Ghouls 'N Ghosts ReviewJoe Shaffer
Ghouls 'N Ghosts doesn't kick off its madness with an enchanting tale highlighted by engrossing characters and complicated plot points. This sequel to Ghost '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 a 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. You, however, are not helpless, as you can equally dish out righteous indignation to this sinister menagerie, doing so with grace and ease if your skills are up to scratch. All of this translates to an action-platformer that packs enough of a punch to knock several teeth loose with just the first stage. As you pick up a few molars, you'll realize this game doesn't need originality to be awesome. It knows what kind of game it is and pays out its strongest elements in spades, creating a highly addictive experience.
In order to keep up a high level of addictiveness, the game maintains a smooth, fast pace from beginning to end. It achieves this by sticking to a simple design which streamlines the evil-purging process. There's little more to it than running a set path while sending any malevolent being that appears screaming back to hell with a flying lance to the face. Yes, even combat is simple, consisting of throwing basic weapons in four different directions to pick off mostly weak foes.
Despite utilizing an opulence of single-hit enemies, Ghouls 'N Ghosts isn't an easy title. You'll realize this once an adversary lands a single shot on you, stripping your armor and leaving you in a mere loincloth. Take one more shot and it's lights out. When you take several factors into account--enemy position, platform position, terrain, enemy movement pattern--you realize that it's not unthinkable for a goon to sneak past your ample offense and land the final blow. Despite being empowered, you truly are vulnerable. The delicate balance between empowerment and vulnerability is part of the beauty behind Ghouls 'N Ghosts. It's a concept that was touched on by its predecessor, but not fully realized thanks to woeful play control and mechanics.
To make matters worse, stages are designed with untimely death in mind. Each level, though simple in layout, features intricate little traps that take patience, timing and daring in order to survive. The first stage sticks you with rising hills and villainous plant-like tendrils that sprout from the ground. Sometimes these tendrils will appear on a platform below you and trick you into thinking they can't reach you. You'll know otherwise when one slithers up from beneath you and impales you on its spear-like tip. Other stages utilize elevators with crushing ceilings, razor-sharp crystal shards combined with rapid streams, and moving platforms with bottomless pits below them. With such nasty perils, you'll realize by the end of your quest that Capcom wants you dead in the worst way.
They will see this wish granted many times over. Thankfully, hitting the "Game Over" screen does not signify the ultimate end. Unlike the game's follow up, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts, this installment comes with infinite continues. You also start from last checkpoint you reached when continuing, effectively granting you infinite lives. Despite a high level of forgiveness, the challenge factor isn't a gimme. You would do best to remain ever vigilant, or else this game will break your jaw in several different places and laugh in your tear-streaked face.
You don't need to take this abuse, and you'll find it's much more cathartic to push back against Capcom's viciousness. At your disposal are various alternate weapons to pick up that replace the initial lance. Each one has different attributes that can alter combat. For instance, the dagger flies through the air more quickly, but deals less damage. In order to compensate, you'll have to mash the attack button vigorously, which can more than make up for the strength deficit if you have a fast thumb. Some weapons even change the style of gameplay. Nabbing the sword, for instance, transforms the game into a hack 'n slash. With the sword, you sacrifice range for damage, as you need to get in close to utilize it. It's worth it, though, because it can drop most enemies, bosses included, with deadly speed.
While sporting a variety of weapons boosts Ghouls 'n Ghosts's worth, it also serves as the game's one and only flaw. For there are certain weapons like the water bomb that cannot pass through platforms when thrown downward. Because of this, it is actually possible to get stuck when fighting the fourth boss. The only way to defeat him is to throw a weapon downward because his weak point is below his shell, which serves as the floor you walk upon. You cannot backtrack at that point, and any time you die you will respawn at the boss. That means all the hard work you put towards getting that far will have been for naught. The end of the fourth stage may not sound like a great distance, but getting there is actually a lot of work.
This is a minor flaw, though. Tight controls and efficient levels combined with solid action greatly outweigh this nearly-insignificant shortcoming. Ghouls 'N Ghosts is a tough title with loads to offer. It's unfortunate that there weren't any newer 2D Ghosts titles on consoles. After the third one, Capcom shifted gears with the franchise, and while the direction it went in wasn't a terrible one, it doesn't compare to the 2D glory of yore.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.