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Going ahead dauntlessly: A Ghosts 'n Goblins timeline

In honor of today's Halloween holiday, Shacknews looks back at a series filled with the supernatural: the unforgivingly difficult Ghosts 'n Goblins.

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Today's Halloween and Shacknews would like to celebrate the holiday by taking a look at the supernatural. For me, in particular, there's one series of games that has plenty of creatures that go bump in the night. That's Capcom's classic side-scrolling series, Ghosts 'n Goblins.

The Ghosts 'n Goblins stands out for one other reason, aside from its supernatural aesthetic. It's hard. I mean, it's hard! The original game stands out as one of the most difficult games ever created and its sequels did not get any easier. So to celebrate Halloween, Shacknews is taking a look back at this classic series and recalling just what made the series such a masochistic joy.

Ghosts 'N Goblins (1985)

Ghosts 'n Goblins imagined an especially fantastical world of Camelot, inhabited by the supernatural. Creator Tokuro Fujiwara, fresh off a stint at Konami, imagined a world ruled by the gallant Sir Arthur, the mightiest knight in the land. He also imagined that same world filled with ghosts, demons, zombies, gargoyles, and a variety of otherworldly creatures, all inhabiting a world filled with moving platforms, poorly-placed ladders, and vertical towers.

The original Ghosts 'n Goblins was an especially cruel game. Many of the lower-tiered enemies would have simple movement patterns, but Arthur would soon face far more complex adversaries. In particular, the gargolye-like Red Arremer is one of the most notorious foes in the series, always managing to dodge Arthur's attacks and exhibiting enough speed to dive bomb him at a moment's notice.

Believe it or not, surviving the monsters, the insanely-difficult jumps, and the brutally tough bosses was only half the battle. Not only did Arthur have to run the entire gauntlet of monstosities, but he also had to make it to the end with the right weapon equipped.

Yes, Ghosts 'n Goblins has a slew of handy weapons, many of which can either help or hurt depending on the situation. However, Arthur has to finish the end of the game with a specific weapon in order to complete his adventure. In this case, it's the cross. If the player goes into the final level without the cross, Arthur will be forced to repeat the previous two levels until he exits Level 6 with the cross.

The cruelty wouldn't end there, though. The final boss would prove to be a little too easy to defeat, which turned out to be intentional. That's when the following message would pop up:

"This room is an illusion and is a trap devisut by Satan. Go ahead dauntlessly! Make rapid progres!"

Yes, this poorly-spelled message prompted players to start the game all over on an even higher difficulty in order to unlock the game's true ending. It was one of the first instances of such a message popping up in a video game and it was also the source of intense rage for anyone that made it this far in the 80s. The true ending for Ghosts 'n Goblins is a rewarding achievement, but only few have the patience to achieve it.

And then there's Daniel "Kareshi" Brown. He currently holds the world record for the fastest Ghosts 'n Goblins run at 20 minutes and 52 seconds, record he set a little less than two months ago. You can watch his amazing playthrough below or you can watch his run with commentary on Twitch.


Ghouls 'n Ghosts (1988)

Ghouls 'n Ghosts follows many of the same patterns as its predecessor, offering the same setting and the same enemy types. Of course, this sequel contains slightly more advanced graphics and effects, offering a 16-bit world filled with more vibrant backgrounds, better environmental effects, and the ability to feature more enemies on-screen at one time. However, while this game's difficulty is still intense, it does feature a few additions. Namely, there are now multiple levels of armor, which would upgrade Arthur's weapons. Furthermore, the Sega Mega System version of the game instituted the series' first magic system, tying different magic spells to different weapons.

The other major addition to the game would come with the now-standard end-game twist. The player would still be prompted to repeat the game's quest in order to reach the final boss, only this time, Arthur would be asked to find the legendary weapon known as the Goddess Bracelet. The weapon would become a permanent staple of the game's mythos, signifying the ultimate vanquisher of evil.


Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (1991)

The addition of Mode 7 graphics allowed Fujiwara and Capcom to go all-out for the series' third installment. The Super Nintendo-exclusive Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is just as hard as the games that came before it, offering one of the biggest challenges to hit the young system at that point. Players now had an addition tier of armor in-between silver and gold, while still having magic at their disposal while wearing the gold armor. And just as in the previous game, the Goddess Bracelet was waiting when the inevitable second playthrough came along.

Where Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts advanced the series was by taking advantage of the Super NES's new capabilities. Stages were no longer simply side-scrolling graveyards and vertical towers. The first level would toss in ideas like shifting terrain and tidal waves that would flush in from the background and remove pieces of the stage. Areas like the fourth level would put Arthur square in a ghoul's stomach, which would see the stage rotate repeatedly. These were visual effects that weren't possible in previous iterations of the series and helped Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts stand out from its predecessors.

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts also added a double jump for the first time, which was often used to trigger treasure chest spawn points. The double jump was a doubled-edged sword. It often helped Arthur reach points he was never capable of previously, but it was also one of the leading causes of accidental death in the game. The double jump could not be cancelled in mid-jump, so it was very easy to leap to your doom by accident, especially in particularly hairy areas like the raft portion of the second level.

