Ghostrunner Comes to Switch
Is Switch the best home for cyberpunk ninja parkour? Our full review.
The screen turns bright red as the katana drops from your fingers. Sweaty palms grip the controller for one more go — and you’re in. Implants let you fly past the first guard before they know you’re there, leaving only a stain on the railing behind you. Their guns pulse with the music, but you slide through a barrage of shots to get personal. The sword, even as you put it to work glows purple with the neon lights of the city. Short screams give way to fountains of blood pooling on the slick metal walkways — but you’re already gone.
Lights, blood, and speed punctuate Ghostrunner as artificial legs take you flying through each of its tech-coated levels. The whole game is built on the principle of movement. You have to be fast but precise, brutal yet efficient if you want to save Dharma Tower from its tyrant. The concept is exciting and trendy. It capitalizes on the success of other difficult die-and-try-again formulas to promise a game that sounds too good to be true.
Ghostrunner strives to be as beautiful as Cyberpunk 2077, as violent and difficult as Hotline Miami, with the dedicated platforming of Mirror’s Edge. It’s nothing if not ambitious, but trying to fulfill the roles of so many other games leaves Ghostrunner without its own identity.
During my time with Ghostrunner, I fluctuated between awe and frustration. Enjoyment and confusion. From early on in the game victory feels satisfying. Slicing through Dharma Tower guards feels good in that Dark Souls kill sound kind of way, and finally FINALLY tearing through the last enemy in a level where you’ve died fifty times is electrifying.
However, on the Switch getting to those satisfying kills or trying to execute high-flying acrobatics is much harder than it needs to be.
When it comes to my taste in games, I can be pretty sadistic. I adore banging my head against the same boss over and over again until I finally defeat it. Ghostrunner nails that rush, but instead of overcoming an intelligent enemy I’m trying to beat floaty controls and chugging frame rates. Several times the game had such a difficult time running at my TV’s resolution that I had to switch to handheld mode for a chance at beating certain encounters. I played on an original Switch, but I haven’t heard any better reports coming from the revised console. When the game did run well, I still felt like I had to get lucky to not be randomly killed by a bullet in the back because of the imprecise controls.
The Switch version also has more than a few hiccups in the software. Some of the options don’t work, the buttons the game tells you to use can be wrong, and in one menu you have to use the joystick to control a mouse cursor that lets you use the menu. These small bugs littered my game but were usually nuisances rather than experience defining. I also encountered a few that forced me to reboot. The most prominent was when the grappling hook point to enter an encounter no longer worked, causing me to hilariously jump to my death over and over again while I mashed the grapple button repeatedly in desperation.
For all that, there are moments where the game succeeds. When you unlock the grappling hook the platforming suddenly becomes much easier and more exciting. In fact, every time I got an upgrade it felt flavorful and like an exciting addition to the gameplay. Using them is a different story, but being a cybernetic ninja getting upgraded letting you slow time or teleport is gonna be cool no matter what. One of my favorite things is how those upgrades are implemented. A little like NieR: Automata, you can plug upgrades in and remove them on the fly to change up your build. The plugging in is represented by a “circuit board” (See Tetris board)that you gradually unlock more sections of. Each upgrade is a Tetris piece that you can mix and match to try out any build. It’s a fun take on a minigame that I really liked.
Using those upgrades is often a tedious exercise on Switch, but when it works it really works. Lining up a long slash to fly through three different enemies instantly killing them is awesome. And slowing time for everyone else while you still move at ninja-speed made me feel powerful. I wish they leaned into that power fantasy more, but it’s a hard line to walk when you also want the game to feel difficult.
I really want to love Ghostrunner, it’s an ambitious project that was tailor-made for speedrunners. It feels like the developers wanted to take their favorite experiences of the last ten years and mash them together with a slick cyberpunk paint job. Most of the things holding the game back aren’t big on their own, but my experience was filled with little gripes. All those issues came together to sour an exciting project. Sadly for me, it was less memorable than the composite experiences that it pulls from.
If you’ve been excited about digging into Ghostrunner. I recommend that you try it for a different system, PC if possible. If you have a hankering for cyberpunk action on the Switch, I’d recommend a bite-sized version that is much more suited for the console: Akane.