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Ghosts ‘N Goblins Retro Review (1986, NES)

Ghosts ‘N Goblins is the darkest of souls

Ghosts ‘N Goblins

There are a handful of games that I can say have given me nightmares after long sessions of play. I’m not embarrassed to admit that the original Resident Evil on Sony’s Playstation had me wake up in a cold sweat more than a few times, gasping loudly while a zombie was lunging toward me. Looking back at it now I still get a little freaked out when the first zombie encountered in the game stops chewing on a hunk of flesh and turns his attention to the player. I don’t remember where I read this tidbit of information but I was taken aback by the fact that the eye of the first zombie encountered was actually scanned from a real life cadaver! Freaky!

Another game that I am a little embarrassed to admit had given me nightmares is Ghosts ‘N Goblins for the Nintendo Entertainment System. My 7 year old self had received an NES Action Set, Kung-Fu, & Ghosts ‘N Goblins Christmas morning. Amongst the celebration of receiving my first game console, Ghosts ‘N Goblins got buried in the heaps of clothes that got tossed aside while searching for other “real presents”. That day was mostly spent playing Super Mario Bros and Kung-Fu so I had forgotten all about this torturous title. Looking back at it, it’s probably better that I had forgotten about it because that Christmas probably wouldn’t have been as enjoyable. It wasn’t until around 2am the day after Christmas that I remembered I had received another Nintendo game. I couldn’t sleep at all considering I had just been gifted an NES, so I decided to sneak downstairs and play the game that was buried in the clothes pile. After carefully tip-toeing past my parent’s room, I successfully made my way to the bottom of the stairs, sifted through ugly Oshkosh B’gosh sweaters, and snatched up Ghosts ‘N Goblins.

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A scantily clad knight and a fully clothed princess for a change!

Upon the press of the start button, a thunderous crash filled the living room that almost made me defecate in my pajamas, and also in turn, awoke my parents. Thankfully, they must have fell right back to sleep because once I was able to get the volume of the TV down I heard a few mumbles and then straight silence. What the hell just happened? After a quick glance at the manual I determined a big hairy demon just flew out of a thunder storm and grabbed up a blue-haired princess, and now it’s up to the player, who is a knight, to suit up in armor and get her back! Sounds easy, right? Well, it would be, but unfortunately for the knight there are zombies, ghosts, and ghastly abominations called Red Devils, who will all do anything in their power to kill the knight.

Once you get going you’ll notice that Ghosts ‘N Goblins’ visuals are dark but at the same time full of color. The lush greenery of the graveyard really pop out against the black night background. The knight himself is heroic looking when donning his armor and very puny looking when in his skivvies. Enemies are detailed with pale-skinned, red-eyed zombies, and humongous sprite bosses who will have you quivering in fear. To accompany the graphics, Ghosts ‘N Goblins’ music, while catchy, will begin to grate on your ears after a few play sessions. Get used to hearing the same tunes over and over again because this game will have you playing through the same level several times until you’ve managed to make it to the next area.

To progress through the game the knight must fight through several monsters from hell to eventually make it to a gate where upon defeating the gate keeper will reveal a key. At the 7th and final gate the knight must fight the Devil himself to rid the world of evil and rescue his princess. The knight starts the game off with a javelin, a moderately strong weapon. Throughout the level the knight can also acquire torches, swords, axes, and a cross. The javelin’s advantage is that when thrown it will travel to the end of the screen. The torch forms an arc and will continue to burn until it fizzles out, but you can only throw another torch once the first one is extinguished. This is considered to be the weapon that you want to avoid due to the one-at-a-time aspect. The sword is probably the best weapon in the game as it’s the quickest. The Axe also has a bit of an arc but unlike the flame; you can throw two at a time. The cross acts as a weapon but also will destroy projectiles hurled by the enemies. The special thing about the cross is that it’s needed to truly beat the Devil and get the completed ending. Each weapon is just as strong as the other with the only advantages being how they are thrown by the knight.

