Ghosts 'n Goblins

One of the most difficult games released, huh? We'll see about that...

Source // Hardcore Gaming 101

Ah, Ghosts 'n Goblins, I know it well, and by 'well' I really mean I know it and don't recall having played it despite numerous ports and sequels and ports of the sequels.

Sidescrolling action, platforming, courageous knights defeating everything in their path... Sounds like a game well worth playing.

Often described as really rather difficult, or words to that effect, I'll have to find that out for myself using the NES port. I'm looking forward to it.


Holy mother of God.

So, uhm, I read that Ghosts 'n Goblins has you play as the gallant knight Sir Arthur on a quest to save Princess Prin-Prin from the clutches of all manner of evil beings - zombies, demons and the like. That's not me stumbling, trying to remember the princesses name, she really is called Princess Prin-Prin (although some versions do have her named 'Guinevere') and princesses kidnapped by demons simply must be saved.

Sir Arthur has a jump button and a fire button, and you'll be using both a lot. If you can't dodge an enemy, you can spam your attacks to throw swords through the air and into their faces. I say through the air to imply that you can see your enemies ahead in the distance and get rid of them from range, but that simply isn't always the case.

More than once, zombies spawned up from the ground beneath me (where else would they come from, I guess) giving me little to no choice but to take the hit, and taking the hit is a baaaad idea. You can only take one hit before you lose your shining armour and are reduced to running around in your underwear, which is perhaps one reason why the game is so popular.

Unfortunately, from then on you have no choice but to avoid all damage until ending a level or miraculously finding an armour pick up, as another hit will reduce you to a pile of bones. That's one of your three lives lost, time to try again from the start.

It's brutal. I was a pile of bones at the start. I was a pile of bones a little further in. I was a pile of bones at the first ladder, I was a pile of bones slightly after the first ladder, I was a pile of bones immediately after I thought I made it through the section which involved a few ladders. Long story short, I was a pile of bones before, during and after almost all obstacles and challenges in the first... oooh, thirty seconds of the game, tops.

Progress was slow, and not helped with the slow respawning after you lose a life. I was playing Super Meat Boy just the day before, and you really notice the wonders of instant respawning in a game where death or failure occurs every few seconds - OlliOlli being another merciful example. Granted, back in the mid 1980s things took their time to load, but Ghosts 'n Goblins can get frustrating and fast.

Fun Times

But it's not a completely off putting experience. It absolutely sucks to be caught out by the first few enemies and then have to try and make progress in your underwear. It sucks to have to navigate through a kind of trial and error to learn what will be coming at you and when, because reacting in the moment is not a guaranteed success in this game. It sucks that a great game is so damn difficult from the first moment, but damn is it a good game.

Obviously I had to watch the experts get further than thirty seconds in, or rather do far more in thirty seconds than I ever did. The word 'how?' was often mouthed, because some of the levels look a bit insane, with possible routes all over the place, requiring mastery to get through with skill or else master knowledge of the map beforehand. Given how much can be done in your underwear though, I'll say both are required.

Powerups in the form of different weapons will give you an edge over your many enemies, and it's even possible for these to screw you over - pick up a weapon you don't like and you could be stuck with it for a while. Fail to get a certain weapon for a boss and you're replaying a level or two until you get it. It's not for the faint hearted, and yet seeing an expert throw shields at a dragon while wearing nothing but his underwear is quite the sight. Can't name too many other games where that happens.

Final Word

It takes a lot of effort and dedication to save the princess, and while it doesn't help that the first time to reach the end you find out that it's all an illusion and you have to play the entire game again, it does at least force you to prove your skill and capability.

A hard game made harder by having to play it twice to actually finish... no wonder it's called one of the most difficult. Yet it's approachable. Sir Arthur moves a little weirdly, and you might have to plug your ears if the music gets on your nerves, but given enough time you could learn to get at least to the end of level one. Or is that the start of level one? Was I dying over and over again in the introduction section?

Ghosts 'n Goblins is charming enough - if charming is the right word - to try and power through it, at least until you get fed up for the day. You'll die, often, both to things you expect to die to and as a result of silly little things, but it's not like you need to spend fistfuls of quarters in the arcades to find that out these days. I can only imagine how much some people have spent on mastering this back in the day. The horror...

Fun Facts

Capcoms best selling game of the 80s wasn't Mega Man 2, or even the recently played Commando, but Ghosts 'n Goblins, with 1.64 million copies sold.

Ghosts 'n Goblins, developed by Capcom, first released in 1985.
Version played: NES, 1986, via emulation.
Version watched: Arcade, 1985 (World of Longplays)