Perhaps setting the grounds for its future success with horror titles, Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins haunted the arcades and the NES with one of the genre's earliest and most influential titles. But does this fantasy/horror action game scare away the gamer or bring chills and thrills?
Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins hearkens back to the early infancy of horror-based games (nowadays, laughably-tame in every regard). Sadly, though, perhaps the scariest aspect of this action, arcade platformer is its unhealthy fixation on death — mainly yours.
The game opens with a ludicrous scene: our hero, the Knight (also known as Sir Arthur) is spending a lovely evening (armorless ? - hmmm), enjoying the company of his beautiful, blue- or violet-haired girlfriend (you choose), the Princess (aka Prin Prin and/or Guinevere in later titles in the series), in the local cemetery (?!?!?), when all of a sudden, the fiendish Astaroth (also referred to as Satan in the game's manual) swoops down and snatches her away! What's her knight (not-quite) in shining armor to do???
Alas, the fairy tale lives of the Knight and Princess are no more! Sir Arthur must do what any self-respecting hero would — well, after he covers up his unmentionables with standing suit of armor, so conveniently-positioned nearby — he arms himself with javelin (sans horse ???) and springs into action in pursuit of the kidnapped Princess off unto yonder mountains.
With all Arthurian archetypes covered (knight ✓; princess ✓; magicians, swords ✓, ✓; javelins and dragons - um, double ✓✓; unicorns ? - kind-of, but lost in translation [more about that later]; the devil... well, maybe not), Ghosts 'N Goblins would seem to lull the player into a false sense of fables and happily-ever-afters. However, that false illusion quickly passes once he/she engages the adventure and the gameplay actually begins; that's when Brothers Grimm just becomes plain grim for the player.
What stands before the player is the daunting task of waging your holy war against a gang of ghastly goons across seven stages (confusingly marked on the game's internal map [more about that later]). The Knight's travels will carry him through a restless cemetery and haunted forest, past a town of towers and tall buildings, under cavernous caves, across a rickety bridge that dangles over a pool of fire, and up through the fortresses of the devil. Great gates lie at the close of the first six stages; a select gatekeeper or two holds the key for passage beyond. Victory takes Sir Arthur one large step closer to the final confrontation with the fiendish devil and a reunion with Prin Prin (more about this later).
Along the way, the game offers an array of armaments that adds an element of strategy to the play — for better or for worse (more about that later... are you picking up on a trend here?). Sir Arthur can heave the standard javelin (now, if only jousting was a real part of the action in this title); toss torches, axes and swords; and unleash the rare, evil-repulsing powers of the cross that looks strikingly like a flying shield.
At first glance, these items may seem to be more than adequate for cutting through the game's "ghosts and goblins," (not to be confused with the warm-and-fuzzy, cute, pastel variety seen in Namco's PAC-Man) but with extensive deficiencies in Sir Arthur's agility, defense and power levels (only two hits of damage retires our hero), there's slightly more than a ghost of a chance - pardon the pun.
Ghosts 'N Goblins has long held the dubious reputation of being one of the most difficult games on the NES (or any other system) to defeat. Many noble knights have lined up for the chance to win back the Princess; few have endured the trials and tribulations along the way. Due to some questionable aspects in the game's programming and a lack of quality-control, frustration has whittled down the competition to a small number worthy to be seated at the Round Table.
And now to some of those glaring drawbacks...
Controlling Sir Arthur's movements, although fairly fluid especially for an older title, can prove perturbing with the occasional frozen-in-place stance of ducking, or squatting above ladders. Being stuck in place for any fraction of time in Arthur's clunky armor is a deathwish in this title.
This annoyance pales considerably, however, to the rigid jumping action, in which the Knight's momentum hurls him helplessly into a direction — once committed, there is no leniency or mercy, just like in Konami's Rush 'N' Attack. In all fairness, though, the game does give the player the ability of being able to turn mid-air and fire off shots backwards.
Other arguments are moot, however. It is wholly indefensible for the crippling limitations found in Sir Arthur's weapons. Equally so, his sluggish crawl and total lack of evasion from the lightning-speed blurs of the devil's army is undeniable. Sir Arthur stands little chance against the dreaded Red Devils (aka Red Arremers in later games) that seem to teleport across the screen with no hope of escape; or the Dragons, whose winding, serpentine tails drag behind them in an almost unavoidable trail; or the Unicorns, who are really more Cyclops than horse (as stated earlier, something was definitely lost in translation here), yet seem to launch across the screen and pounce with deadly speed and accuracy. The player's only recourse is to mindlessly gnash buttons, sending off the Knight's slow volley of impotent shots in the general direction of his nimble assailants.
