Review by InvincibleEagle
"This game is a trap devised by Satan."
Welcome to Hell. This is Ghosts 'N Goblins on NES. It is a game that shows hatred to all and mercy to none, and it truly deserves its reputation as one of the toughest games on the system. And it's also one of the most addicting. But is it worth playing, considering all of its soul cursing malice? You must decide that for yourself. Consider this review a warning to all who fancy themselves worthy of venturing into the lungs of Hell itself and going against the Lord of Ultimate Evil, the Devil himself.
The first thing you often notice about any game you play is its visual presentation; therefore I believe the graphics are a good place to start. The quality of the graphics is typical of early NES releases. They are better than games like Super Mario Bros. and Kung Fu, but not quite as good as later titles such as Ninja Gaiden and River City Ransom. Everything looks like what it represents, and there is plenty of color. Most of the surfaces are composed of rows of square bricks, a look common to many NES games. The only significant flaw I can think of is that the buildings appear flat against the background where adding another wall for perspective would have enhanced the look tremendously. Also, skies are solid black. I suppose they could have added a moon or white dots for stars, but whatever; I don't really care.
The atmosphere of Ghosts 'N Goblins is what wins this category for me. It is a gothic dark fantasy setting, similar to games like Diablo, that takes you through creepy cemeteries, dark forests, medieval villages, and dark and fiery caves until you find yourself in the womb of the Devil's Dungeon, trapped without a plea. The enemies also look very appropriate for the setting. With zombies, ghosts, skeletons, bats, demons, and dragons, nothing looks out of place here. Your character looks good as well. The knight's armor is visibly jointed at his shoulders, elbows, legs, boots, and face guard; he also has a distinguished face with well-defined eyes, ears, and a beard. He's one of the coolest looking heroes on NES; it's too bad he'll be running around in his underwear most of the time.
Sound: below average
When regarding this game's sound, the quality is once again typical of its era in video game history. No surprises here. The sound effects consist of standard NES clicks and beeps, and the music isn't much better. The iconic GnG theme that plays during the first couple of levels is pretty good, but the rest of the music is quite forgettable. So turn down your volume and pop in your favorite speed metal album, and you're all set for some good'ole masochistic mischief.
Story: good enough
Remember when games could tell adequate stories with nothing but a single five second cutscene? In Ghosts 'N Goblins we just see a demon kidnap some girl, and that tells all we need to know. Nothing but the old princess cliche. But, once again, I have to give it bonus points just because of the occult atmosphere. It's Double Dragon with Satan, and I love it!
Gameplay: good stuff
No surprises here. Ghosts 'N Goblins plays like your standard NES side scroller for the most part. You jump and shoot your way to victory (or, more than likely, defeat). There are six unique levels with their own challenges. Level one takes you through a graveyard and a forest. It's just a typical sidescrolling level meant to get players used to the game and its crushing difficulty. The second level is a village that involves a whole lot of platforming and climbing. The third level is cave that involves fighting individual demons each on a unique terrain. The fourth level makes you cross a bridge while avoiding fountains of fire. The fifth level is a longer, more challenging level. And the sixth level is a boss rush with very tricky ladder situations. If you manage to get through all that, you go to a final stage which is just a single boss fight.
This game features a wide variety of enemies with unique attack patterns. There are zombies, bats, ghosts, demons, and more. However, I can't say that the same level of variety applies to the game's bosses. There are six levels, but only three boss monsters, not including the final boss and his stage. Level two recycles level one's boss, level four recycles level three's boss, and level six recycles level five's boss (whom the manual calls Satan, so let's just call two of them Beelzebub and Asmodeus).
