Fans of the skeletal biker with the flaming skull and ridiculous chains will likely enjoy Ghost Rider for the Game Boy Advance. It's an intense side-scrolling beat-'em-up that lets you use the titular character's fists, chains, and hellfire against the likes of Lilith, Scarecrow, Mephisto, and their many demonic thugs throughout 25 lavish levels. The game doesn't bring anything new to the beat-'em-up genre, but it is nevertheless a solid brawler that provides an excellent portrayal of everyone's favorite spirit of vengeance.
Two-thirds of the game's levels take place in side-scrolling environments where criminals and monsters constantly rush into view as you make your way along the path. These fodder enemies can block and attack, and they do a good job of surrounding Ghost Rider, but they're usually no match for all of the attacks you're able to perform. You can unleash various punches and lash out with Ghost Rider's chains by pressing different combinations of the buttons and D pad, as well as grab enemies directly to express mail knuckle sandwiches to their faces. Some attacks were directly lifted from the comic books, such as the ability to pull enemies closer using the character's chains, or the ability to send them back to hell by performing the penance stare. New enemies are introduced every five levels or so, some levels have alternative paths you can take, and there's usually a giant boss creature waiting at the end of each level. In addition to the health and mana orbs that enemies leave behind, they also release soul orbs that you can collect and use to buy new attacks or upgrade existing ones. Gaining new attacks every couple of levels really helps stave off the feeling of repetitiveness that often develops while playing through a beat-'em-up.
The remaining levels are first-person motorcycle stages that will seem familiar to anyone who's played Road Rash. Your job in them is to make it to the end of a twisty highway populated with angry armed bikers without running out of health. When you pursue a group of evil bikers, they'll attack using shotguns and baseball bats. In response, you can hurl hellfire orbs from a distance or swing Ghost Rider's chains to hurt them up close. While all of this is going on, you also need to take care to dodge junk situated in the road. Ghost Rider often has to chase down demons with his bike in the comic books, so the inclusion of these bike levels adds another layer of authenticity to the game's portrayal of the character. Even if you're not a fan of the character, you'll probably appreciate the break from the lengthy fisticuffs levels that the occasional bike stage provides.
In terms of look and feel, Ghost Rider for the GBA does an excellent job of bringing the character's world to life. The side-scrolling stages have multiple layers of scrolling and flaunt sexy visual effects that are seldom seen in GBA games. In Mephisto's realm, for example, there's a persistent transparent haze, and the walls and flowing lava in the distance appear to waver in the extreme heat. The first-person viewpoint in the bike stages is also rather impressive, even if it is just the same trick developers have been using since the Super NES and Genesis days to fake a semblance of 3D. Ghost Rider looks just like he does in the comics, and he has a diverse selection of visually flamboyant attacks. The flames on his hands, head, and chains are animated, such that they constantly flare and sway in response to everything you do. There's rarely a dull moment, since new enemies are constantly appearing to replace the ones that you knock out. While there aren't a whole bunch of different sound effects, all of the smacks and groans that accompany attacks are sufficiently meaty. The music, meanwhile, is intricately orchestrated, moody, and fits the action perfectly.
Followers of the character's comic exploits will further appreciate the rogues' gallery of bosses distributed throughout the game, which includes the likes of Vengeance, Lilith, and Mephisto, just to name a few. One of the static scenes between levels even features a brief cameo by Blade, the vampire hunter. Characters in the game are drawn so that they look like they do in comic books, although for some wacky reason, they're drawn to resemble the actors from the recent motion picture in the scenes that appear between levels. Fortunately, the movie likenesses don't seem out of place.
All told, Ghost Rider for the GBA is a fun, visually-stunning beat-'em-up that totally captures the essence of the character it's based on. And, at 20 dollars, the price is right.