These fits of nitpicking can almost be forgiven (okay, not really), especially when some of the larger programming/planning/debugging issues are taken into consideration. Inconsistent level design rears its ugly head; some stages seem to stretch on forever (in a game where time is a real factor), while others have checkpoints and later ones don't.
This becomes painfully obvious in only the second level of the game. It is an unrealistic goal to actually expect to defeat this stage without some luck and a handful of continues. Overcoming a maddeningly-slow climb through a long stretch of buildings and ladders in a town would be hard enough. Taking on not one, but two, main enemies at the ending gate of the stage would almost be an exercise in futility, but with some good fortune, could still be done. But, when you add in the whole element of a short time limit, with all of the subtlety of Edgar Allan Poe's The Tell-Tale Heart, things just seem insurmountable! The player's pulse races with all of the impending mania and panic that Poe's story evokes.
As if to compound the already confounding circumstances, some very nasty treats (we'll call them power-downs) are sprinkled within the game's very few and well-hidden power-ups — and get this: there's even a Time Decrease that will actually mercilessly remove an additional 30 seconds from your already-fleeting time!
These power-downs look very similar to their beneficial counterparts. From a technical, programming standpoint, some of the power-downs could have been sprinkled in with more striking appearances that would have made them more obvious to the eye, rather than the duller-tinged symbols that come across as glitches in an older game. The Yashichi comes in a host of colors: red is a point booster of 5,000; a flashing brown erases 30 seconds of time; a flashing white adds 60 seconds to your timer!
If that isn't enough, a mischievous Magician sometimes appears, casting swirling hexes that transform your inept, stiff Knight into an even more, useless frog with only paltry hopes of escape from the denizens of Hades. Of course, if you side-step the Magician's curses, becoming a frog may still be in your future; beware of the Frog King statue because there isn't a Princess in sight to remove your spell (with patience, it will eventually wear off, though).
Once you have avoided the promises and pitfalls of false power-ups and stiff controls, and have arrived at a level's end, you are not outside of the realm of a frustrating demise. As if the Satans, Red Devils, Unicorns and Dragons aren't able enough guardian gatekeepers, the programmers have decided to make some of the Knight's weapons ineffective against them — that's right, if you are armed with the wrong item, your attacks will cause no damage. The only solutions for this worst-case scenario are that:
If this issue should arise, just try to remember that javelins do not hurt Dragons, axes do not harm Satans and the cross does nothing to Unicorns.
It takes a special breed whose resolute and boundless patience can get them within reaches of the final face-off with the devil. And one may even be surprised at the ease, it takes to vanquish him.
But, don't breathe a sigh of relief just yet! One of video gaming's cruelest, programming ploys ever will cause a diabolical eruption of frustration to boil over you. Once you realize that you, somehow, have been able to overcome the nearly insurmountable and actually defeat Astaroth, the programmers at Capcom decide to inform you that everything you just endured is a ruse, and that all of your hard work is for naught — that's right! You actually have to start all over again from Stage 1 and replay through all seven, unlucky, insufferable stages — Dante's Inferno, with its nine circles, seems pleasant in comparison.
Even with unlimited continues, this devious trick becomes more of a chore, more hard labor than a labor of love. Luckily, there is a Stage Select code that the player can input to bypass most of the stress. [Click here to learn the stage select code for Ghosts 'N Goblins.]
Not to belabor the point or slight the game developers any further, but the game's hidden Stage Select reveals that there are actually 4 "checkpoints" in Stage 2, so it begs the question why the actual game wasn't programmed with the additional starting points or why some levels weren't better evenly-paced for fairer play. To confuse the player even more, the map seems to mislabel the Stages; Stage 1 is shown at the beginning towers of Stage 2, while Stage 7 isn't even shown on the map. These numbers don't jibe with the hidden Stage Select area numbers in the code, either.
Overall, Ghosts 'N Goblins seems more of a relic from its time (like the pile of bones that the Knight is reduced to time-and-time again), and replayability is an option only if you have a streak of masochism.
Unfortunately, the high degree of difficulty, teemed with the lack of quality control, overshadow the sense of nostalgia that this game could have provided. In closing, this game isn't for the faint of heart — not because of its creepy, subject matter, but more because of its flawed design. Sadly, Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins doesn't achieve a storybook ending.
b. jones © 2014, 2015
+'s vs. -'s
Secrets & Tips for Ghosts 'N Goblins
Ghosts 'N Goblins is infamous for its degree of difficulty. Luckily, the programmers realized this, and decided to give its players a magnificent gift in the form of a stage select. Use this code to skip to later stages.
