Looking back on my childhood I remember just how much patience I had. When you are young and new video games are a rare gift you will put up with any piece of crap for entertainment. At least I tell myself that is the reason why I finished Deadly Towers. Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden at any other time would have been thrown in the bushes but I’m glad I stuck with them. This brings me to Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
Capcom’s Ghosts ‘n Goblins was among that second wave of NES software released in 1986/1987 that really showed advancements in game design. Titles like Metroid, Legend of Zelda, and Section Z were more complex, with large open worlds to explore and get lost in. Although it was an arcade port Ghosts ‘n Goblins was a more complex game than its platforming contemporaries. It was also brutally hard. That has not only carried over to the NES version but is even worse. As much as I would like to look back on the game fondly in truth it is one of the more frustrating experiences of my youth and one that I can’t recommend to anyone.
The game’s story and intro are interesting not because it’s good but because of what is implied. Arthur and Princess Prin Prin are having a picnic in a cemetery when Satan whisks her away. In video game land that might as well be another Tuesday. But you have to wonder a. Why the hell are they in a cemetery? And b. why is Arthur in his boxers?
As Arthur you’ll have to make your way through six levels of perilous platforming action to save the girl. Despite his heavy armor Arthur can only sustain two hits before death, with the first reducing him to his boxers. Luckily there are a suit of weapons to aid in the journey. The default lance is powerful but slow and well rounded. The daggers are weaker but incredibly fast and worth the tradeoff. The rarely seen axe is thrown in an arc and not very useful. The holy shield is even rarer; I’ve only seen it once in the entire game. It’s interesting in that it destroys projectiles but is so slow it is not worth picking up. But the absolute worst has to be the torch. The torch is slow, weak, and has terrible range. I almost think the designers put it in to mess with players.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins comes from the school of Castlevania when it comes to platforming. Once you’ve made an action you are committed to it, for better or worse. Enemy and platform placement is very deliberate to an extent and while you need to stop and plan ahead the clock is very aggressive in this game. This first game in the series doesn’t go all in with hidden treasure chests like its sequels but you can find hidden items here and there. Unlike the Belmont family Arthur is a more nimble protagonist, spry in his step and not as rigid in his movements. Sadly it doesn’t make much of a difference.
I still think Ghosts ‘n Goblins is one of the most difficult games of all time. The coin op was about the time I realized that arcade games were designed to take your money. And if you can believe it the NES version is worse. Random enemy spawns mean death comes randomly and frequently. The bastards are faster than you which is even worse. The Red Arremer is one of the most hated and difficult enemies in video game history and is just…….gah. The game is incredibly stingy with armor power-ups; if you lose it chances are you aren’t getting it back until death or level’s end. I wasn’t joking about the timer; in most cases you will barely reach the mid-level checkpoint with seconds to spare. Oddly enough the bosses are incredibly simple. That is a small relief as it is a nightmare just to reach them.
For the brave souls who persevere and through the hellish final two levels the game pulls the ultimate dick move and requires you to play through it twice to reach the true final boss. And if you can believe the second time through is even worse. This is not the longest in the series but considering the insane difficulty few have bothered to see this to completion. Hell I can’t believe I had the patience to do it back in the day. Sadly this would become a series staple and one of the least liked aspects of these games.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Is a retro gaming classic. But that doesn’t mean this version is worth going back to in this day and age. This NES version has a bad frame rate and slowdown, making an already tough game that much harder. As much as I like the game I still can’t recommend it as it is too frustrating for its own good.