For children from age 5 to 12, many fun hours of friendly haunting await. For adolescents and adults, however, there are better choices in the genre.
Casper the Friendly Ghost has been around for ages, appearing in comic books, cartoons, and even a 1995 motion picture. This film spawned a number of video games, and now - five years later - Interplay is releasing one more, Casper for Game Boy Color. Just as in the film, it's up to you to guide Casper in his quest to befriend Dr. James Harvey and his daughter, Kat.
To gain the Harveys' friendship, you'll guide Casper through a 50-plus-room mansion in search of many conversation-inducing trinkets, all while foiling the antics of his three ghostly uncles. Being an action RPG, the game is portrayed in a top-down view reminiscent of Zelda DX or Quest for Camelot. Control is simple: Move with the D-Pad, use items with the A/B buttons, and check inventory or a map with select or start. As the game progresses, you can even transform into alternate forms, such as a puff of smoke, a beach ball, or a saw blade. The game's save feature provides four save slots, leaving ample leeway for you to make mistakes.
Casper is a game meant for younger audiences, and the gameplay reflects that. Right after the opening cinema, you're already in a room containing food items and a brass key. Contrary to popular belief, Casper can be injured, and a 100-point life meter is all that stands between our hero and his final resting place. Bump into an uncle, contact a raging fire, or use a morph, and you'll lose one life point. Thankfully, food items are plentiful, so dying isn't a major possibility. In fact, the brunt of the game's difficulty lies in solving various puzzles: pushing the right buttons, completing paintings, or positioning statues. Unfortunately, the puzzles are kindergarten level in simplicity and more plentiful than booth girls at a trade convention. Seasoned gamers can blow through the game in less than two hours, provided they don't mind triggering more than 100 switches, completing five paintings, and tapping the B button relentlessly.
Visually speaking, Casper is no Van Gogh. In fact, it's not even a Klimpt. Each of the mansion's many rooms are drawn in the same repetitious style, leaving one wishing that an abuse of primary colors was punishable by law. While the game has some interesting backdrops, namely the attic areas and front lawn, everything else is painfully symmetrical. Character sprites are surprisingly good. Casper wisps about as you'd expect him to, his uncles are easily distinguishable from one another, and the Harvey family resembles a Norman Rockwell painting. While the game contains plenty of cartoon-rendered cutscenes, one can't help but reel from the overall simplistic nature of the visuals. Casper is no Zelda, that's for sure.
Considering the target audience, Casper's features, gameplay, and visuals are adequate, but one aspect of the game is enough to drive a person insane - the sound. There is one music track. Not two, not three, but one - and it's pretty tedious at that. There's an option to turn the music off, but then you end up with mind-numbing silence. At least the sound effects are decent, getting the point across without sounding tinny.
Overall, Casper is a game seeking the right audience. For children from age 5 to 12, many fun hours of friendly haunting await. For adolescents and adults, however, there are better choices in the genre, namely Nintendo's Zelda DX or the upcoming Crystalis. Casper's two hours of total gaming isn't for everyone.