Ghosts 'N Goblins ReviewJoe Shaffer
The NES is a treasure trove of side-scrolling platformers, many of which will tear you apart given the opportunity. I like to think this is because they want to be enjoyed and appreciated. They want you to play them for extended periods, practice, improve, and continue playing until you've mastered them. These would be your Ninja Gaidens, Castlevanias, and a wide assortment of noteworthy miscellany too numerous to list. Games such as these wish to draw you back to them again and again, as if they desire to maintain a healthy friendship with you. It's almost as if they genuinely like you.
Then you have Ghosts 'n Goblins. This one is tough as nails like the aforementioned titles, yet it possesses a divergent attitude towards you. It doesn't want to see you improve or enjoy the experience of playing it, nor does it wish to be touched or bothered. I say this because it bears one of the most irritating presentations I've seen in an NES platformer combined with a stiff challenge factor, as if the game is trying to repel you. The cold, simple, harsh truth is that Ghost 'n Goblins is not a violent skull-crusher of a game because it loves you. No, it's difficult because it hates you.
Consider what the game says to you through the initial cutscene. We see our hero, Sir Arthur, laying semi-nude with the fair maiden Princess Prin Prin. It's likely he's about to show her his mad jousting skills, but before the intrepid knight can get to second base, Satan himself appears and absconds with the princess into a faraway land. Read between the lines, though, dear player. This is an insult, the game telling you that you are a loser who will never score. It's trying to enrage before you run headlong into a gauntlet of broken platforming, wherein you'll muck up every step of the way, become further enraged, continue to screw up, and eventually succumb to the game's ridiculous difficulty. You'll probably slam the control into the floor and scream obscenities while the dusty gray cartridge laughs at you. It'll also never grow tired of your antics. Why else would it give you infinite continues?
If you're as stubborn as I am, you'll continue no matter how often you perish. It's all thanks to a simplistic control scheme, consisting of little more than run, jump, and attack. The basic setup seems ample enough to surmount any obstacle, but there's trickery in it. You'll reach numerous occasions where you cannot ascend high enough, leap at the correct angle, or deftly dodge many of the game's perils. You'll bound into Red Arremers, crash into zombies, and find yourself unable to shake invading orcs. Each time it'll seem like you can just make it, yet you'll fail, crash and burn. Regardless of your blunders, the possibility of success continues to linger in the back of your mind, begging you to press on despite the cruel laughter issuing from your NES.
Some might write off these unfortunate events as challenge, but a truly balanced difficulty always gives you an out. Ghosts 'N Goblins would rather delude you into thinking one is there, then pull the carpet out from beneath you. Yeah, I know. There are people out there who can finish this game without dying. And how many aggravating years did they spend to become so skilled?
The steep challenge factor is not enough, though, as the game annoys you at every turn. It first burns your eyes with shoddy visuals, from garishly colored enemies to choppy animation, from clownish zombies in red pajamas to the skippy aerial motions of ghosts late in stage one. Complimenting the visual onslaught is a collection of bothersome sound effects. For instance, every zombie you defeat emits an ear-splitting squeak, like someone stomping on a mouse. With as ubiquitous as zombies are, the game sounds like a rodent slaughterhouse.
The cherry on top of this bloody broken glass sundae appears every time you die. Rather than segueing back into the action, the game deems it necessary to display your progress. It achieves this by showing you a mini-map of all six stages, panning to the right veeerrrryy slooooowwwwwly. It's as if the game wants remind you of how much you suck, pointing out that you're still on level X and you have a long way to go, you loser!
This taunting will inspire you to keep playing until you've advanced to the latter stages. Once you're that far, there's no way you'll give up. The prospect of finishing this ultra-tough quest, thereby granting you lady-swooning bragging rights, is too empowering to deny. Little do you realize that said prospect is a carrot dangling before you, baiting you to one final pernicious joke. You'll play until you've put the final blow to the end boss and celebrate your hard-earned victory. Hopefully you'll turn the game off before it cuts short your jubilation. A message, scrawled in Engrish and forged of the souls of broken gamers, kills your joy:
is a trap devisut (sic) by Satan.
Go head dauntless!
Make rapid progress!
One final mockery, one last stinging assault on your intelligence, and what shall you do? "Go ahead dauntless" and suffer the misery of the same six levels with an elevated challenge factor or turn the game off and return to life? The stubborn ones will not be able to see past their rage. They'll "go ahead dauntless" after this slap in the face, but rapid progress they likely will not make.
I was not one of the stubborn ones. I went ahead dauntless to the rental store to return this catastrophe and attempt to put its existence out of my mind. Only a few times have I revisited its hallowed halls built of nauseating graphics and filled with putrid sounds, and each time I'm reminded what kind of game it is: a massive tool trapped inside of a plastic cartridge.
Thankfully, Capcom redeemed this franchise with a vastly improved sequel.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.