Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

Ghosts ‘N Goblins was among the first NES games I got to play.  Back before I developed a sense of taste in video games I was too young to realize how bad the home port was.  I just knew it wasn’t as good as Super Mario Bros. and it was hard as hell.  As much as I may have hated the game there were aspects of it I liked.  So when the sequel was released for the Genesis I looked forward to it.  Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a definite improvement on its predecessor but is just as polarizing due to its ridiculous difficulty.  It’s a good game and all but only master gamers should buy it.

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As one of the earliest Genesis titles Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a pretty incredible port.  Sega managed to capture the look of the arcade game pretty well making this one of the best arcade conversions for its time.  It’s far from perfect of course; there has been a significant reduction in background detail.  There is also some ugly slowdown at times.  But coming from the NES this game was practically a revelation back in 1989.

Arthur returns and at the very least is not as gimpy as in his original adventure.  He can now attack in four directions which goes a long way towards lessening the difficulty somewhat.  There are a number of new weapons of varying quality to join the original three.  An odd addition is the sword.  For a game where you want to keep the enemies away being into forced into melee range might seem suicidal.  But the sword’s rapid attack speed and slightly longer range make it a worthy addition. The spiked discus might be the best weapon in the game but only appears rarely unfortunately.

Arthur’s grey armor sees a possible upgrade.  If you can survive long enough with your armor the gold armor awaits somewhere in each level.  Once equipped you can perform a devastating magic attack with each weapon.  As cool as it sounds it isn’t that useful.  Between the charge time and the relentless number of enemies you will rarely bother using it.  Chances are you more than likely won’t even get the gold armor in the first place.

Compared to its predecessor Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a faster paced game.  Well, it’s about as fast as can be expected of this series.  Enemies attack in greater number and are very aggressive in their pursuit.  It’s a bit frightening to see a zombie rise out of the ground and navigate platforms better than you can.  Although the game is comprised of only five levels each is long and varied and covers much ground.   Where the first game was a bit light on platforming it factors pretty heavily here.  That’s where the problems start.

Despite the tight controls the game’s arcade roots are evident in its design.  The levels are full of the kinds of gotcha moments designed to keep you pumping quarters into the machine.  Danger lies around every corner and you rarely have time to approach a situation carefully.  Not just because enemies spawn constantly but because you are up against a tight clock.  You become afraid to even a simple jump because chances are some off screen enemy is waiting in the wings.  You rarely have a chance to stop and observe which makes certain levels like Baron Rankle’s Tower a nightmare.  I could go on and on.

As you might have guessed Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is ridiculously hard.  I can say with no hesitation this is one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played.  The insane amount of enemies, infrequent power-ups and absurd number of sorcerers mean you’ll rarely survive longer than 3 minutes or so.  The game feels broken and unfair at times.  On the flip side nearly all of the bosses are incredibly easy which I did not expect.  Even if you manage to make it to the end prepare to get the middle finger.

Like every game in the series you’ll have to go through the game twice in order to reach the final battle.  The second trip is focused on finding the Psycho Cannon.  To get this weapon you need to obtain the gold armor and hold on to it long enough to find the next chest where it awaits.  Just keeping your regular armor is a battle in itself, finding the golden armor, especially the second time around is a nightmare.  The second run through the game is even more difficult and I wouldn’t blame anyone for basically giving up.  Even though there are only five levels passwords would have been a god send.

In Closing

I really like Ghouls ‘N Ghosts but have a hard time recommending it.  The difficulty is beyond insane and really is that distracting.  I’m all for staying true to the arcade but in this case I feel the game could have used some balance adjustments.  It’s far from a bad game but only the truly skilled need apply.

Parasite Eve Excellent