I think I have mentioned previously as to how ruthless some NES games could be, and Capcom’s Ghosts ‘N Goblins is definitely on the extreme end of that scale. Though challenging, it is thoroughly spooky and deserves a mention on the Halloween Countdown.
I am pretty sure I played the sequel before I played this game (Ghouls ‘N Ghosts) on the Sega Mega Drive at my cousins house. But one Sunday I went to a charity shop (thrift store) with my parents and found Ghosts ‘N Goblins for the Amstrad home computer and I loved it, despite the fact I never ever manage to finish the first level.
Many years later I tried the NES version and although extremely punishing, it was still easier than the Amstrad version.
You play as Sir Arthur, a bearded knight who must rescue a princess who has been kidnapped by Satan, the King of Demon World. The game starts off in a graveyard just prior to the kidnapping, where Arthur and the Princess are sitting. Arthur is for some reason naked and no explanation is given as to why (but we all know).
So a big devil thing with wings arrives and scuttles off with the princess. Arthur instantly jumps into his armour and the game begins. The trouble with Arthur’s armour is that it doesn’t last. One hit from an enemy and it instantly disappears so you are wandering around in your underpants. If you are as bad at this game as I am, you soon get used to the fact that for most of the game you will be playing looking less like a heroic knight and more like a crazy naked homeless person. Getting hit a second time after losing your armour kills you instantly, leaving you as a pile of bones lying on the ground. Although this seems harsh, to me it feels somewhat of a luxury as in the Amstrad version you died with just one hit.. The NES also has unlimited continues, so no matter how many times you end up messing up and getting killed, if you have a shit ton of patience and time, you can eventually complete the game.
Arthur’s way of killing enemies is by throwing various weapons. New weapons will randomly spawn from time to time. Some are faster but weaker and some do more damage but are less accurate, so you have to weigh up what you prefer. I usually opt for the dagger as it’s fastest. Once you have picked up that weapon it will stay with you until you pick a different one, no matter how many times you die and have to continue, which is somewhat of a blessing. What is less of a blessing though is that sometimes weapons will spawn that you don’t want, and you have to jump over them to avoid picking them up. Sometimes you accidentally pick them up and immediately detest this world and everything in it for being so cruel as to make you try and get past a certain part or enemies with a weapon that is just crap.
The first level is fairly simple (in the sense that it is still somewhat of a bastard in terms of difficulty), trawl through a zombie infested graveyard avoiding pits, birds, fireball spitting plants, flying ghosts (that make a stupid noise that causes the dog bark at the television), and defeat a giant cyclops boss at the end. It took me about ten attempts to beat the level, which by my standards was pretty good going.
Level two is an abandoned town, and is even more of a bastard than the first level. I kept running out of time because of the trolls walking around stopping me from climbing up the maze of ladders. You also have to avoid a feathery onslaught of attacking birds (kind of like the birds from that film by Alfred Hitchcock, whatever that was called…)
The boss of this second level is actually two cyclops (I don’t know the plural form of cyclops) which actually isn’t too much more difficult than just one. Beating the two one eyed monsters (is probably the title of an x-rated movie) grants you access to the next level, a hellish cavernous level.
I found this level pretty simple. Apart from a few moving platforms and a few tricky enemies, it didn’t take very long to reach the end where you have to fight a dragon. I took some issue with this, as to me dragons aren’t particularly spooky. Dragons are something you have to fight in other games like the Zelda series or Skyrim, and I would rather be slaying some more hellish things than what looks like a Chinese dragon. To defeat it you have to hit all of its ‘sections’ as it flies around, and finish the off the head last. I am pretty sure there is a dragon in the first Zelda game that you have to beat in the same way, so this doesn’t feel wholly original. But at least it wasn’t three cyclops.
The next level is the base of Satan’s tower. Surprisingly I haven’t mentioned the worst enemy in the entire game, a small flying devil thing. It appears in most of the levels and doesn’t take too much damage to kill, but the way he swoops around and dives at you can really make him a tricky enemy to beat, and further on in the game he is located in places where it isn’t easy to dodge him. If I was to ever do a top ten of video game assholes, he would be close to number one on the list.
Anyway, near the top of the level and you have to fight a demon which looks like the one that took the princess away
after you were banging sitting in the graveyard at the start of the game. He is actually far easier to beat than the small flying demons I just mentioned.
So after kicking his crimson unholy ass, you’re onto the final level. Which is more of the same, just going upwards and trying to avoid more monsters. This level is a bit like youtube, it’s full of trolls that are just there to try and piss you off and you can try and take ’em on, but it’s best if you just try and ignore em and carry on up. The thing that is just nasty about this level is there is a new weapon you can pick up, a shield. It’s a crap weapon as it doesn’t have as long a range as weapons you have used previously. But you need it to beat the final boss, after this level. If you don’t pick it up here and finish this level, you have to start all the way back at the start of level five. This is why this game is regarded as a harsh bitch, as there is nothing prior to inform you of this. You just have to already know. Something I think strange though, is Arthur ‘throws’ his weapons as projectiles. Why would anyone be throwing a shield? Pack it in Arthur, you are a medieval knight not Steve Rogers.
The boss of this level is just two of the flying devil things, but after taking care of them, it’s on to Satan himself.
He looks somewhat anti-climactic if you ask me. He obviously wasn’t expecting company as he is wearing a dressing gown and a grumpy expression that suggests you have obviously just intruded. His shirt seems to be in a better mood than he is. He isn’t too difficult to beat, though it took me a couple of attempts. After he is dead you might be expecting to get jiggy with the princess again. Instead you are eyes are met with this ‘bad engrish’ text on a black screen.
Fucking Satan and the traps devisut by him. But what does this mean? Well basically it plonks you right back at the start of the game and you have to complete it a second time to unlock the ‘real’ ending, though every enemy is tougher and moves faster. Well fuck that. I wasn’t that keen on the princess anyway. Maybe one day I will do it but so far I don’t really care enough to even attempt it. The game requires so much effort and patience as it is, I don’t think I could possibly muster any more to go through it all over again so for the time being I am not going to ‘go ahead dauntlessly’.
I have mixed feelings about this game. It IS a ruthless asshole. But it is fun at the same time and you do feel pleased with yourself after you manage to get past a level or part of a level that you have been trying to do for a while. If you find a copy going cheap somewhere, you should definitely pick it up and give it a go. It’s also fairly inexpensive on the Nintendo eShop. So if you want some spooky retro gaming, have a few spare buckets of patience and would like to feel like you are crap at video games, you might get some enjoyment out of this.
More spooky stuff tomorrow!