The knight himself is easy to control as long as you’re not jumping. Like Castlevania, Ghosts and Goblins has a jumping mechanic that makes the player lose all control of the character once in the air. If you commit to jump you better be sure you know where you want to land. This gets to be extremely frustrating especially when blindly jumping down to a ledge that could be full of enemies or close to a body of water, which the knight will drown in due to his inability to swim. To make matters worse is the amount of kickback that the knight suffers when taking damage from an enemy (another staple in the Castlevania series). The knight is able to withstand two hits from the enemy; one knocking off his armor, and another that results in death. The series is known for being difficult but is just as much known for the knight running around in his underwear once the armor is lost.

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The knight is all about heavy metal

Many of the enemies in Ghosts ‘N Goblins are of the flying variety that seem to have several random patterns making it very difficult to determine where the enemy will be. Add the fact that the knight seems to have a knack of not throwing weapons as fast as you press the controller’s buttons, and the end result is a frustrating experience. This comes into fruition as soon as you encounter your first Red Devil. No matter how fast you press the fire button the game just doesn’t let you feel in control. The Red Devil’s flying patters are so erratic that pressing the fire button frantically seemed to be the only way to kill him before he zipped toward the ground. I felt the need to jump over him but due to the lack of control during jumps I found myself just jumping right in his path of flight 99% of the time. Actually defeating Red Devil felt like just sheer luck; especially when fighting him multiple times in levels toward the end of the game.

Another controller-throwing aspect of Ghosts ‘N Goblins is that it tries to trick you into picking up weapons that are not the best choice for fighting the enemies ahead. Often a torch will appear right before a slew of flying enemies or an axe will come out of nowhere just before a boss that’s quick on their feet. The most frustrated I’ve ever been is when fighting the dragon at the end of level 6. If you have the javelin you might as well just die because he cannot be defeated. I’ve tried several times with no luck. The game doesn’t even bother to tell you this. I didn’t figure this out until I got a random sword drop mid-level.

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Understandably, neither the knight or the rock monster want to try and cross that river!

Not all is doom and gloom in this game though. Scattered throughout the levels are stone soldiers that will increase the knight’s score. If you’re really lucky you will find another set of armor lying around some levels, which will benefit you greatly if you’re fighting enemies in your underwear. In one of my many playthroughs I did manage to find an extra life, but this item is really just for score chasers since the game grants you unlimited continues.

If you’re stubborn like me you’ll not give in to the game’s difficulty and eventually make it to Satan. I did manage to beat him but as many gamers know, this is not the end of the knight’s journey. After you finally defeat Satan and start to celebrate you will be greeted by this message:

“THIS ROOM IS AN ILLUSION AND IS A TRAP DEVISUT BY SATAN. GO AHEAD DAUNTLESSLY! MAKE RAPID PROGRES!”

You’re reading that right. After sifting through the misspellings you’re now well aware that the game has just trolled you harder than you’ve ever been trolled before. Time to start the game all over again with slightly stronger enemies! Yay! I may be embarrassed to say that this game gave me nightmares, but I’m not embarrassed to say that I’ve never completed the 2nd playthrough of this game. One is enough for me. I have enough stress in my life.


Final Verdict: 3/5

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Available on: NES (Reviewed), PlayStation, Sega Saturn, Arcade, Game Boy Color  ; Developer: Capcom  ; Publisher: Capcom ; Players: 1 ; Released: November 1986 (NES Version)

Mike Vito has been a slave to gaming ever since playing his grandfather's Atari 2600. A collector of all things retro, his main focus is obtaining a full NES collection. Being a father has rekindled his spirit for Nintendo and he now spends most of his time teaching his daughter about the games of yesteryear. Check out his other work in Pat Contri’s Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the SNES Library. Current favorite games: Air Zonk, NHL Hitz 2003, Castlevania Symphony of the Night, & Super Dodgeball.
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