Ghosts 'n Goblins
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developers:
    • Capcom (ARC)
    • Micronics (NES)
    • ASCII (PC88/FM7/X1)
    • Elite (C16/C64/CPC/ZX/Amiga/ST)
    • Pacific Dataworks (IBM)
    • Digital Eclipse (GBC)
  • Publishers:
    • Capcom (ARC/NES/IBM/GBC)
    • ASCII (PC88/FM7/X1)
    • Elite (C16/C64/CPC/ZX/Amiga/ST)
  • Released:
    ARC
    • JP 09/19/1985
    NES
    • JP 06/13/1986
    • US November 1986
    • UK 03/23/1989
    PC88/FM7/X1
    • JP 1986
    C16/C64
    • US UK 1986
    CPC/ZX
    • UK 1986
    IBM
    • US 1987
    • UK 1990
    Amiga
    • UK 1988
    ST
    • UK 1990
    GBC
    • US January 2000
    • UK 08/24/2001
Score: 75%

This review was published on 06/02/2017.

Ghosts 'n Goblins, known in Japan as Makaimura, which roughly translates to Demon World Village, is a side-scrolling platform video game originally developed and published by Capcom for arcades. The original coin operated arcade machine came out on September 19, 1985, but the game was later ported to plenty of other platforms. Those platforms include the PC-8800, FM-7, Sharp X1, Nintendo Entertainment System, Commodore 16, Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, IBM PC, Atari ST, Game Boy Color, and more. The NES version was released in Japan on June 13, 1986, North America in November 1986, and Europe on March 23, 1989. In 1986, the game came out on the PC-88, FM-7, Sharp X1, Commodore 16, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, and Amstrad CPC. Then the IBM version came out in 1987, the Amiga port in 1988, and the Atari ST version in 1990. The Game Boy Color version came out much later, in January 2000. Micronics developed the NES port, and Elite handled the ports for the Commodore 16, Commodore 64, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum, and Atari ST. ASCII did the PC-88, FM-7, and X1 ports, whereas Pacific Dataworks coded the IBM one. Lastly, Digital Eclipse worked on the Game Boy Color conversion.

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Before it was known almost exclusively for Mega Man and Street Fighter, Capcom created other games, many of which were for the arcades. Capcom found plenty of success in the arcade scene, but the tides were turning. When the home console market took off with the release of the Famicom and NES in the mid 1980s, the arcade portion of the games industry began to fall into a slump. This prompted many companies that ruled the arcades to shift their focus to consoles, Capcom being one such example. It's around this time that Capcom ported Ghosts 'n Goblins to home hardware. Despite its obscenely high level of difficulty, Ghosts 'n Goblins was massively popular in the arcades, and that popularity continued onto consoles. In fact, the game ended up becoming far more popular on consoles than in the arcades, with the NES version being the most prominent in popularity. It's for this reason that Ghosts 'n Goblins is more so associated with the NES today, despite originally being an arcade game. So why was the game so popular? Well, because it's good... mostly.

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Our hero for this tale is Sir Arthur, who's a noble knight clad in armor. As the short intro scene shows, Arthur is out on a date with the love of his life, Princess Prin Prin. Yes, that's actually her name, but only in the original Japanese version. In the North American release, her name was changed to Guinevere, which is more reasonable. Also, for some odd reason, Arthur is shown in this scene with his armor off, wearing nothing more than his underpants whilst the Princess is fully dressed and kneeling before him. Stranger still, this date takes place in a graveyard at night. Arthur and his female friend must be into some pretty weird stuff. Anyway, a winged demon suddenly appears out of nowhere and kidnaps the Princess. The Japanese version literally refers to this demon as Satan, but his name was changed to something more innocuous in the North American release. Wasting no time at all, Arthur puts on his armor and dashes off after the ferocious fiend.

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In this game, you exclusively control the armored Arthur. The noble knight is capable of running, jumping, ducking, climbing ladders, and attacking, but that's about it. In a creative twist, Arthur's health is measured by his state of undress. When Arthur takes a hit, he'll be stripped of his armor, forcing him to run around in his boxers. If he takes another hit while in his skivvies, he'll be reduced to a pile of bones, resulting in his untimely demise. In other words, Arthur can sustain up to two hits before biting the dust. However, it's possible to obtain another suit of armor when Arthur is his underwear, restoring him back to his armored status so that he may live longer. Functionally, it's not too different from a generic health system, but it's a neat visual cue that is sure to make you chuckle. Plus, this frees up room on the screen, as there is no need for a life bar.

