and B buttons determine whether your shot is red or blue. If your shot is the same color as the ghosts it hits, it will cut through them like in a bonus level of Alleyway. If it's the opposite color, it will bounce off without doing damage. You can switch as often as you like (even while the ball is bouncing around) so if there are a lot of red ghosts surrounded by a layer of blue ghosts, you could detach all of them from the top of the screen by throwing a blue shot to pass through the outer layer, switching to red to move through the middle, and then switching back to blue to pass out the other side, dropping the majority of the ghosts and putting a lot of garbage on your opponent's screen. As your ball bounces around you're free to move your character back and forth along the bottom of the screen, and you need to catch the ball when it comes back or suffer the penalty of having the pieces lower one notch.
The action is fast-paced and smooth. The lighthearted characters and rockabilly music add a lot of charm that is missing from newer puzzle games like Lumines and Planet Puzzle League. I've shown Ghostlop to a number of friends with a variety of puzzle-gaming skills, and they have all gotten addicted. It's a real shame that such a high-quality and unique game was never released, while the market is flooded with sequels and clones of virtually every puzzle game that was even remotely successful.
Only a couple of collectors have confirmed ownership of prototype cartridges, but the game's code was (like most things) leaked onto the internet and bootleg cartridges are even available if you really want to play it on your Neo-Geo.
I don't have anything especially new or novel to say about Ghostlop, but it's a really great game that deserves a wider audience, and it stands a better chance of eventually getting released than you might think. Data East filed for bankruptcy in 2003, and G-Mode acquired their back catalog in 2004. G-Mode registered DataEastGames.com at the end of 2007 and has steadily used it to promote ports of Data East games for consoles, mobile phones, and PC. The site lists all of the Data East games they own, including Japan-only games like Magical Drop F and the unreleased Ghostlop. Even more surprisingly, they've taken the time to record an official video of the game and post it on YouTube. Hopefully these efforts indicate that G-Mode is seriously considering allowing Ghostlop to finally see the light of day.