Arthur has five weapons at his disposal, and no two are identical. You start off with a javelin; it's a moderate weapon that shoots straight ahead. It's pretty good, but you should get the daggers as soon as possible. The dagger also shoots straight, but it is much faster, making it ideal for the beefy enemies that you'll encounter on your quest. Next, we have the torch and the axe. Both weapons fly in an arch pattern, making them extremely unreliable; what makes the torch even worse is that it sets fires on the ground that disable your ability to defend yourself as long as they burn. Avoid these two weapons at all costs. I think the game designers even knew they were bad since they appear throughout the game as if they are obstacles to overcome. The fifth weapon is a shield that you throw Captain America style. Like the javelin and knife it shoots straight ahead. However, it differs in that it can destroy enemy projectiles, but its range is short. I like the shield despite its short range. In fact, its limited range is advantageous in the last level when you must be careful about waking up red demons. Overall, I think the game tries to have variety in weapons, but it fails since only two out of five are useful.
Controls: below average
This is where I get critical. D-pad moves, A jumps, B shoots, and start pauses. Therefore, the controls of Ghosts 'N Goblins may seem just fine at face value, but let me explain their fatal (and I do mean fatal!) flaws. For one thing, they can be unresponsive, and at the worst times too. You will often find yourself getting killed because you jumped straight up instead of forward even though you were clearly holding a directional button. Other times, the game won't even register your attempts to turn around in time or jump at all.
The controls also limit your attack options to two directions only: left or right. Imagine playing Contra without the freedom of vertical and diagonal attacks.
One more thing that bothers me about the controls is that you can't run right from a crouch. If you are holding down, and then you really need to get away from something, you can't just slide you thumb from down to left/right. Instead, you need to remove your thumb from the D-Pad entirely, and then run. Otherwise, you'll just turn around in your crouch. Don't get me wrong; you will need to turn around while crouching at times, but other games like Castlevania were able to let you turn around as well as run straight from a crouch. You'll get used to it, but you shouldn't have to.
One thing I gotta say, this time in the game's favor, is in regards to its jump attack mechanics. While GnG does not let you change the direction of your jump, it will let you use the opposite directional button to attack enemies behind you while in the air, allowing you to attack while you flee. This tactic is invaluable against the wretched red demons, and I am glad that I can't move while jumping because of this.
This is where things go to Hell. This is the one why the game is so well known. It's hard. How hard? Damned hard. Why is it so damned hard? For starters, you can only get hit twice. One hit will remove your armor, and the next hit will kill you deader than a hammer. That's it. And unlike Contra, another life bar-less game, you have to start from your last checkpoint each time you die. On top of that, there is a strict time limit. These factors leave zero room for error, forcing players to channel Billy Michell levels of skill if they wish to see past the first level.
A game like this at least has to be fair, right? Every death will be preventable with enough practice, right? Wrong. I don't care how well you memorize every step and enemy attack; that is not going to stop ghosts from spawning right where you stand to take a cheap shot at you. You're on level six. You braved the unicorn and the dragon. You slew the Pigmen, and you sneaked past the demons. Clinging onto life by the skin o' your teeth, you race up the ladders, ready to face the twin Satans. When suddenly, out of thin air, a ghost appears with you on the ladder! Back to start! Have fun!
And what happens once you vanquish the entire army of the Underworld? Guess. You have to vanquish the entire army of the Underworld AGAIN! I'm not kidding. Now you may be thinking, "That's fine. If I beat it once, and it's still fresh in my mind, then I'll just go dauntlessly with rapid progress the second time. No prob." Well you're in for a surprise. The second time around, the monsters are faster, stronger, smarter, and more evil than ever before, making you rethink entire level strategies. It's as if the nice folks at Capcom just thought the game was too easy.
Damn this game. Damn it to Hell. But why can't I stop playing? That's a question I'm sure every serious NES gamester asked themselves at one point. It abuses us to no end, yet we love it. This game is like a Succubus sent straight from the depths of Hell to steal our souls through sadistic pleasure. But once we defeat her, we reign dominant over the demonic influence, feeling more powerful than ever before. And that is why we cannot, no that is why we will not ever stop playing Ghosts 'N Goblins. We seek mastery over unseen malevolent forces.
So should you play Ghosts 'N Goblins? Answer yes only if you absolutely have what it takes to put on an iron shirt and chase Satan out Earth.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 11/05/12
Game Release: Ghosts 'n Goblins (US, 11/30/86)
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