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Ghosts 'N Goblins (NES) artwork

Ghosts 'N Goblins (NES) review

"Lance Macabre"

The NES is a treasure trove of side-scrolling platformers, many of which will tear you apart if given the opportunity. I like to think this is because they want to be enjoyed and appreciated. Games such as these wish to maintain a healthy friendship with you, and keep you around by constantly killing you. I know it sounds ironic, but NES games aren't exactly known for sound logic, are they? They want you to play them for extended periods, practice, improve and continue playing until you've overcome their hurdles. These would be your Ninja Gaidens, Castlevanias and a wide assortment of noteworthy titles too numerous to list.

Then you have Ghosts 'n Goblins. This one is tough as nails like the aforementioned titles, but it has a different motive altogether. It doesn't want to see you improve or enjoy the experience of playing it, nor does it wish to be touched or bothered. I say this because its irritating presentation and stiff challenge factor seem to conscientiously repel you. The cold, harsh truth is that Ghost 'n Goblins is not a violent skull-crusher of a game because it wants your friendship. No, it's difficult because it hates you.

Consider its initial cutscene. Our hero, Sir Arthur, lounges in the grass with his girlfriend Princess Prin Prin. It's likely he's about to show her his mad jousting skills, but before the intrepid knight can do so, Satan himself appears and absconds with the princess into a faraway land. Seriously, what kind of monster interrupts a minstrel song and chill session?

You just got lance blocked, and now the game wants you to power your way through a gauntlet of broken platforming, where you'll likely grow even more enraged. Your anger will cause you further frustration, resulting in you screwing up repeatedly. Meanwhile, the devil laughs at your inept attempts at heroism, providing you with infinite continues so you can be the eternal butt of his infernal joke.

If you're as stubborn as I am, you'll continue no matter how often you perish. Thanks to a simplistic control scheme, you feel like you can overcome any obstacle, but this is nothing more than trickery. You'll reach numerous occasions where you cannot ascend high enough, leap at the correct angle, or deftly dodge perils. You'll bound into Red Arremers aplenty, crash into zombies and find yourself unable to shake invading orcs. And each failed attempt seems like it's inches or even centimeters short of victory. Regardless of your blunders, the possibility of success continues to linger in the back of your mind, begging you to press on despite the cruel laughter issuing from your NES.

Some might write off these unfortunate events as challenge, but a truly balanced difficulty always gives you a way out. Ghosts 'N Goblins would rather delude you into thinking one is there, then pull the carpet out from beneath you. Yeah, I know, there are people out there who can finish this game without dying. And how many aggravating years did they spend to become so skilled?

The steep challenge factor is not enough, though, as the game finds other ways to annoy you at every turn. It first burns your eyes with shoddy visuals, from garishly colored enemies to choppy animation, from clownish zombies in red pajamas to the skippy aerial motions of ghosts late in stage one. Bothersome sound effects also compliment the nauseating visuals. For instance, every zombie you defeat emits an ear-splitting squeak, like someone stomping on a mouse. With as ubiquitous as zombies are, the game sounds like a rodent slaughterhouse.

Oh, but that's nothing compared to your own repeated death. Rather than segueing back into the action, the game displays your progress before you respawn. It achieves this by showing you a mini-map of all six stages, panning to the right veeerrrryy slooooowwwwwly. It's as if Satan wants remind you of how much you suck, pointing out that you're still on level X and you have a long way to go, you loser!

This taunting will inspire you to keep playing until you've advanced to the latter stages. Once you're that far, there's no way you'll give up. The prospect of finishing this ultra-tough quest, thereby granting you lady-swooning bragging rights, is too empowering to deny. However, this is but a ruse, fool's gold used to lure you into one final, pernicious joke. You'll play until you've put the final blow to the end boss and celebrate your hard-earned victory. Hopefully you'll turn the game off before it cuts short your jubilation, though. A poorly translated message appears, forged of the souls of broken gamers, and kills your joy:

The room is an illusion and
is a trap devisut (sic) by Satan.
Go ahead dauntlessly!
Make rapid progres!

One final mockery, one last stinging assault on your intelligence, and what shall you do? "Go ahead dauntless" and suffer the misery of the same six levels with an elevated challenge factor or turn the game off and return to life? The stubborn ones will not be able to see past their rage. They'll "go ahead dauntless" after this slap in the face, but they will likely not make "rapid progres."

Strangely, I was not one of the stubborn ones. I went ahead dauntless to the rental store to return this catastrophe and attempted to put its existence out of my mind. I have only revisited its unhallowed halls a few times, and during each trip I'm reminded that it's nothing but a total prick.

Thankfully, Capcom redeemed this franchise with a vastly improved sequel and an awesome spin-off trilogy.

Project Horror 2019

Bonus Content


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (October 11, 2019)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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If you enjoyed this Ghosts 'N Goblins review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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EmP posted October 14, 2019:

This site's tagline game is through the roof right now. You're all welcome, I guess.

Your best one of the year, hands down.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 15, 2019:

My pun game has been weak of late. I'm glad I could at least get this one.
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CptRetroBlue posted October 16, 2019:

Use the Knife.

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