Yu Yu Hakusho: Spirit Detective Review
To be blunt, while still being completely fair (and having played through all of the content), Yuyu Hakusho: Spirit Detective for the GameBoy Advance is an abomination. Monotonous and often awkward or uneven gameplay combined with sloppy visuals and atrocious sound make this one of those games even the fans of the series upon which the game is based will want to avoid.
When I say the game is based upon the series, what I mean is that the story loosely follows it. Boy dies, boy meets girl, girl tells boy she's actually the Grim Reaper and he's dead, boy denies it but then sets out to return to the mortal realm. Sounds great in practice, right? If you're a fan of paranormal fiction or Japanese anime, your answer is probably yes. Spirit Detective, for those who watched the series in its early stages, follows Yusuke Urameshi up to the point at which he and Kazuma Kuwabara face off against the Toguro brothers.
Again, this doesn't sound bad in theory, as everything up to that point was arguably the best. But therein lies the rub, as it sounds good only on paper. Cutscenes take place via overhead shots of the streets of a city, a forest, a demon's castle in the Spirit Realm, and so on with terrible facesets of characters from the series placed next to their lines. For the most part, the dialog keeps somewhat close to the series, and some events are similar, though many events have been changed around to make Urameshi the sole focus (such as opponents Kuwabara faced in a martial arts tournament being given to Urameshi instead), rather than allowing Kuwabara or other characters like Hiei and Kurama to have the spotlight. What you end up with is a messy bastardization of what the first story arcs of the series were, which holds only loosely to its source material for the most part.
The graphics, while ugly, do at least move smoothly for the most part, save for jerky and awkward animations in attacks like 'Rose Whip', 'Sword Get Long', and '18 Slash Jigan'. These are things you probably won't notice, as it's unlikely anyone will honestly bother to gain enough levels to learn most of said techniques.
The character models look like grotesque clay dolls made to appear vaguely reminiscent of the series characters. Said models lack most anything that can be recognized as a face, instead having a blurry patch of muddy tones splattered across the model's head.
Environments look fairly passable. Granted, they're no Golden Sun environments, but they do their part and bear a fairly accurate resemblance to locales of the series turned into action game levels (barring the flaming house level). Still, one is led to wonder if Spirit Detective would have looked better as a 2D side-scroller as opposed to the 3D dungeon-crawler it makes a feeble attempt at being.
The sound quality is terrible, plain and simple. When your characters are hit, they make an awkward grunting noise, all in the same deep, metallic voice. To the developer's credit, they gave the female characters (each of whom you play for all of one short level) a more female-sounding metallic voice, but again, the two share the same high-pitched shriek in spite of having completely different voice pitches.
When enemies are struck, they make a sound not entirely unlike an airplane or sliding two sheets of paper over one another very loudly. It's difficult to tell exactly what the developer was going for with this, but even re-using a sound effect from an older game would have been better. Enemies, when killed, make a similar noise, but it has more of a 'poof' quality to it, as if they're trying to say, "Why yes, I have just exploded! Quite astute of you, my good sir or madam!" Generous, but it makes you feel like they should have just stuck with the sheets of paper.
The music has been described by some as worse than the 30-second loop music used in the games of the Atari 2600 era. In all fairness, it isn't quite that bad, but one musical track lasts for all of 15 seconds before looping ad nauseum. The longest track in the game weighs in at about 1:30 and also loops continuously until you either finish the stage or shut off your system and return the game for the pitiful $1 trade-in value it has at most locations, and given Spirit Detective's quality it will most likely be the latter. The music direction of the game also leads one to wonder why something more akin to or directly from the series soundtrack wasn't used to add greater authenticity to it, if only in one small aspect.
In terms of gameplay, Spirit Detective brings absolutely nothing new to the table, rather deriving most every aspect from something else (most noticeably the Legacy of Goku series published by the same company, Atari). You start out at level 1 and work your way up to 20, gaining stats in small increments and new techniques every five levels. This is fine, but only one character has a technique any different from the rest; that being Hiei, who starts with a teleportation technique. There are virtually no sidequests to the game, and the three that are there are either pointless (the arcade unlocked upon completion, which would have already been played forcibly during the story, or the optional boss which adds nothing new to the mix), minimally effective (finding all of Kuwabara's homework and getting an A on his test, which grants a tiny bonus to his energy capacity), or a horrible bastardization of yet another story arc that provides a remote challenge by throwing players into frustrating situations which can only be overcome by the patience of a saint (the Dark Tournament unlockable which bears absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to its series counterpart).
This isn't to say Spirit Detective is hard by any means. In no way are players ever really challenged over the course of all two hours the game-which is an entirely realistic time frame in which someone playing for the first time can beat complete the main game. In fact, most any obstacle can be overcome in the first try if you're careful. Probably the only "challenging" aspect of Spirit Detective is the final boss battle, the "secret" final boss battle, or the Dark Tournament unlocked after completion.
In short, stay away from this game. If you're curious and you just want to find out, do yourself a huge favor and forget it. Even if you're a die-hard fan who absolutely must experience Yuyu Hakusho in every way possible, that won't justify the cost, no matter how little. This is, in all honesty, one of those games that could make you wish you'd never purchased the platform to play it on-which is a huge shame, considering how many great games the GBA had and still has to offer. Anyone curious would be better served to buy another game entirely, lest they be haunted the rest of their lives by this travesty.