Once in a blue moon, a game emerges that seems like it was designed purely for masochists. Grueling games, such as Dark Souls and Bloodborne, have a crushing difficulty that tests not only your skills but your mental fortitude as well. If this appeals to you, then I have the perfect game to test your meddle and see if you’re truly as good as you think. It is Ghost ‘N Goblins; a game so cruel that it has broken the spirits of gamers across the world.
Ghost ‘N Goblins is an action platformer developed by Capcom. In 1985, it was released in arcades, then ported to the NES and Famicom the next year. It quickly became known in arcades for its extreme difficulty, which definitely says something. Basically, arcade games were designed to be insanely hard for the sole purpose of devouring quarters. It is astounding for something to be known as a difficult arcade game, and believe me, Capcom made sure the home port hated you just as much.
The plot of Ghost ‘N Goblins is somewhat basic, like most NES games, and it’s pretty much entirely in the main menu. The knight Arthur must rescue Princess Prin-Prin from the demon horde that has captured her. Armed with his trusty lance, shining armor, and polka dot boxers, Arthur will charge head first into the underworld to defeat the demons and save her. As you can see, the story goes by the books, but that’s not what stands out about this game.
Before I start discussing the gameplay, I feel I should reassure you that I actually do really enjoy this game. The problem with this is that a great deal of my joy comes from nostalgia. Not to say that this is a bad game because it isn’t. Just be prepared to deal with a lot of frustration from unnecessarily difficult game design.
Ghost ‘N Goblins plays like a standard action platformer. You run to the side and jump while attacking with a thrown projectile. You start off with a lance, but there are an additional four weapons: a dagger, flame, axe, and cross. There’s a pretty big problem with this. Each weapon has a completely different flight path when thrown, making it difficult to use them all the time and very situational. This wouldn’t be an issue if you could swap between them, but you can only carry one weapon at a time. And to top it off, your weapon stays with you even after a game over, so the only way to get rid of a weapon you dislike is to find a new one or restart the game. This is easier said than done because enemy drop rates are fairly random. It’s not uncommon to go through an entire level without finding a weapon.
Another factor in the game’s difficulty is the health system. Arthur only dons his armor until he’s hit, then his armor falls off to reveal polka dot boxers. One more hit and you’re dead. Armor upgrades are hidden throughout the game, but once again the item drop rate is random so you may never come across one. And good luck if you think that you can avoid being hit. Avoiding enemies is incredibly tricky because of how Arthur jumps. Unlike games such as Super Mario Bros or Contra, Arthur jumps with a set arc that cannot be altered in the air. Once your feet are off the ground you are helpless to guide yourself until you land. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it I just something that you will have to master to make it through this game. Plus every area has a time limit that doesn’t leave much room for waiting around. If you can accomplish that, there is one more thing that truly pushes this game from hard to making you wonder why the developers hate you so much. If you are able to master the jump mechanics, make it through six grueling levels (each containing two areas), and somehow avoid being stuck with a terrible weapon, you can take on the king of demons himself, Satan. But wait, do you have the cross as your weapon for this battle? If not, then too bad, because you cannot beat the game without it. So now you must go back to the beginning of level five and fight him again using the cross. Once you make it back to fight Satan and defeat him with the cross, you’ve beaten it right? Of course not! After you beat Satan with the cross, you learn it was all an illusion and the only way to really beat the game is to go through the entire game again, except it’s harder now. Try to wrap your head around that type of evil.
The graphics and sound for this game aren’t noteworthy but keep in mind that Ghost ‘N Goblins was released in 1986. The visuals aren’t horrible, they are just basic. Most of what you’ll see is fairly plain backdrops lacking detail. However, there are some unique sprites in this game. And there are some catchy tunes on the soundtrack, but nothing compared to the likes of MegaMan and Journey to Silius. Still, it would have been nice for a bit more detail in the backgrounds to make this game really pop.
If you are interested in giving this game a try, there are an incredible number of ports to play. The more unknown PC ports would be the ports to the Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX, and Atari ST. Each one has differences in levels and the number of enemies on screen. There were ports of the original arcade game released on the Sega Saturn ad PlayStation in Japan, that were later ported to America as part of the Capcom Classics Collection. The NES/Famicom version was also ported to the GameBoy, and later the GameBoy Advance and Wii U/3DS Virtual Console. It is also included on the NES Classic Edition so now is a great time to experience the pain and suffering that is Ghost ‘N Goblins.
All in all, Ghost ‘N Goblins is a solid game, but definitely not a game for everyone. I may have been hard on it, but that’s to let you know what you’re getting into. If you aren’t willing to play a game that will break you, then this may not be the game for you. But if this all sounds like a jolly good time, well tear into it and remember that if you beat it you’ve earned some bragging rights. This game may be a little overrated nowadays, but it is fun and will push your limits to see what type of gamer you are. You can find this treacherous beast of a game for around $15.00$-20.00.