(NOTE: To get to the final battle, you will have to use the code to defeat the main enemy the first time, then you will have to cycle through the whole set of stage numbers and letters again to reach the second and final battle.)
RETURN TO GHOSTS 'N GOBLINS REVIEW - STAGE SELECT SECTION
|SECRET MESSAGE IN ENDING||
The people behind the scenes wanted to be remembered in a circle of fame (or infamy, depending upon the player's point of view), so they slipped a bonus message into the game that can be accessed upon defeat of the main enemy of Ghosts 'N Goblins for the second time.
RETURN TO GHOSTS 'N GOBLINS BREAKDOWN - ADDITIONAL SECRET CODES SECTION
|TIP FOR BATTLING RED DEVILS||
The Red Devils are arguably the toughest foes in this game. Their speed is unmatched and once they swoop at you, there is no way to avoid damage, unless you happen to hit them enough times to defeat them in mid-descent. They are so frustrating that some sorry souls may feel willing to sell theirs', just to pass. Use this tip instead.
To pull off this strategy, you will have to have fast reflexes and will have to be ready to run immediately. Also, having the Sword as your weapon will greatly improve your chances of success.
Whenever you encounter a Red Devil, slowly inch, or scroll, him into the right edge of the screen. Once only his elbow is barely visible, fire off a shot and wait until you see a spark and hear an audible strike. Once the hit is made, immediately run to your left to backtrack for a long distance.
If you accomplish the task correctly, the Red Devil will have tried to pursue you, but you will have escaped him, and as your reward, upon returning to the area formerly guarded by him, he will have disappeared.
If not done correctly, upon your return, the Red Devil will be levitating high in the sky, ready to swoop in on you... or he will be charging after you on the ground.
This technique takes some practice because of the rigid controls of the Knight (remember that you can turn in midair after letting off a shot, and that little extra help can make all of the difference), but if you are able to master it, it will go a long way in helping you to succeed.
See the animated sequence below, for some assistance:
When trying this approach yourself, be sure to try to reveal less of the Red Devil's elbow (than seen here) before you attack. Also, have a quicker reaction time when you turn to run away, after you see the spark — this will better ensure that the trick actually works.
1UP Ratings Scale for
The cover and box art were slickly-designed, especially for the time; the manual was thorough, if basic, and had its information well-organized; the materials seemed to be proofread very well.
I don't have a firm grasp or memory of the environment of gaming trends at that time, but with its setting, being one of knights, fairy tales and monsters and a bit on the more-or-less scary side; also, with its surprise ending with the first time through being a trick... I'd have to think that both were pretty novel approaches at the time.
Capcom kind of cut its teeth on this game (as well, as Mega Man)... it does offer variety in level design and selection of special items and weapons... and the hiding of those items well. The ending messages stood out at the time as well.
Some points of contention are: checkpoints could have been more prevalent; more player-friendly aspects, like a better time limit system and smoother controls, could have been further explored; the mislabeled map causes confusion; enemies dissolving into thin air, as opposed to burrowing back into the ground (a nitpicker's detail); and some translation issues that should have been easily correctable that have now lived on to become outdated jokes... of course, perhaps the game was intentionally programmed at a less than user-friendly level to help ensure that more quarters would be munched down by its arcade machines.
Many have argued that this may be the toughest NES game to defeat; couple that with the cruel trick that the developers unleash on the player when he/she beats the devil the first time, and there may be little doubt.
This game tries the most calm and patient of players; repetitious, fruitless attempts and the continuous bashing away of the player's mettle leaves little desire for a gamer to want to even conquer the first few levels, let alone the whole game twice!
Where to start? Stiff controls with the occasional immobility of the Knight once he crouches... the slow footing of the Knight versus the swift, aerial swoops of Red Devils... need we say anymore?
The imagery (especially the Unicorn) and backgrounds of various stages (cemetery, fiery and final stages in particular) are fairly strong especially for the earlier era of 8-Bit home gaming. In fact, it compares favorably to the arcade version.
|Music/Sound FX: 5||
The music adequately sets the mood. From the scrolling map overture to the main themes, the compositions twinkle in a minor key. Shrieking sound effects, like those of the Forest Ghosts are obnoxious, but fill their role well. Perhaps individual songs for each stage should have been created - instead of some being recycled.
The secret double-ending was a slick touch and the animated true ending was cool, but the mistakes in the grammar and translations deduct from the overall score.
47 's out of a possible 100
Ghosts 'N Goblins is an early horror-themed, arcade platformer that is remembered for its brutal level of challenge. Due to slow, clunky controls; poor hit detection and a sadistic sense of programming, designed to unfairly eat quarters at the arcades, the game still holds on to an undesirable reputation.
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