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Occasionally, there will be weapons Arthur can pick up to change up his means of attack. Every single weapon Arthur uses is a projectile of some sort, and once he's armed with one, he'll be able to toss an unlimited supply of it at his foes. Right off the bat, Arthur starts with the standard lance, which goes completely straight, but there are four more weapons he can swap with. Those weapons consist of knives that travel at high speeds, a torch that is thrown towards the ground like a grenade, an axe that is thrown in an overhead motion, and the shield, which can deflect projectiles and was originally a cross in the Japanese version. Some weapons are better than others, such as knives being the best in the game due to how rapidly they can be thrown, and some are borderline useless. For example, the torch is the worst weapon of them all, because it lacks range and can't be rapidly thrown. Weapons are kept even in death, which is splendid if you've got a good weapon, but horrible if you have a bad one.

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The controls are pretty precise, but Arthur's movements are a tad stiff, making it difficult to react to things the moment they occur. On top of that, this game has the dreaded fixed jump. That means jumps only go a fixed distance, so you can't adjust the length of your jump. You're also unable to change the direction you're moving in while in midair. Further, if you start a jump without pressing any directions, Arthur will go up and come back straight down, not traveling any horizontal distance at all. This particular jump is almost completely useless, but if you accidentally do it, you'll be committed to the action. As a result of all that, platforming sections are very difficult, as you have to carefully calculate every single one of your jumps. This is a big contributor to the game's insidious difficulty.

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Throughout his quest, Arthur will venture through zombie infested graveyards, icy towers, burning villages, dark caverns, and the castle of the devil himself. Every time you die or complete a stage, you'll be shown a map screen that reveals your progress through the game. There are six stages in all and they're done in a linear order. Each stage is fairly straightforward and ends with one or more bosses, but the sky high difficulty is primarily derived from the regular enemies and tight time limits. You'll die countless times to swarms of enemies that infinitely spawn from both sides of the screen. As if all that weren't enough, you have to beat the game twice in a row, with the second time being harder, in order to see the true ending. Additionally, the game is only beatable with the shield or cross, and if you don't have it by the end, you'll be kicked back to an earlier stage to try again. You can continue from the last checkpoint for as many coins you put in, and most of the home ports give you infinite continues, but this is still an extremely tough challenge.

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One colossal issue with this game is its random nature. Enemies aren't always in the same locations, either because they wander off somewhere or spawn in a different place altogether. They also have a tendency to glitch through walls. Some enemies, like the winged red demons, eschew static attack patterns and instead have simplistic AI that governs their actions. However, like the random enemy placement, this AI is sometimes totally unpredictable, occasionally causing enemies to move to awkward spots that are out of reach. To make matters worse, most enemies have the ability to fly, and will dart around the screen at a speed Arthur cannot possibly keep up with. These enemies typically hunt you down to the ends of the Earth, so you can't run away and hope they vanish when they get scrolled off screen. Due to all of this, successfully completing the game is heavily dependent on luck, and that's incredibly frustrating.

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There's some minor censorship between the Japanese and North American versions of the game, like the aforementioned cross being changed into a shield, and the ogres being altered to shoot magic instead of projectile vomit. However, most of the notable differences come from the countless ports. The Amiga version is the closest to the arcade original, but there's no music unless the Amiga you're playing it on is equipped with one megabyte of RAM. Every other port is a massive downgrade in graphics, sound, controls, and sometimes content. The Commodore 64 version does have some cool original tunes composed by Mark Cooksey, but everything else about it is terrible. The NES version is the only other one that isn't utter trash, but it's still a huge step down. The Game Boy Color version is mostly the same as the NES one, just with a more zoomed in camera due to the handheld's small screen. Unless you can play the arcade or Amiga versions, the NES port is as good as you're going to get.

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Heralded as one of the hardest games ever made, Ghosts 'n Goblins is decent, but that's in spite of its difficulty, not because of it. Much of the difficulty comes from things that are beyond your control, making the game feel rather unfair at various points. This overreliance on luck leads to an overabundance of frustration. Future games in the series retain the same insane difficulty, but they do so in a more refined manner, mostly removing the luck factor. That's why they're substantially better games than this one. Having said all that, Ghosts 'n Goblins still has a lot of good in it, like varied stages, smart enemies, tight controls, good graphics, and iconic music. All of that does come at a great cost, though.

Word Count: 1,741

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