"Ultimate’s thesis is a simple one: all things conspire to kill and frustrate, all roads lead to death – which, admittedly, seems in keeping with the spirit of the series. "
A lot of folks love this game. I'm one who would love to love it, but no matter how hard I try, I can't. Proponents talk of its cool ‘3D’ camera effects, when in actuality, the effects are hopelessly negligible. They talk of how the game captures the feel of the old school series perfectly, but for me, the only similarity in feel comes from the frequent deaths. Tragically, Ultimate's failure to thoroughly excite me is not due to a lack of effort.
Capcom was nearly onto something when they thought to name this effort “Ultimate” Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Because it tries its very best to raise the game of the series in every way. The tampering did not pay off; Ultimate's issues all but destroy any fun you might have had with the game, undermining all the obvious care put into updating it so lovingly and conclusively.
GnG games follow a simple formula. Arthur, a stalwart and noble knight, must rescue his princess from the clutches of evil. Hmm. Capcom has never made an attempt to update this part of the equation (even counting the excellent 3D Maximo spin-offs for PS2) and I guess they didn't want to start now.
Anyway, the point of Ultimate remains consistent with its heritage; you need to penetrate several zones and beat massive bosses while trying to stay fully clothed. This is no easy feat with the entire world set on removing your amour for you. Some bosses are immense, and look to be trying to remove your skin for you as well, while the always-irritating magician is back to turn you into a underwear-clad skeleton should you give him the opportunity.
Ultimate shows off extremely high production values – impressing with lush visuals and easily the most polished orchestrated soundtrack the series has enjoyed thus far. While I was a bit put off by the often garish hue selections and overall “busy” look of things (I prefer simpler, cleaner graphics in my side-scrollers, thank you), I would be remiss not to applaud the effort.
What I won’t stand for is Ultimate’s terrible difficulty level.
Much is made of it, and for good reason. Ironically, on normal and easy modes, this game is far easier to get through than, say, the famously hard Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. But that’s because the classic GnG gameplay staples are absent from those modes: namely, the 'two hits and you’re dead staple', and the 'die and start 100 miles back at the last checkpoint staple.' Here, your amour can actually absorb a few shots now, and when you die, you continue from right where you bought it.
These assists allow you to slog your way through the game on the strength of your newfound toughness, after-death respawning, and life stockpiling (easy mode in particular, really loads you up on lives). Make no mistake about it--you’ll be getting hit and dying a lot, but you’ll finish the game just the same. The game’s unfair attitude won’t start to piss you off until you play it on ultimate mode, which is, ostensibly, the level at which you’re meant to play. This mode welcomes back the 'classic' checkpoints and famous Arthur frailty.
With your crutches gone, Ultimate will piss you off royally, and the culprits will be many. Your view of the action is cramped, so enemies will literally drop unannounced out of the sky and kill you. The claustrophobic feel extends to the horizontal plane as well--even the instruction manual warns you of jumping around 'too much', lest you bound forward into unforeseen death.
Sadly, the frustration doesn’t end there. Enemies seem to be on an 8-bit Ninja Gaiden-eque assembly line. If you try to slow the action down to prevent running headlong into death, your deliberate approach will not be shared by your foes, who will continue surging endlessly at you from realms unknown -- overachievers at bringing on the inevitable. Your window of invincibility after respawning is also sadly small; conversely, the length of time during which you remain stricken following the meddling magician’s interference is dishearteningly long.
Even the utterly offensive series’ convention which required you play the game through twice has been unnecessarily complicated. Now you need to find a certain number of arbitrary ‘ring items’ to gain entrance to the final confrontation, so that reaching the final threshold guarantees you a trip back to the start to begin an Easter egg hunt which creates the potential for more than one replay of the levels while you search high and low.
It’s true that fans of the series have come to accept the unforgiving boss patterns, the sadistic spacing of the checkpoints, and the keen memorization demanded of them. And yes, Ultimate offers blithely to provide a more agreeable gaming experience, going so far as to furnish shields, the ability to fly to platforms for short periods, and the ability to grab ledges nearly missed.
But these gameplay assists and all the polished presentation in the world cannot compensate for a game infected with newly-introduced plagues which begrudge any forward motion.
Ultimate’s thesis is a simple one: all things conspire to kill and frustrate, all roads lead to death – which, admittedly, seems in keeping with the spirit of the series. The distinction to make is a simple, but salient one: I do remember playing the previous GnG games with hate in my heart as I endured their punishing sequences, getting through them, coming back to them -- such was their addictive quality. But the relentlessly obnoxious Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins elicits the sort of disdain which does not readily bear enduring.
Staff review by Marc Golding (March 07, 2008)
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