There’s an old saying that any gamer from the 8-bit era is likely to recognize: “There’s hard, and there’s NINTENDO HARD!”. Games from that era are absolutely brutal, from the impossible Battletoads to the improbable Ninja Gaiden. Even Nintendo got in on the action, as The Legend of Zelda 2 and Metroid were two of the most difficult offerings in the library! It was a time when gamers went in with the expectation that they were NOT going to see the end, and that was okay because the gameplay would keep them coming back.
But times change, and in the interest of growing the market further, it was inevitable that things were going to get easier. Yet if you look deep enough you will see holdouts. Case in point: Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, a sequel to one of the hardest games the NES produced.
The story is simple. Having fought his way through the Demon Realm and rescuing the princess, Arthur returns to a celebration and a chance for a well-deserved smooch-fest. Naturally the demons followed our hero and kidnap the princess just before Arthur can get his groove on. It is then up to Arthur to go BACK to the Demon Realm and save the day.
And so it begins. One of the first things that you are likely to appreciate is that even though this is a platformer, it’s no Mario clone. Arthur controls like the heavily-armored tank that he is, unable to control his jump once initiated. Sure he can go the other way or elongate his original leap with another well-timed jump, but after that your direction is determined! The result is that this becomes a thinking man’s platformer, forcing you to consider the terrain and enemy layout much more than your standard twitch platform fare. It is difficult to get used to, yet refreshing take on a genre that is built on copying the ubiquitous plumber’s gameplay style.
So since mobility isn’t Arthur’s strong suit, it’s a good thing that he came prepared with a wide variety of weapons and armor stashed throughout levels. You start life with standard grey armor and a lance that is thrown for considerable damage. Getting green armor upgrades your weapon to a magical form that does more damage, and finding the rare golden armor allows you to cast magical spells by holding your attack. The weapons vary in type and usefulness, from fast knives to ground-scorching torch bombs. The most useful is the crossbow, and this is not an opinion but scientific fact, proven by Dr. Mongunzoo through years of brutal trial and error. If you find one, KEEP IT!
That’s because the denizens of Demon Realm are looking to make mincemeat out of our hero. Every level has its own unique enemies that must be adapted to, from leaping werewolves to teleporting ghosts to the ever annoying red reamers (Demons Crest fans might know this jerk as Firebrand). Even the treasure chests sometimes contain an evil jester that will turn you into a variety of useless forms like a baby or a little girl, so it pays to always be on your toes!
Silly transformations aside, remember this rule: Regardless of which type of armor you are sporting, get hit and it’s gone. Arthur is left in his iconic boxer shorts. Get hit again and you’re worm food. This rule is at the heart of one of the most difficult series in gaming. Two hits and you’re dead means that no matter how good you get, you are likely going to die numerous times. It’s guaranteed to be a shocking revelation to modern gamers who are use to being able to save anywhere and health regeneration. Just be warned that Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is not for the faint of heart.
Presentation is so professional that you will have a hard time believing that this came out in 1991. Capcom honestly did a better job than Nintendo in showcasing what the SNES can do, creating a Mode 7 monster that ties gameplay and visuals into one of the systems most diverse and gripping adventures.
Checkpoints are sparse but logical, occurring whenever there is a change in scenery. You don’t have to wait long for this, as Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts starts us off against tidal waves that roll in from the background and threaten to dash you on the rocks in the FIRST LEVEL! Level two gives us ships that sink into a foggy sea as you jump from deck to deck. Later on you’ll climb a subterranean tower that spirals round and round, and even visit the active guts of a giant monster. And these are just a few of the things you will deal with.
The art design also goes a long way in bringing this dead and perilous world to life, giving us large sprites that are full of detail (The tassel on Arthur’s helm waggles!). Enemies also impress with everything from standard zombies to giant fire-breathing wolf beasts. Environments are diverse and original, and though they revolve around familiar themes, the addition of spooky elements gives them a flavor all its own.When you finally get to the Ice World, prepare to bear witness to one of 1991’s most unforgettable experiences, as everything from the special effects to the level design is just top-notch.
The sound design is equally pleasing, though unoriginal. It offers various re-mixes from the series past entries, adding to the haunted house atmosphere substantially. You could make a case that the music was intentionally doing this in order to show off the power of that SNES sound chip, and though it would have been nice to get some original compositions, it is difficult to argue with the results. The sound effects do their job well, from the clanking of Arthur’s bones as he loses a life to the firing of the crossbow.
Being one of the SNES’s first games, it is difficult not to compare it to other early-arriving games. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts stacks up as the finest early showcase for what the SNES is capable of, even putting Super Mario World to shame by completely blurring the line between graphics and gameplay. Simply put, if you remove the Mode 7 goodness from Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, you would have an entirely different game, and a much lesser experience.
So does that mean that Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts has the system’s best platforming? Not by a long shot! The problem is that the game is just going to be too tough for many people, and while difficulty is not in and of itself a bad thing, there are places in this game that will reek of unfairness and erect a brick wall to block your progress. Level three involves jumping to small platforms sloping downward, and due to the way Arthur jumps, it can be almost impossible. Though I finally beat it, I never came away from that section feeling like it was skill that triumphed, just good luck. And then when you finally get to the end, the game plays a horrendous trick on you that just may spell the end of your SNES controller! Still, at the low price that this game goes for, fans of platforming owe it to themselves to step into the quivering boots of one of gaming best heroes.
Four Out Of Five Stars
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