Ghosts ‘n Goblins, one of Capcom’s greatest middle fingers in video gaming history. But not exactly the “greatest” piece of history…
|Console||Arcade, Nintendo Entertainment System, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Game Boy Color, Commodore 64|
|Developer||Capcom, Micronics (NES)|
|Publisher||Capcom, Taito America|
|Purchase (NES Classic)||Purchase from Amazon.|
|Purchase (NES)||Purchase from eBay.|
|Purchase (GBC)||Purchase from eBay.|
Ghosts ‘n Goblins is one of the most infamously difficult games in the NES library. The eternal frustration that it brought about to retro gamers is a true testament to just how pure evil it is. There are few games that come close, but this one still stands out even today.
Unfortunately, the difficulty is the main attraction. But even considering that, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is incredibly hard for all the wrong reasons. While I don’t consider the game to be terrible seeing how it is mostly functional, we still need to discuss why this is a key example of bad game design.
A Thousand Broken Controllers
You control Arthur, the archetypal brave knight character on his way to save his beloved Princess Prin Prin from Satan. Right away, you’re in a graveyard where zombies will swarm all over you. But you have a throwing lance that kills most enemies with one hit. So you kill the zombies, and then more pop up out of the ground.
At first, Ghosts ‘n Goblins doesn’t seem bad. It may be busy, but nothing bad yet. It looked like it was going to be a reasonably good platformer where quick reflexes and timing are everything. Oh, if only…
Everyone, meet the Red Arremer. Also known as the Red Devil. Also known as the RED ASSHOLE! This is the enemy that caused the majority of players for this game to rage-quit. He’s a cheap bastard who stays in the air for most of the time, then swoops down for a homing attack. Oh, and he can also shoot energy balls.
That’s when you realize that Arthur dies from only two hits. When he takes damage for the first time, he loses his armor. But the second time, he turns into a pile of bones. That’s it. TWO HITS!
But we’re still not at the worst of it. Oh, nooo… we’re just getting started, people.
Eventually, you may find out how to beat the Red Asshole. If you time it just right, you can jump away from him right before he’s ready to charge at you. Then, face him during mid-jump and keep throwing all those lances at him. Do it just right and his charging attack will miss. This is also a great opportunity to damage him since he only gets to the ground when he attacks.
However, you encounter more problems with the game along the way. You will find that enemies will pop up all over the screen, spawning at random points and moving in irregular patterns. This turns Ghosts ‘n Goblins into a deadly game of dodgeball. And many of these enemies also try to home in on your position.
It’s annoying. Really annoying. IT’S SO FUCKING ANNOYING, YOU SONS OF BITCHES! I SWEAR I WILL KILL ALL YOUR F—
The Knife is the Mantra
So as you play through Ghosts ‘n Goblins (or as much as you’re willing to stomach), you will find that enemies may randomly drop weapons. But whatever you do, STAY AWAY FROM ALL OF THEM EXCEPT THE THROWING KNIFE!
The lance is an okay weapon, but it’s fairly weak and slow.
Take it in the face, bitch!
The dagger is the best weapon in the game. It’s basically a much faster lance, therefore a higher damage output.
The torch, also known as the fireball, is one of the worst weapons in the game. You can throw up to two fireballs that will erupt on the ground. However, it still has a low damage output and the delay makes it not worth the time at all.
The throwing axe is an even crappier version of the fireball. It arcs at a 45 degree angle, which is very pointless where aim and precision are everything.
The shield is yet another weapon you have to throw, but it has a very short range compared to the other weapons. However, it has the advantage of cancelling out enemy projectiles and hurting enemies. Not really good, but still better than the torch and the axe.
How the FUCK are the majority of these so-called powerups so god awful? For most of the game, your best companion is the throwing knife. As the Angry Video Game Nerd said:
- Get the knife.
- Get the knife.
- GET THE KNIFE.
You wanna cut steak with a spoon? No… get the knife.
I love the FUCKING NERD! Sue me.
But seriously… if you get any other weapon and you die, you still keep that weapon when you respawn. And getting a new weapon is a REEEEEAL bitch.
Also, most of the items are completely useless. All they do is give you extra points, something you don’t really care about in a game like this. You may get a suit of armor to get your hitpoint back, but that is a VERY rare occurrence.
At the end of the first level, you will fight the inappropriately named Unicorn boss. Basically, this is a big cyclops who can charge at you and also shoot fireballs. This boss is total bullshit too. Every time he charges at you, it’s impossible to avoid him. He’s too big to jump over and he comes towards you really fast.
Your best bet is to throw the knife at him as fast as you can. Or use the turbo button. Keep running back so you can buy more time to damage him. Finally, you beat him and get the key to the next level. Wonderful.
Oh, by the way… the game NEVER explains this to you. All of the bosses are completely resistant to at least one weapon you can get.
