Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Despite being one of the most renowned games of the NES library, I ended up not liking Ghosts ‘n Goblins much at all. A combination of poor controls and technical issues made it an uninteresting game to me. Still, the game was a major hit and Capcom created a sequel focused on Sega systems and home computers, which first released in arcades in 1988.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts feels like a rethread of the original game. We once again play as Sir Arthur going on a sidescrolling quest for his beloved princess, with the first level being set in a cemetery. However, the game soon sets itself apart from its predecessor and proves just how much of an upgrade the Genesis is.

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The 16-bit version of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a beautiful game with detailed sprites and animations. Each enemy design looks polished and perfectly fits the gothic world that Capcom has now been able to realize. While Ghosts ‘n Goblins looked drab and suffered from rampant sprite flickering, its sequel runs like butter and has beautiful backdrops that set each level apart. Only in the final stage did the game get too busy for the Genesis, causing some slowdown and hit-detection issues.

The game’s controls are also much improved, though they aren’t perfect yet. Arthur can now attack in all directions, finally allowing you to kill enemies camping the ladders you must climb. You can even attack downward while jumping, which is used to great effect in one boss battle. Enemy AI as a whole is much improved as well; they now have new and interesting ways to attack you, instead of relying on cheap tactics you have no counter against.

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If you think that the better controls and fairer enemies would leave the game without much challenge, then Capcom has another surprise in store for you. While I breezed through the first level, I ended up stuck in almost every stage thereafter. Level 2 was so difficult I came close to giving up and trying a level select code, it was that hard. The levels are full of cruel traps and tricky enemy placement, some of which does still border on the unfair. Fortunately, the game retains the generous checkpoint system from the previous entry, so you are never forced to replay the whole game while struggling to get through the latest challenge.

And this is a game where you want to bear with its tougher moments. It frustrated me immensely at times, but I was thoroughly enjoying its creative levels and the fun boss-fights. Each new stage brings something new to the table, such as an auto-scroller that travels upwards which eventually turns into a rush to not get crushed against the ceiling. Sadly, the game retains Ghosts ‘n Goblins’ obnoxious design whereby you need to play the game twice to access the actual boss-fight and ending.

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While it still shows shortcomings, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a definite upgrade over the first game and I had more fun playing through it. The original was a game I forced myself through just to be able to say I beat it, whereas this was a game I would voluntarily fire up a second time. It’s a short adventure, but it shows just how much Capcom (and hardware) has improved in 3 years time. Those savoring an old-school, “NES-hard” platformer would do well to skip Ghosts ‘n Goblins and take on this sequel instead.

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