Ghosts 'N Goblins (NES) review
"I also probably shouldn't forget how you need one particular weapon to simply damage the final boss. Or that if you do manage to kill it, you find out that you were the victim of a cruel hoax and have to do the six main levels over again (at a higher difficulty level, of course) and then fight that guy again in order to actually beat the game. Adding the fake difficulty of a mandatory second trip through an already brutal game is not my idea of fun."
Back when I was young, the local county fair tended to have Ghosts 'N Goblins in its mediocre arcade and I kicked ass at it!
Wait…perhaps I should go into a bit more detail. I regularly had either the top score or second-best on the machine for probably two reasons. First, it wasn't a particularly active machine. Secondly, I never really tried to do anything more than hang around the first couple screens (trying not to trigger the first of those EVIL flying red demons) blasting through zombies and collecting any point-giving goodie that appeared. I'd die when time ran out on a life and repeat until I'd run out of them before "triumphantly" posting my initials and moving on to Final Fight so I could start having real fun.
For some reason, I thought this experience warranted me begging my parents to buy the NES port of this game, so I could…I don't know…actually get a good score by less nefarious means, maybe. Or maybe I just thought the whole medieval platforming deal looked cool, so I wanted to see what the entire game looked like. Regardless, it was a stupid choice that left me stuck struggling with a crappy game until I decided to cheat my way through, so I could say I was done with it. And as I recall, since I didn't have a Game Genie while I owned Ghosts 'N Goblins, the best I could do was use a level select code in order to rapidly lose lives in each of the game's levels. At least I got to see them all, I guess.
Ghosts 'N Goblins is well-known for being one of the harder games out there. Arthur, the knight you control to rescue a princess from the forces of evil, is a pretty frail chap. The first time a monster (or projectile) hits him, his trusty suit of armor disappears, leaving him naked except for his boxers. One more mishap and he's dead. This isn't the problem — it was pretty commonplace back in the day for platformer characters to be lacking in durability. The thing is, in good games of this sort, it never truly felt like the deck was stacked against you like it is here. Arthur isn't particularly mobile, while many of his foes are. This really hurts against those aforementioned red demons. They'll be flying around the screen, shooting fireballs and occasionally dive-bombing you, while you'll be waddling back-and-forth, hoping to connect enough times with your weapon of choice before enough of those fast-paced attacks connect to steal away a life.
Another issue lies with that weaponry. Arthur can best be described as a Belmont without his whip, but with infinite uses of whatever sub-weapon he holds. This essentially means your chances for success at any time will be heavily determined by what you're flinging at foes. Grab the dagger and rapidly fire shots through enemies to your heart's content. Slip up and grab the fire? Now, you're tossing something that lands on the ground and spreads. You can only shoot two fires at once and no more can leave Arthur's hands until one has burned out. Good luck trying to survive hoards of enemies with that as your only offense! Of course, you can stand still and kill the endlessly respawning foes until one of them drops a dagger or lance, but there is that pesky time limit to worry about...
I also probably shouldn't forget how you need one particular weapon to simply damage the final boss. Or that if you do manage to kill it, you find out that you were the victim of a cruel hoax and have to do the six main levels over again (at a higher difficulty level, of course) and then fight that guy again in order to actually beat the game. Adding the fake difficulty of a mandatory second trip through an already brutal game is not my idea of fun.
But then, so little is fun outside of the first couple levels when the difficulty is merely high, as opposed to sadistic. Repetition does that to a bad game. I didn't mind my 48th fight with a Gleeok in The Legend of Zelda because I enjoyed playing that game and having more of a good thing just keeps the fun going on for a bit longer. The emotions flowed in a different direction here. The boss of the first stage is a large cyclops (strangely referred to as "Unicorn" as if simply having a horn makes up for having no other similarities to that mythical beast). Make it to the end of the second level and you'll fight two of those guys. The next two stages culminate with fights against dragons. The fifth level is ruled by the bigger brother of those annoying red demons; and then two of those guys jump you at the conclusion of the sixth level. Speaking of that final true stage, you'll also encounter dragons and faux-unicorns (as well as plenty of red demons) there, too, making it perhaps the most cruel and evil level I've ever played.
But there's all sorts of cruel and evil things in this game. The most efficient weapons for Arthur only shoot in front of him; therefore, many enemies attack from angles where you're at least temporarily helpless if you have one of them. Right at the beginning of the game, you're in a cemetery infested by zombies. Shoot a tombstone enough times (accidentally or not) and a magician will appear to temporarily turn you into a frog. A weaponless, helpless frog. In the sixth stage, simply moving too far in the wrong direction might cause you to be overwhelmed by multiple boss-class monsters. There's (at most) one checkpoint per stage, so those oh-so-common deaths WILL cause you to repeat large sections of real estate.
Ghosts 'N Goblins just isn't fun as anything more than a novelty — a way to show younger gamers what things were like before auto-saving and tutorial levels. Every once in a while, I have the crazy idea to pick it up again to stroll down memory lane. That idea meets its doom around the time I run into that first red demon and watch him jetting around the screen while I impotently flail around trying to even land one or two hits before I die. And then I get another idea: to play Demon's Crest, where you control one of those demons. I mean, if Capcom's going this far out of its way to show me that evil is not only a lot more fun, but also much better in a fight than the good guys, who am I to argue?
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (August 08, 2012)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
More Reviews by Rob Hamilton [+]
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