- Unicorn – Shield
- Dragon – Lance
- Satan – Axe
- Astaroth – you can’t fight him unless you have the shield equipped
So if you’re wondering why your weapons are not really hurting the bosses, that’s why. Your weapons are doing NO DAMAGE at all. That is one of the worst feats of fake difficulty you can throw in your godforsaken game. You come all this way to fight the fucking boss, and you can’t even hurt him. Let alone change your weapons. It is just disgusting.
We’re in Video Game Hell
So after that rude awakening of a first level, the second level throws multiple enemies at you and your main instinct is to get through it as fast as you can. But eventually, you will come across the titular goblins.
And they drop radioactive blue shits.
Level 2 is mainly frustrating because of these guys. They stay up next to the top of the ladders so that they can attack you immediately when you try to climb it. And getting them to walk away from the ladders is like waiting for the planets to align.
But once you find an opening and climb to the top of the ladder, the nearest one will charge at you immediately while firing projectiles. You can try stopping him with the knife, but it takes around ten hits to finally kill him off. But even after you succeed in killing him off, you still have more goblins to deal with along the way. And holy fucking shit, they do NOT play fair!
How, you ask? Because Ghosts ‘n Goblins is very strict on the time limit. By trying to wait for the goblins to move away from the ladders, you waste away precious seconds. It brings about that feeling of dread that causes any gamer to go insane. It’s a very cheap tactic that attempts to make you quit the game at level 2.
But even with all that shit, now you have to fight TWO Unicorns in a boss battle. Fuck. Me.
GODDAMNIT! WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE BATS IN THESE GAMES?!?!?!?!
But level 3. Good lord, the cheapness continues to skyrocket. This level in particular is crawling with more of the Red Devils. Even when you’re used to fighting these bastards, try fighting them in a more uneven area that requires you to jump over so many heights. Your best bet is to run as far as you can and hope they de-spawn, or find a flatter area where you can fight them fair and square.
And then you fight the dragon boss, who moves in an erratic pattern. And if you die here, back to the last checkpoint! You know, the one where you had to bypass three Red Devils to get here.
By this point, you’re starting to notice more problems with the game. Arthur controls very stiffly, as his walk cycle has no sense of momentum. Every time he jumps, it’s always in a locked arc like in Castlevania. You also can’t get out of ducking position or off a ladder if you try sliding your finger to the next direction you want to go to. Oh-ho-ho no… YOU HAVE TO LET GO OF THE D-PAD BEFORE YOU CHANGE DIRECTION.
It’s similar to how the original Donkey Kong arcade game controlled, but that game was more lax in your reaction times. This game, however, doesn’t fuck around with that. It can even get you killed!
So after you try to go through five shit-tastic levels, you get to the last stage. Now this is where the game pulls some REAL BULLSHIT on you. You have to get the shield weapon by the end of level 6. If you finish level 6 without it, you start back in level 5. That’s right. Your reward for completing the level is to go back one space.
What the actual fuck. This was never explained in the game beforehand. This is what you call a total ripoff.
So AFTER you beat level 6 with the shield, you get to fight the Devil himself. The lord Astaroth. Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuut…
This is the easiest fucking moment in the game. All Astaroth does is move back and forth slowly while occasionally spitting out an easy-to-dodge fireball. Oh, and the shield can block those too. Arthur is also always facing right in this stage too, so your attacks missing him is nearly impossible. And then you beat him like it’s nothing. And just when you think the game stopped trolling you, you get this:
…So this is what happened. You kinda beat the game, but not really. To get the REAL ending, you have to go through a second quest. Same exact levels, but slightly harder. That is just too fucking cruel. Who would want to go through this shit again?
So you may feel completely resigned and shut off the game. Or you may continue subjecting yourself to more of this sadistic bullshit, because you want to see what the real ending is like.
Well, I’m going to save you the trouble. Here you go.
“This story is happy end.” What the fuck is this shit.
Yep. A poorly translated wall of text with Arthur’s and the princess’s sprites. That’s it. No more. No less.
Whew… what a shitstorm this game is.
So, let’s talk a bit more. Regarding the game’s difficulty, the Angry Video Game Nerd said:
In Ghosts ‘n Goblins, the first time you get hit, you lose your armor. Second time, you lose your skin, and that’s it. It’s as if they programmed the game and then said, “You know what? It needs an Expert setting,” and then they programmed it, but forgot to add it in the menus. It’s a theory, but It’s the best guess I can come up with. Why else would they make the game so fucking hard?
It’s an interesting theory, but I’m going to have to disagree here. I have proof that this the game’s difficulty is completely deliberate.
Terrorizing the Arcades Since 1985
Everyone, allow me to introduce you to the original arcade game. The NES game is just a port. In both games, you only have two hitpoints and replenishing your health is rarely possible. And both games are ridiculously difficult. If Capcom wanted to add a difficulty setting for the Ghosts ‘n Goblins NES port, they could’ve done so. But they didn’t, so I don’t think the NES game being so fucking difficult is an accident. They did it just to dick with us.
