Local multiplayer games faced a proverbial renaissance in recent years. Samurai Gun, Starwhal, TowerFall, SpeedRunners, Crawl, Cannon Brawl, the list never ends. When competitors sit a mere couch cushion away, the enthusiasm and trash talking escalate to memorable, new levels. I love watching people’s reactions (mainly their grimaces of bewilderment and gall) when I return their thousand-mile-per-hour fastballs in Lethal League, or toss a friend off moving trucks, into a meat grinder, or onto the tracks of an oncoming train in Gang Beasts.
Wow, that sounded a bit morbid.
Moving on, Extreme Exorcism joins the esteemed couch competitive genre, answering the riddle of what to play when roommates, relatives, or significant others cannot fill that second controller void. What if evil spirits mirrored your every move, round after round instead? An 8-bit aesthetic powers Extreme Exorcism’s arcade, deathmatch, and challenge modes, where score chasers try to best themselves while busting ghosts. How did Golden Ruby Games fumble that premise?
The problem lies with Extreme Exorcism’s personality, or lack thereof. Mae Barrons, the game’s primary heroine, must clear a haunted house of its spectral infestation using her unconventional techniques. What way you spin it, an arsenal that encompasses knives, a machine gun, baseball bat, rocket launcher, and uppercut is not what I’d call extreme. Players unlock a few inventive weapons – a harpoon gun, lightning bolts, and a staff that summons skulls – once they eradicate the prerequisite number of ghouls, but the standard firepower dwarfs these implements.
While I love grenade launchers, throwing stars, and swords as much as the next gamer, what a developer does with those death-dealing instruments matters, too. Most games lock players into wielding one firearm at once. Extreme Exorcism bids adieu to that restriction. The pixelated Mae equips up to three ghost-busting blasters simultaneously, and where she tucks the third I do not want to know. Players fire all three armaments when they pull the trigger, and though it is quite the sight when a fireball, axe, and shotgun’s spread explode from your character, a smidgen of strategy goes a long way.
The shotgun, pistol, and assault rifle recoil heave Mae backwards; an uppercut launches Mae upwards. I made a beeline for the dropkick powerup when it spawned, not one to miss putting a boot to phantom faces, and yet the physics put Mae in danger if players get careless. I could not risk discharging shotgun in the kitchen, lest I be jettisoned into the pillars of flame that erupt around the room, nor could I uppercut ghosts below platforms in the overgrown garden. Thorns coat their undersides, and I dared not poke more holes in Mae’s body than a colander.
Credit to Golden Ruby Games for ensuring Extreme Exorcism covers its haunted bases. You cannot have a home possessed by poltergeists unless coffins line the graveyard, books fly about the library, or the attic turns into a labyrinth. Extreme Exorcism offers a wealth of levels … that players have seen countless times before. The issue harks back to the personality issue. I recall the ferris wheel stage from Gang Beasts clear as day. I remember the anxiety of fighting to stay alive in Samurai Gun when cutting away the bamboo revealed deadly spikes. The hours I spent dodging ghosts in Extreme Exorcism’s foyer, balcony, bedroom, and cellar have already faded from my brain’s cortex.
I mostly remember my irritation in the library, which threw a wrench into my plans whenever the moving walls sandwiched Mae. Despite Mae’s double jump and rapid run speed, however, a player must mind his or her actions. Each level starts like this: Round one, you and a cursed dining chair spawn somewhere in the level. Pick up any weapon that also spawns, slay the evil recliner, congratulations, on to round two. An actual spirit enters the fray this time, though he studied all your moves – every jump, every shot you fired last round, this specter imitates. Kill him and you can progress, or waste your three lives and say hello to a game over.
The more rounds you survive, the more phantasms that invade your screen. Isn’t Mae supposed to get rid of spirits, not conjure more? Even so, eliminating any banshee besides the most recent one removes it from the current round. While the occasional breathing room is appreciated, only by executing the ghost wearing a crown can Mae proceed with her objective. I love that Golden Ruby Games thought of something as simple as putting jewelry on a poltergeist, since players should know who to target is in a pinch. I am less keen on giving the kingly apparitions minds of their own.
Every revenant without a headdress cycles through its animations until you finish a round or put the entity out of its misery until the next. Your latest creation has his own agenda. Those royal wraiths bounce around levels and camp near weapons after reenacting Mae’s antics. For a game that rewards contemplation over chaos, Extreme Exorcism’s AI patterns upset schemes I worked out five rounds in advance. Too often I’d try to assassinate his majesty up close, then watch him murder Mae instead, forgetting he’d broken the shackles of his programming.
Because of each bedazzled spirit’s self-awareness, I stopped equipping three weapons when the opportunity arose – one less advantage, I suppose. To gain enough points to unlock additional stages, I gamed the system as well. Round one, I tarried on a ledge, out of reach of the rabid armchair. After a few minutes, I killed it. Round two, I waited a slightly shorter interval, then executed the shady sovereign. I exploited the AI to unlock levels whenever feasible, and I hate myself for it.
Fights become too chaotic otherwise. I enjoyed the pageantry of vaulting over axes and ducking beneath rockets in the early stages – suck on that mushroom, Mario – but I had a final boss to beat. One powerup nursed my sloppy play style. The aptly named extreme exorcism, a pair of angelic wings, banishes banshees permanently. Only Mae may use the wormhole’s power to eradicate ghosts from ensuing rounds, so the entity that assumes her place next leaves itself exposed for a quick kill shot.
You may have noticed, I haven’t said a word about Extreme Exorcism’s other modes. Sync a few controllers and grab a couple friends and arcade mode changes completely. Competitive arcade trades arithmetic for anarchy, where two to four people pulverize each other with weapons from the campaign. The multiplayer remains competent, yet wholly unremarkable. Again, the firearms and locations seen here grace numerous couch co-op/competitive games. The action follows the same “kill or be killed” mantra, though one Extreme Exorcism mechanic keeps the fun alive.
Whoever wins a round receives a ghost to assist him or her during the next. Do rush the power weapons early, amassing a rocket launcher, harpoon gun, and sword to hoard them from your rivals? Do you stand idle, waiting for opponents to weaken or distract one another first? Will you play to merely outfit your revenant with artillery that would make Rambo proud? Such questions matter little during the game’s deathmatch mode, in which participants pick their own rules. Give characters a triple jump, make ghosts explode upon death, or slow down time, you rebel, you.
I still had hair on my head after finishing Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows, so I also dabbled in Extreme Exorcism’s challenges. One mission hands every spirit a harpoon gun, another kills Mae when she merely touches a ghost. Golden Ruby Games separates these goals into tiers, though newer echelons unlock after players polish off a few of the lower level challenges, not all. If you find your strategies becoming stagnant (not cheap like mine), the challenge mode is an excellent tool to refine your play style.
Golden Ruby Games is onto something. No other studios have both tested and executed on the novel notions behind Extreme Exorcism. “A local multiplayer game you play by yourself” sounds sad when spoken aloud, but Extreme Exorcism’s AI seems too good at replicating a person’s somebody’s actions, in fact, since more patient players might exploit the game’s spirits for high scores and other gains. If not for the an overall sense that we’ve seen what Extreme Exorcism offers before – between the weapons and settings – I could sing my praises a little louder.
This review is based on the Xbox One version, which we were provided.
Eradicating ghosts that mimic your preceding actions is an inventive notion, but the rest of the gameplay hooks meant to keep Extreme Exorcism players happy embody the saying “been there, done that.”