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Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) artwork

Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) review

"A run 'n gun lance classic"

Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) image

Ghouls 'N Ghosts kicks off its madness without an enchanting tale highlighted by engrossing characters and complicated plot points. This sequel to Ghosts 'N Goblins rehashes the age-old save-the-maiden plot, thrusting resident armor-clad knight Sir Arthur into a mission to recover his sweetheart Princess Prin Prin from the demonic overlord, Lucifer. You command the stereotypical warrior through five desolate worlds teeming with nightmarish creatures, ranging from robed skeletons to enormous insects to the dreaded Red Arremer. Thankfully, Arthur is no slouch, as he possesses athletic capabilities that include throwing huge lances and leaping over six feet into the air--whilst wearing armor, no less! As it turns out, his mission mostly consists of throwing things at monsters and jumping, so he's a perfect fit for the challenge.

Capcom worked hard to translate Ghouls 'N Ghosts' premise into a beastly, addictive video game. For starters, they smoothed out the previous title's mechanics, crafting a platformer with straightforward, streamlined levels and tight control response. The experience focuses on the simple task of charging through an obvious rail while fighting off whatever satanic forces come your way. To make matters trickier, some of your foes don't spawn in set locations. During certain phases, you run afoul of adversaries that bleed out of every crevice, such as the undead horrors at the beginning of the campaign. Impressively, though, Ghouls 'N Ghosts' instances of random enemy placement remain fair enough that you can't entirely blame the game for your shortcomings.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts' menagerie of monsters isn't the only thing out to kill you. Though the game's stages sport simple layouts, they feature intricate little traps that require patience, timing and daring in order to surmount. The first stage pits you against slithering plant tendrils that seem benign at first. As you approach them, though, they threaten to impale you on their spear-like tips. As you advance, you'll leap over lava pools in a burning temple, ascend a haunted elevator teeming with giant knights and spikes, and even wade in rapid waters that aim to push you into razor-sharp crystal shards. With such nasty perils, you'll realize by the end of your quest that Capcom wants you dead in the worst way.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) imageGhouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) image

Ghouls 'N Ghosts utilizes a wealth of single-hit foes to maintain a snappy pace. Make no mistake, though; it's not an easy adventure. You'll realize this once a beast lands a single shot on you and strips away your armor. From there, you meander about wearing only a loin cloth, which provides no protection from evil. Once you sustain another blow, it's lights out. When you take into account enemy position, terrain formation, enemy movement pattern and the trajectory of your attack, you realize that it's not unthinkable for a goon to slip past your ample offense and land a final blow. Despite your prowess, you truly are vulnerable in this hellish world. The delicate balance between empowerment and vulnerability is part of the beauty behind Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Its predecessor attempted to touch on this concept, but this sequel better realizes it.

You will die a lot in Ghouls 'N Ghost. No matter how vigilant you attempt to be, the game always finds a way to reduce you to a pile of bleached bones. Thankfully, death is only a minor setback, as this platformer offers you infinite continues. Upon continuing, you respawn at the last checkpoint, effectively granting you unlimited lives. Even with that massive advantage, though, Ghouls 'N Ghosts still puts you through the '80s platform wringer.

You don't need to take that kind of abuse, though, and you'll find catharsis in pushing back against Capcom's viciousness. And what better way to push back than with weapon upgrades? Defeated foes occasionally drop alternate weapons that replace the initial lance. Each one bears different attributes that alter combat. For instance, the dagger flies through the air more quickly, but deals less damage than most of your arsenal. You have to mash the attack button vigorously in order to compensate for the damage deficit, but the trade-off is that you dish out harm more quickly. You also have a sword at your disposal, which transforms the style of gameplay from semi-run 'n gun to hack 'n slash. The sword isn't a ranged weapon, and requires you to practically hug demons in order to slay them, leaving yourself quite vulnerable. It's worth it, though, because the sword fells all of its victims, even bosses, with deadly speed.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) imageGhouls 'N Ghosts (Genesis) image

Ghouls 'N Ghosts' variety of weaponry proves to be a double-edged sword, pun very much intended. On one hand, its armaments add a little depth to the experience and grant you a strong advantage. However, certain weapons (such as the water bomb) cannot pass through platforms when thrown downward. I know this sounds like an odd flaw, but the fourth boss requires you to perform such a task in order to kill it. The creature is a huge crustacean, and you ride upon its shell. The only way to damage it is to stand over one of its weak points and toss your weapon downward. The water bomb strikes the shell and explodes, and another bladed weapon hits the surface and glides along it. Worse than that, you cannot backtrack from the boss' checkpoint, and must restart the campaign in order to complete this scene. I know, stage four doesn't sound like a great distance, but bear in mind that the campaign is only five levels long.

Yeah, you read that correctly. Ghouls 'N Ghosts only lasts five levels, with each stage divided into two thematic segments. Each section basically serves as a stage in its own right, but that notion doesn't diminish the disappointment at realizing your quest will be brief. Don't get me wrong; new players will likely spend a few hours getting through the various maddening gauntlets Ghouls 'N Ghosts has in store. However, seasoned vets will blast through the adventure efficiently and realize it doesn't offer as much content as they'd like.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts is a worthwhile challenge for anyone who digs old school platformers. It's certainly an improvement over its predecessor, thanks to its tight play control and more balanced challenge factor. It's a jaw-jacking joy to play for gaming masochists like myself, and stands as a good reason why Capcom should resurrect this franchise with a new 2D title. If a fresh Ghosts installment utilized the qualities that made Ghouls 'N Ghosts a delight and combined that with modern platformer conventions, Capcom could have a huge digital hit on their hands. I'd like to dream of such a game, but I won't hold my breath. For now, revisiting this Genesis classic will suffice...

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (June 07, 2018)

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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