Oh, but not just that. There are MANY ports to this game. Game Boy Color, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, MSX, Atari ST, certain IBM PCs, and ports of the original arcade game for the Game Boy Advance, Sega Saturn, and PlayStation.
…Wow. Capcom had been getting around.
For those curious about the arcade game, it’s essentially the same game as the NES port. Of course, it has the better graphics and sound design. It also has slightly smoother controls. Unfortunately, the same problems on the NES game are present in the arcade game too. It’s not that much easier and the difficulty is still unfair.
I Will Be Your Commodore Tonight
Next, let’s talk about the Commodore 64 version of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Shit, I never thought this would end up being the first C64 game I review.
The Commodore 64 version is somewhat different. It only has a single generic tune that never played in the original game. As far as I know, there are only two weapons: the lance and the torch (I could be wrong, though). There are also only four levels in the whole thing, as opposed to the six levels in the other versions of the game—not counting the insulting second quest.
The big problem with this game is that you only have five lives and no continues. So once you lose all lives, it’s back to level one.
But I guess since the game is absurdly short, this is an attempt to extend the game’s life.
Of course, you can’t win in these situations still. A lot of hazards this time spawn BELOW you, giving you a microsecond of reaction time to jump over them. I mean, fuck, at least give us a LITTLE more time to react.
But by far, this is the worst version of the game I played. Unsurprising since it is from an older system after all. But all you fight are three Unicorn bosses and one Dragon boss. You don’t meet any of the Satan bosses or even fight Astaroth. So once you beat the dragon boss, you get the ending.
Masochism on the Go!
The last version I’ll cover is Ghosts ‘n Goblins on the Game Boy Color. And strangely enough, I think this is the best version of the game to go with. But only because of one awesome feature.
PASSWORD SAVE SYSTEM
So you don’t have to start from the beginning every time you want to subject yourself to this evil game.
Of course, it’s hard as balls. I’m not sure what I’m expecting.
Oddly enough, the Game Boy Color version is very similar to the NES version. It’s a little surprising that a handheld game of this era is almost the same quality as a console game.
However, same problems as always. Stiff controls, enemies instantly spawning at your location, two hitpoints, etc.
And strangely enough, the controls seem a little smoother than the NES game. I’m not sure why.
And I seem to have trouble getting the other weapons. They just don’t want to show up. There is also the resolution issue. The game as a whole feels like a blown up version of the NES game, which makes it pretty difficult to see where you’re supposed to go.
The Red Arremers are actually not as bad in this version of the game as the arcade and NES versions. Still, the bosses are real bastards to fight. And for some reason, the throwing dagger seems to do jackshit against Satan.
Well, that’s real fair, Capcom. Making ANOTHER weapon useless. Fuck you.
And of course, there are all those OTHER ports and versions of this same exact game. But due to my lack of resources, I won’t play those versions. Let’s just say that the Commodore 64 version isn’t the most primitive of the bunch…
Woooooow. If the shittiness wasn’t apparent before, then this will change your mind.
It’s like you can’t run away from this game back in the old days. Playing this game is like a real TRIAL, and anyone who can somehow master the broken mechanics and predict the unpredictable is a real hero.
In my opinion, Ghosts ‘n Goblins was never meant to be a fair challenge. It’s an arcade game designed to piss you off by blatantly humiliating you right from the first level, so that you can drop in more quarters. The ports, though? Who knows. I feel sorry for the poor schmucks back in the day who had to drop $50 for the video game equivalent of a middle finger from Capcom. Like, there’s no way they could’ve known that this was going to be a seriously badly designed game, except word of mouth.
But somehow, this game is a Capcom classic. Even if it’s not really a good game, people still play it to see how far they can go without any cheats. It’s like an ultimate test of how well you adapt to a game’s rules, whether it plays fair or not.
There’s no avoiding it, though. There is a massive amount of fake difficulty in Ghosts ‘n Goblins. But in a way, I guess you can still find some enjoyment in it. After all, overcoming an incredibly difficult challenge by yourself is a feel-good moment. And if that’s the kind of game you want to try, then I wish you luck.
YOU WILL NEED A SHIT TON OF IT.
Ghosts 'n GoblinsPrice Varies
- The controls are pretty tight for their time, though it might work against you too...
- The challenge, unfair as it may be, is the big selling point here.
- The Game Boy Color version has a password save feature.
- The game's challenge is mostly fake difficulty and bad design, due to terrible weapons, random enemy patterns, bosses that take a lot of hits to die, low hitpoints, etc.
- One instance of bad game design: certain weapons do nothing against certain bosses. And you don't learn about this until it's too late.
- The time limit is ridiculously strict.
- The final boss fight is ridiculously anti-climactic.
- The fact that you need to have the shield to fight the final boss, which the game tells you at the last second. It also sends you a level BACK to pour more salt into the wound.
- The fact that you have to play through the whole game TWICE to get the real ending.