Ghosts ‘n Goblins was first conceived back in 1985 a side-scrolling arcade platformer with a notorious difficulty. Fast forward 26 years, after several further entries and spin-offs to the franchise, Capcom has released Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. A title which, as the name suggests, has revived the series from hiatus and hopes to capture the essence of the original game. Unfortunately, Capcom achieves this goal a little too well, and many aspects of the gameplay feel as though they should have been left in 1985. For some lovers of the original games this might be a cause for celebration, but for new players (such as myself), or those not raised on infamously difficult 80s arcade games (such as myself), Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection ends up being a hugely frustrating experience.
Let’s start with the good. Set in a fairytale world, the player controls Arthur, an ironclad knight with a lovely pair of red-spotted boxers underneath. In a beautifully animated opening cutscene, dark forces come to wreak havoc on the kingdom and steal, you guessed it, the princess. Arthur donns his armour and begins the quest to rescue her. That’s about it for the story, but the story doesn’t need to do anything more than that. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is primarily about killing zombies, cyclops, and other nasties, and the game provides enough context to get you into the action right away.
For me, the best thing about Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is the visuals. Every aspect of the game, from menus to level design, has a storybook art style that managed to capture my imagination exceptionally well. The overworld displays levels on a scroll as though each level is a chapter in the story, enemies pop into view like parts of a pop-up book, and each of the hugely varied levels bursts with colour and character. Each level contains a myriad of your typical fairytale creatures to overcome, from skeletons to ghosts, man-eating plants to ogres, and more.
I was impressed with the amount of enemy variety between levels, with each stage using mostly unique enemies. Level variety is also top notch – you’ll fight your way through graveyards, swamps, occultist caverns and much more. Each stage is split into areas which themselves are massively diverse and give the player an urge to press on to see what’s next, even though they might want to snap their disc in half at times! One standout part of the visual design of the levels is the way that stages shift as you move through them, giving the impression that the world around you is ending. Not only did this increase my sense of discovery, but also made me feel as though I was playing the lead in an apocalypse movie like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012.
The soundtrack is definitely worth a mention, too. Retro right down to their core, the tunes on show are upbeat, camp, and jolly, similar to the ones you might hear at a festival or carnival. My favourite was the piece that played to the Crystalline City stage – it was a lot of fun and perfectly fit the vibe of the level.
I’ve spoken a lot about how the game looks, so let’s now talk about how it plays. As a 2D side scroller, your aim is to get to the end of each level by defeating enemies with the multitude of weapon pickups, avoiding nasty traps, and eventually beating a boss at the end of each stage to progress to the next. Each level is broken up into areas, and depending on which difficulty you choose, various checkpoints will be awarded to the player as they progress through the level. There are also collectables in each level that can be spent between levels on magical abilities that make the game a little easier as time goes on.
Now, while Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection undoubtedly has a great aesthetic, I cannot give the same praise to the gameplay. As alluded to in the introduction, the game simply does not feel good to play as a modern gamer unfamiliar with these kinds of retro games. Perhaps the biggest drawback in this regard is the difficulty. I don’t have an issue with difficult games (and by that I mean there is nothing wrong with them), however I do have an issue with difficult games that are either unfair in their difficulty, or are difficult because of a design flaw. Let’s break each of these two issues down in further detail.
Firstly, there were many, many times in Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection where my death felt unfair, such as making a jump only for a mob to spawn in my landing position, or having projectiles move along the screen in such a way that it made them impossible to dodge. While I understand that these things can happen in even the most celebrated difficult games, unfairness crept in my deaths much more often than I thought was reasonable. Secondly, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is made infinitely more difficult due to some design choices, the prime example of this being the way Arthur controls. Movement is floaty and jumps often feel imprecise, and when so much of the game relies on precise timing and avoiding countless enemies on screen, this often leads to frustration. Ultimately, I understand that Capcom is trying to replicate as much of the feel of the original games as possible – and I do commend them for that – however it must be stressed that those unfamiliar with the game’s roots will likely be put off by its difficulty and design.
Thankfully, Capcom allows players to choose an easier difficulty from the game before they start, and although still very frustrating at times, most players that select this difficulty will be able to move through the game at a reasonable pace. Furthermore, if you die enough times on a stage at any difficulty, the player is given the option to reduce the difficulty for the remainder of the stage, which, again, is a wonderful decision by Capcom which I think will be appreciated by many players.
Unfortunately, even when stepping away from the difficulty I still find faults with the gameplay. Another large issue the game has is in the weapons, which all feel very underpowered apart from the daggers. Daggers are projectiles that the player is able to fire rapidly, and with the amount of nasties running at you at any one time, you simply cannot do without them. It’s not an exaggeration to say that daggers are the best choice for 95% of situations in the game. This makes it doubly annoying when you pick up another weapon by mistake and feel underpowered until the daggers come along again. Picking up new weapons should feel rewarding and exciting, not disappointing or frustrating.
To finish on a positive note, I do think the bosses were really well designed (for the most part). Each stage has a unique, often multi-phased boss fight at the end which often play with different mechanics and have a great spectacle about them. My particular favourite was the large dragon which must be weakened from the sky then defeated on the ground.
When all is said and done, I appreciate that Capcom were trying to cater to a long-standing audience with Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, and while I personally did not get a tonne of enjoyment from it, fans of the genre almost certainly will. Although I found the gameplay frustrating and even rage inducing at times, I still recognise that Capcom have created something rather beautiful to look at, which I’m sure many people will find a soft spot for.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection
Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection looks great, sounds great, but unfortunately, doesn't play great. Fans of the genre and/or franchise will likely find a lot to enjoy here, but those new to the spooky world of Ghosts 'n Goblins may end up tapping out before they see the credits.