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Ghouls ‘N Ghosts – Genesis

Ghouls ‘N Ghosts – Genesis

Ghouls 'N GhostsPlatform:  Sega Genesis

Developer:  Capcom

Publisher:  Capcom

Release Date (NA):  September 1989

Genre:  Platformer, Run-and-gun

Nerd Rating:  5 out of 10

I set out this evening to take a break from my recent binge on Castlevania, and funnily enough I landed on another horror-themed title, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.  I picked it up used a few weeks ago and the alluring cover art has had my attention ever since.  To my surprise, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts has a healthy reputation in retro circles and serves as the sequel to Ghosts ‘N Goblins for the NES.  The game is competent and has a few bright spots, but overall it possesses the hallmarks that drag many games of this era down: it’s short, difficult, and repetitive.

The story has something to do with King Arthur fighting the demon Loki (a.k.a. The Prince of Darkness) who has brought forth the world of “ghouls ‘n ghosts” on Earth.  Why Capcom decided to combine English folklore, Norse mythology, and a dash of Christian demonology (there’s a giant fly near the end in an obvious nod to Beelzebub, a.k.a. “Lord of the Flies,” not to mention the “Prince of Darkness” reference) is a complete mystery to me.  Anyway, that’s the deal, plus I think Loki kidnapped a girl.  Not much to go on, but I suppose Capcom had to come up with some reason for all sorts of monsters to be roaming around.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts

You can kill them if you want, but they just…come…back…

Gameplay consists of walking through levels, negotiating obstacles, and killing hordes of enemies.  Ghouls ‘N Ghosts specifically falls under run-and-gun territory due to the massive, never-ending onslaught of enemies.  Kill a couple, it doesn’t matter, they just pop right back up out of the ground or from behind a tree or fall from the sky.  The real challenge is killing the endless band of monsters while dealing with tough environmental hazards.  Plenty of areas require perfect timing, but a touch of luck is included as well.  Since one can’t kill all the baddies first and then deal with platforming elements (since the bastards come back as soon as one falls), precision jumping and split-second decision making are a must.  Neither combat nor navigating the environment are all that difficult on their own, but put ’em together and and mayhem ensues.

Ghouls 'N GhostsArthur can find a number of useful weapons along the way, all of which act as projectiles aside from the sword.  Items include axes, lances, knives, something that looks and acts suspiciously like holy water from Castlevania, and other indiscriminate blobs.  Most of the weapons function virtually the same, and I’m not sure where the justification was for including so many.  One way to collect them is by opening treasure chests, but as a sort of cruel joke, at least half of the damn chests contain some sort of warlock that transforms you into a duck.  Believe it or not, you’re completely defenseless as a duck and are forced to try your best to stay alive until you change back.  Seriously, so many treasure chests are filled with these guys that you’ll probably find yourself avoiding them as much as you can.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts

It’s weird, everything else made out of fire in this stage can’t be hurt, but the boss can be taken out with conventional weapons just fine!

Jumping is wacky and unnatural like a lot of games from this time.  Arthur jumps either straight up or in a fixed arc, leaving little room for midair adjustments and precision landings.  Instead, it’s necessary to line Arthur up ahead of time and then jump, repeating as necessary.  Combat is about as standard as one would expect; typically 1 to 3 hits will kill an enemy and it’s easy to launch a barrage of attacks.  One major problem, however, is that about half the enemies can’t be harmed, meaning you’ll just have to kill what you can and dodge the rest.  Arthur isn’t the most agile or maneuverable protagonist, and not being able to move nearly half as fast as the monsters is one thing that makes this game so damn hard.

Ghouls 'N GhostsLevel design in Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is marginally satisfying.  There are a few tricky areas where it isn’t immediately clear what the player should do, but each stage has its own identifiable characteristics and a few inventive features.  Bosses appear every couple of stages with varying difficulty, generally using easily recognizable patterns.  Again, Arthur’s sluggishness comes into play, making some battles harder than they need to be.  The great thing about Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is that even though our hero only has 3 lives, the stages are quite short and Arthur only has to begin anew from the beginning of said level.  After 3 lives are lost the player has the option to continue, and it would seem that the continues are limitless.  When a continue is used, the player starts right back at the beginning of whatever stage he or she died at.  Ultimately the lives and continues are pointless designations; Arthur may as well have a single life and infinite continues or infinite lives altogether.

