Review by SturokBGD

"One man (and his boxer shorts) CAN make a difference..."

It is the year 2002, and Capcom have just released their recent console hit ''Maximo'' on the next-generation Playstation 2 games console. Gamers all over the world can be heard screaming in frustration, declaring the ''old-school'' gameplay to be too hard, too frustrating, far too much for their fragile little thumbs to take.

It would seem to me, however, that at some point in the history of videogames, gamers have just gotten soft.

Why would I say that?

Turn back the clock a few years, 17 years to be precise, to the year 1985. Capcom have just released their latest arcade hit ''Ghosts 'n' Goblins'' - the first in a series of games that spawned several sequels and spin-offs (including Ghouls 'n' Ghosts, Gargoyle's Quest, and the aforementioned Maximo) that is so tough, it has grown men openly weeping in public. It would seem like the word ''hard'' was invented just for this game... this is hardcore.

Perhaps We’d Better Start At The Beginning

Ghosts 'n' Goblins is a traditional side-scrolling platform/shooting game, just like many others from back in those days, and is as “old-school” as they come. It has a tiny shred of a plot, being set in a medieval era and involving the heroic adventures of Arthur, a knight who’s just recently had his lady friend inexplicably snatched away from him by some unknown flying red gargoyle creature (shown in the in-game “cut-scene”, if you could call it that, at the start of each new game). This is 1985, that’s about as in-depth as these things get... it’s all just an excuse for the 6 levels of classic platform/shooting action that follow.

The game starts off in an old graveyard (a tradition that’s been carried on through the entire series), and continues the medieval/horror theme as it progresses, taking Arthur through dark forests, creepy old villages, into deep underground caverns, and around old haunted castles. Each one of these levels is filled with a varied selection of zombies, killer plants, flying red gargoyle creatures, skeletons, bats, ogres, and so on, and feature larger, tougher ''bosses'' at the end of each one.

It all sounds very dark and spooky, but there’s one thing that Capcom play against the horror idea with, something that I believe might have given Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins the edge over many of it’s peers – the humor.

My God! That Man Is Almost Naked!

Perhaps one of the most infamous gaming gimmicks of all time comes from Arthur’s habit of running around almost as nature intended him after being struck by an enemy or projectile... one hit, and his armor shatters and falls off, leaving him to run around in nothing but his boxer shorts. Back then, was hilarious to see this zombie-slaying knight running around graveyards in nothing but his underwear (no matter how many times you will see it though the course of the game), and it’s thankfully a theme Capcom kept for Maximo. Of course, Maximo can take a few hits in his boxers before finally falling down – if Arthur takes another hit while in his boxers, he disintegrates into a pile of bones, and it’s back to the last checkpoint.

When he’s not losing all his clothes, Arthur can be found throwing a variety of projectiles of his own back at the enemy. The default weapon is a lance, and if a creature drops the right bonus cauldron can be switched to be items such as daggers, throwable shields, and the cursed “fireball” weapon that’s caused the death of many joysticks (just try picking one up, you’ll see what I mean). The weapons aren’t nearly as varied as the ones found in the sequels, most of them are quite rare, and completely useless anyway – you’ll probably find yourself hanging on to the default lance weapon, or the dagger if you’re lucky enough.

Back In The Old Days, When The World Was In Black And White

This is 1985, so obviously the graphics and sound aren’t much to write home about. Visually, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins is bold and “cartoony”, yet still creepy and dark enough to keep it from looking childish. Most sprites are quite small, and only feature a couple of frames of animation – but zombies look like zombies, birds look like birds, demons look like demons... the visuals do what they’re meant to. Arthur himself has another couple of extra frames of animation, plus obviously has the with/without armor variations. The animation looks ridiculous when he’s running around in his boxers, though probably by design, to add to the effect of humor. Backgrounds are fairly basic, no fancy multiple-layered scrolling or effects, just simple images to let you know where you’re supposed to be. Again, they do the job, but they aren’t anywhere close to looking as good as the sequel (Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, 1988) does.

Sound is very basic, consisting of the usual “blips” that games had back then, though the soundtrack is quite memorable (the main theme tune has been recycled many times though the years), if not played at a particularly high quality. Standard stuff for 1985, but at least the main theme stands out.

Really, graphics and sound aren’t important to this game... it’s the teeth-grindingly tough gameplay that either grabs you and won’t let you go, or has you running away screaming like a baby.

A ''Man’s'' Game?

“Tough” is an understatement. It’s fair I think to say that games today rely more on how long you’re willing to sit though them before you get bored, rather than how good you are, to dictate how far you play though them. Games were nowhere near as big back in 1985 as they are now, so the difficulty levels were pushed to “insane” to keep you from beating them in minutes... many of them were also designed for arcade play, and were made difficult just to get gamers to plough in even more cash for one last continue. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins, however, isn’t even that forgiving. As playable as it is, you’ll be screaming your lungs out at it after playing it for any length of time, because it’s so damn hard. Not that it’s necessarily badly designed (though the red gargoyles are just out-and-out unfair at times), as the control is fairly responsive, and most of the time you can get yourself out of most tricky situations. Why, then, is the game so much fun (even today) if it’s so difficult?

It encourages practice. Practice makes perfect, and if you’ll willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears to get decent enough at the game to actually see past the second level, there’s nothing more rewarding. It’s the kind of gameplay that you’ll always hear older gamers going on about... you’re not getting killed because of bad design, or bad camera angles, or because the game just isn’t at all playable – you just aren’t good enough. Practice, and you will get better. It’s still headache-inducingly hard, but it’s always playable. And fun, no matter how many times you die and start over.

Back To The Future

This game is a full-blown classic. Whether you remember it with a nostalgic tear in your eye, or you’re a younger gamer who just can’t believe there’s a game that’s about 100 times harder than Maximo (or at least are just curious about Maximo’s roots), then check it out (I recommend playing this original arcade version through MAME, as the ports I've played are nowhere near as good). It’s not the greatest looking, or greatest sounding game in the world, and it’s quite basic even when compared to it’s sequels (which you should also check out). But with a little practice, and a little perseverance, you’ll get to love it like I did, all those years ago.

You just don’t get much more “old school” than this!

Overall : 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/05/02, Updated 03/05/02

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