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Ghosts 'N Goblins (NES) artwork

Ghosts 'N Goblins (NES) review

"It’s said that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. But Ghosts ‘n Goblins undresses that reassuring bromide conclusively: this NES cart can hardly kill you, but is nonetheless thoroughly debilitating. "

It’s said that whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. But Ghosts ‘n Goblins undresses that reassuring bromide conclusively: this NES cart can hardly kill you, but is nonetheless thoroughly debilitating.

The opening scene is perhaps the only part that makes good sense, as the hero of the day -- a righteous knight, Arthur -- is sitting in his skivvies when a demon comes along and grabs his female companion. Immediately our knight throws on a suit of armor and begins the chase. Witnessing this forcible coitus interruptus sets the stage well enough, but sadly blue balls are just the beginning of this knight’s bad day.

It turns out he would surely have done better combing the woods for Robin Hood or searching for the Holy Grail, because combating the Ghosts and the Goblins and the full array of hell-spawned enemies against him is plainly far too taxing. Arthur’s just not up to the task: he’s got a sack-of-bones physique and an unoriginal array of weapons that stretches from the ineffectual Javelin to the uselessly slow Axe. You’ll bore to tears just getting past the first few zombies -- this wannabe hero needs a few trips to the gym before he tries to visit the bowels of hell.

Worse, the armor he’s selected for this jaunt is hardly the best stuff the Middle Ages had to offer: at first touch, this armor disappears and our milquetoasty knight is left with nothing but the crimson undies he began the game in! Get hit again, and you’re dead. Don’t expect that shedding your heavy mail at first contact will give you added mobility, either. Armor suit or birthday suit, Arthur is clumsy and difficult to control -- an act as simple as jumping over an obstructive gravestone will leave you wide open to attack, which is doubly bad given that the same burial marker poses no impediment to your enemies. Ghosts & Goblins obviously intends to be challenging, but poor execution leaves it far harder than it wants to be, and more frustrating than engaging.

With most of the game taking place in or en route to Hell, you’d think the presentation would set the scene. But the short loops of music that serve as the entire score are only “hellish” in the sense that they’re torturous, and graphics that are adequate in a technical sense -- vivid even, by the standards of the early NES catalog -- are wasted on this tragedy of a cart. That’s mostly because they’re used to detail half-naked white guys instead of awesome bosses and enemies. Don’t pick this up if you want to retain the notion of Hell as a scary place; the demons and other infernal opponents are no more ghastly than SMB3’s Bowser and the Boomerang Brothers, and seeing Arthur fall to their inept attacks only due to his own feebleness holds as much visceral appeal as watching two wheelchair-bound grandfathers flail away.

The final boss -- no surprise to tell you that it’s Satan -- is just as visually unintimidating as his cohorts. Plus, your battle with him is utterly bush-league: either you have the right weapon, in which case beating him is easy, or you don’t, in which case it’s impossible. While it’s hardly a secret what to use -- be sure to pick up the Cross -- this sort of trick guarantees that your ending, should you finish the game, is either anticlimactic or infuriating. But the most likely ending is the one where you pack the cart away forever halfway through the second stage.

A boring presentation and the fatuous new “undressing” gameplay concept are just accompaniment to the tepid gameplay and unresponsive controls that doom Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Don’t come near this abysmal cart -- but if you must, wear some protective gear. And underneath that, pants. Please.

denouement's avatar
Community review by denouement (July 10, 2004)

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