Graphics could be better, but they do a decent job of getting the point across.  Granted Ghouls ‘N Ghosts was made in 1989, though most of the visuals look more like a late 8-bit title than a true 16-bit release.  Most of the sprites are adequately detailed, and like so many other games, the bosses are the real highlights.  Although cartoony, they are nicely drawn.  The giant fly boss (Beelzebub as I’ve taken to calling him) stands out as memorable and the towering Loki is a dead wringer for stereotypical Satan portrayals.    Backgrounds could use a little work as they’re mostly blank, but for the most part the graphics do a decent job of setting the mood for this monster-y world even if they are a tad forgettable.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts

Not only is it a giant fly, but it also turns into a swarm of flies as it moves around the room.

The sound consists of prototypical beeps and clicks from the era, interspersed by mutations of static noises and other weird “clangs” and “blips.”  Unoffensive yet innocuous music plays in the background.  I don’t even remember what it sounds like less than an hour after playing, proving that it’s neither remarkable nor abhorrent.  Like the graphics, the sound and sound quality in general feels like it came straight from the 8-bit days.

If one can find the mental acumen to force their way through this mess of monsters, they’ll quickly see what a short game Ghouls ‘N Ghosts really is.  In fact the entire map is laid out on the screen before and after every level.  When I first saw it I figured the map depicted the first of maybe 4 or more similarly sized stages, but no, what you see on the map is all that there is.  In a crazy attempt to compensate for length, Capcom pulls a nasty little trick at the end.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts

The whole game.

Just before entering the final set of doors to face off against Loki, a magical cutscene appears telling Arthur that he has to meet up with a goddess in the village for some magic power or some shit.  Naturally I figured I’d overlooked something (though I found it difficult to believe in a game like this) but the power of the internet proved that I wasn’t crazy.  Indeed I had to start all over, at the very beginning.  The objective is to collect items as before, except that this time, some chests and vases contain the special goddess who gives Arthur a magic orb to throw, or something.  Procuring other weapons will override the ability, but it’s no big deal since you’ve got to make it through the whole damn game again anyway.  The player will, however, want to make sure that he or she gets and keeps the “magical orb” near the end of the game, because it’s the only thing that can damage Loki.

On a final note, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts does have a few built in cheat codes.  My first course of action was the Game Genie, but the cart didn’t seem to like it and wouldn’t boot.  It did fine with the Game Genie turned off, but when I switched it back on to play it promptly reset itself.  No matter though, there’s a built-in invincibility code that not only ensures you don’t take damage from enemies, but you don’t even touch them.  No getting knocked back, no getting stopped, no nothing.  Arthur can plainly walk right through any of ’em.  If you want to give it a go yourself, here’s how:

    1. Make sure you’re on the screen that says “Press Start.”  Work quickly because if you take too long the game will go into demo mode.
    2. Quickly enter A, A, A, A, Up, Down, Left, Right and you’ll hear a chime if done correctly
    3. Hold B and press Start; this will take you to the “1P,” “2P,” and “Options” screen and you’ll hear another chime.
    4. Now hold C and press Start.
    5. Congrats, the game has been started with an invincible Arthur!
Ghouls 'N Ghosts

Loki, Satan, whatever!

Ghouls ‘N Ghosts isn’t a bad game, I just didn’t happen to find much substance within.  Gameplay is repetitive but the game is short enough that it doesn’t ever quite get boring.  The graphics are also a bit lackluster when I think of some of the beautiful games offered up on the Genesis; were these graphics found on the NES or Sega Master System they’d be much more impressive.  Despite my lukewarm impressions, if you’re the kind of retro gamer who enjoys straightforward, no frills killing of hordes of monsters, you could definitely do a lot a worse.

Reviewed by The Cubist

Written by The Cubist

The Cubist

Co-founder, Head Author, & Site Technician

Find out what these ratings mean and how I rate video games.

I collect as much video gaming paraphernalia as I can get my hands on, especially when it comes to hardware. With over 40 systems including oldies like the ColecoVision and Intellivision, obscurities like the CD-i and 3DO, and the latest and greatest including the Wii U, PS4, Xbox One, 3DS, and PS Vita, I get easily overwhelmed. Most of the time you can find me firmly nestled sometime between 1985 and 1995 when it comes to my games of choice, but I’m also having a great time seeing what the 8th generation has to offer.

Currently in love with: Mortal Kombat

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