It takes a superhuman being to survive the trials of Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, which is why I've attached another Daniel "Kareshi" Brown playthrough below. It appeared that this wuold be the last hurrah for the Ghosts 'n Goblins series, as series creator Fujuwara would leave Capcom in 1996 for new pursuits. He would eventually return to Capcom in 2005, where he would pick up right where he left off.


Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins (2006)

The Ghosts 'n Goblins series' triumphant return came to the PSP eight years ago. Arthur and his world were no longer restricted to sprites, but were now fully rendered creations, with 2.5D environments, to boot. Arthur could also equip different types of armor, such as the Angelic Armor that granted him the power of flight. Of course, Fujiwara also brought back many of the series' most beloved (and despised) elements. Jumps were just as tricky, enemies were just as pesky (especially when emerging from the background), and bosses were just as tough. With age, however, comes more of a forgiving nature.

Indeed, the standard difficulties for Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins had a few notable additions. For one thing, Arthur's armor no longer breaks after a single hit, giving him some unexpected durability. Death also no longer carries a stiff penalty, since Arthur would respawn at the last point he died. This would appear to make running across levels easier, though the insane platforming sequences and the dozens of enemies that would appear at one time would beg to differ. While the more forgiving spawn points made players more willing to exercise patience and see the game through to the end, there's no denying that it slightly took away from what made the series so unique. Of course, those seeking a more old-school experience could hit the Ultimate difficulty, which would handle death the old-fashioned way.

The series did take one other unique turn with Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins. The linear nature of the game was cast aside in favor of having Arthur pick up rings across two playthroughs to access the final boss battle. The rings wouldn't always be reachable the first time, requiring Arthur to backtrack with power-ups found later, making this particular installment more akin to a Metroidvania.

Even with the variances in the formula, this is still unmistakably Ghosts 'n Goblins, from the supernatural aesthetic to the cheap deaths that run rampant. PSP games are tough to come by nowadays, but this one's worth playing through for any fan of the series.


A Knight's Legacy

Ghosts 'n Goblins is fondly remembered for its infamous difficulty and its influence lives on. It's more than just masochistic platformers like Super Meat Boy that owe the series for pioneering this style of game.

One of the more recent games to come along that pays good homage to Ghosts 'n Goblins is Cellar Door Games' Rogue Legacy. Rogue Legacy not only takes the castle and supernatural aesthetic of the Ghosts 'n Goblins series, but it builds on it to create an entirely new platforming experience, going from a side-scroller to a full-blown Metroidvania.

As for Arthur, he remains one of the more beloved characters from Capcom's vast roster of characters. Years after Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins released, Arthur joined the Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 roster as a playable fighter. He's also the subject of occasional easter eggs in games like Dead Rising. But there appear to be no plans to revive the character or his adventures anytime soon, so it appears that his trials may be over. His legacy, much like the legend he was based on, will live on.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 31, 2014 10:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Going ahead dauntlessly: A Ghosts 'n Goblins timeline

    • reply
      October 31, 2014 10:15 AM

      [deleted]

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        October 31, 2014 10:24 AM

        they had this on singapore flights, I'd sit there for 5 hours playing straight. could never get past the lava part in that time tho.

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        October 31, 2014 10:41 AM

        I got Ghosts and Golins on Wii VC recently. I'm abusing the hell out of the save state function

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      October 31, 2014 10:54 AM

      One of my favorite series easily from back in the day, I just loved it.

      Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is my favorite, I played the others in the arcade they blew my mind at the time picking up loot for the very first time was crazy.

      The style and art where and still are so awesome, Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is the reason a SNES sits on my table and I still play it once a week.

      Love it, well next week I hope show homage to the series and bring it to the next level.

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      October 31, 2014 10:59 AM

      I have never even passed level 2 of G&G. I've beaten TMNT. I've beaten Battletoads. I've beaten Mega Man. G&G, along with Top Gun, are the two games where I just gave up and walked away.

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      October 31, 2014 5:32 PM

      I assumed the more generous spawn and armor system in the PSP game was to prevent players from hurling their PSPs across the room.


      I'm a little surprised that the Maximo series didn't get at least a nod in this article.

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      November 1, 2014 5:44 AM

      It doesn't sound like the author of this article has any real insights into these games.

      The article makes it sound like the SNES game was a straight improvement over the previous games, when it was actually a step back in many ways. An interesting distinction between the arcade Ghouls n' Ghosts and the SNES Super Ghouls n' Ghosts is that you can attack up and down in the arcade game, but you can only attack left and right in the SNES game. Even though the SNES game added double jumping, it gimped the gameplay by limiting your ability to attack in four directions.

      The Mode 7 rotation stuff contributed nothing to core gameplay. If you look at how it was used in the game, it's just like Castlevania 4: the rotation effects are purely aesthetic (eye candy), slow down the pace of the gameplay for no good reason, or mask boring level design. It also doesn't mention that the SNES game had really horrible slowdown (many stages in the game basically move in slow motion). The arcade Ghouls n' Ghosts is as solid as a rock. Most fans of these games don't regard the SNES version that highly.

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