Brutal Childhood Memories
I’m really showing my age here, but I remember it vividly and in somewhat childish terms. It was after school, on a hot and humid summer day in Hong Kong in 1993. With the a/c blasting in my bedroom and a frosty mug of grape Fanta sitting next to me, I removed the cartridge from the pristine printed box (this was a time before jewel cases and Blu-Ray cases) and inserted it into my Super Famicom. Taking a sip of my drink, I flipped the power switch and saw the CAPCOM logo flicker on the screen. I then spent the next three hours getting my 12-year old ass brutally beat down by a video game.
So far, so bad.
That was my introduction to an earlier incarnation of the game I’m about to review: Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection. There are in fact many renditions of this game, but the version I was familiar with (Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts) was the third of the franchise and was first released in 1991. Now this new 2021 release by CAPCOM claims to be “a nostalgic yet completely re-imagined” take on their earlier versions, and they aren’t kidding. Yes, the familiar image of the bearded and Popeye-ishly proportioned hero and knight Arthur was highly nostalgic – but so was the brutal ass-kicking you receive while trying to beat this game.
Full disclosure: I revisited the 1991 game fairly recently on the SNES Mini that my wife gifted to me for Christmas, and I *finally* beat the game after a 30-odd year hiatus – but only with the help of effectively infinite lives (x45 lives, to be exact).
That caveat remained constant with my first attempt at the new Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection. Playing on a beginner mode (which they call “Page” – as opposed to “Squire”, “Knight”, and “Legend” modes, which get progressively and murderously difficult) that allows you to endlessly regenerate on the spot you die, I easily died about 100 times before finishing the game. The fact that this franchise has remained notoriously difficult to beat is simultaneously frustrating and comforting because it conjures up memories of the fruitless hours I spent trying to beat the 1991 game, to no avail (it only gives you nine lives to beat the entire damn game).
The Challenging Gameplay Hasn’t Changed Since 1991
The storyline and gameplay is pretty basic, and even classic by modern standards. Your princess is kidnapped by monsters, and you traverse a series of perilous side-scrolling worlds and defeat hordes of horrifying beasts and bosses to rescue her. I like to call it the ‘Super Mario Formula’, and there’s nothing innovative or new here.
But what does make the game interesting is the sheer challenge of beating it. Even on the easiest level the going was tough for a while until I got down the timing of the jumps and attacks.
The principle reasons that the gameplay is challenging are Arthur’s movements and the movements of the enemy relative to his. Arthur is heavily armored, and he definitely moves like he’s encumbered by the weight of it. His running speed is slow and his jumps are maddeningly short, while the pits he has to jump over are wide and his enemies powerful and swift in their movement. The clumsiness of the player character’s movements often turns out to be a life lesson in greed and temptation, as you end up constantly dying while trying to reach special items and treasure chests that contain armor upgrades, when you know better than to try it with your current skill level.
In the absence of speedy and nimble player movement the only remedy is good timing, and that is tricky in most games. The fact that enemies come at you in numbers from all sides (including from above and below) will also and necessarily result in many deaths. All these challenges and limitations can be overcome once you get accustomed to the attack and jump patterns and their timing – but until then keep practicing in Page Mode.
Having said all this, I want to stress that this isn’t necessarily a complaint about the new 2021 edition of this game, because these gameplay conditions have remained constant from 1991. This game can’t re-invent itself by design and makes up for that by being challenging, and you could say that I half-knew what I was getting myself into. I stress-drank quite a few cans of grape soda while playing this game back then, but I actually kind of appreciate this challenge now as an adult in 2021.
1991 vs. 2021: Similarities & Changes
Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection is billed as a ‘reimagining’ of the original Ghosts ‘N Goblins and this is evident in the character design and engineering. The enemies from the grunts to the bosses are very similar in both appearance and attack patterns, but are of course beautifully rendered in that dystopian storybook aesthetic.
There are many, many changes too; first, the extremely useful double-jump of the 1991 version is gone. That is really significant as it decreases the mobility and jumping clearance of the player character, making certain segments of the game quite challenging to complete.
Additionally, the 1991 version had 3 armors: steel, green, and gold. It was possible to execute special attacks with the green and gold armors, but even a single touch from an enemy shattered your armor, leaving you in boxer shorts and vulnerable to a lethal final hit. The 2021 version only has the steel and gold armor, but there’s one crucial difference – getting hit while wearing the gold armor reveals the basic steel armor still intact, and getting hit while wearing the steel armor causes the progressive loss of armor bits (chest/helmet, arms, legs). This effectively gives the player the chance to survive up to four hits before the fifth and final lethal hit.
Another very notable change is the extremely wide range of special attacks that can be learned by collecting ‘umbral bees’ during gameplay. Trading in a certain number of umbral bees at the ‘umbral tree’ in the options menu enables you to learn individual magic that give you well over a dozen special attacks that come in handy during hairy situations and boss battles. The complexity and visuals of these attacks are quite dazzling once acquired and executed in battle, and they can all be obtained by collecting enough of these glowing, sprite-like creatures.
Also, there is a ‘Challenges’ feature, which resembles the PlayStation trophies system. This is notable as Nintendo Switch doesn’t feature a console trophies system. Specific gameplay achievements are recorded and saved as you play Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection, and you can view them at a later time in the options menu.
Interestingly, there is a 2-player option in the new game, but the second player can only play an assisting role as he or she can only play as a spirit that floats close behind Arthur and assists with attacks that have a low rate of fire. However one advantage of playing as this supporting character is that the second player can float anywhere at will (it is a spirit after all). All that can be for nothing, however, as the spirit “dies” when Arthur, still bound by the laws of gravity, falls into a pit and dies. The spirit also dies with Arthur when he is killed by an enemy.
Another crucial change is the game save features, which enables you to start where you left off by loading saved games (albeit at the beginning of a level). With the 1991 version, you had no choice but to start from the first level if you turned off the console!
Finally, the 1991 version of Ghosts ‘N Goblins had 9 long, arduous levels, each with a ridiculous boss/monster to beat at the end. This version only has 7 levels so the game felt noticeably shorter, but each individual level ends up feeling longer than the older version because they’re harder to beat.
Exquisite Storybook Aesthetics
When you stop to appreciate the visuals in this game, you can’t help but marvel at the art direction and visual style of Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection. The visuals and movements look like a storybook brought to life, and it is highly evocative. There is an incongruous yet gorgeous visual appeal here, showing like the pages of an old, illustrated copy of a classic fairytale novel that your parents and grandparents used to read to you as a child. So despite the dystopian gore and horror the game also appears inviting — and weirdly – cute. I imagine that the overall look of Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection is what the art direction team behind the older versions had in their minds back in the 1980s and 1990s, but didn’t have the technology to bring to life.
There’s no mistaking it: Ghosts ‘N Goblins: Resurrection is challenging like many of the games in the Ghosts ‘N Goblins franchise. But the reasons for this level of difficulty become apparent when you consider the history of this franchise: like all classic arcade games it was a total grind, created to chew up tall piles of quarters. The creators have delivered on their promise of reimagining this game and have remained true to that aspect of it, so I can certainly appreciate and respect this game on those merits. I also don’t stress the difficulty level of this game to deter anyone from purchasing it, as the whole point could be to challenge yourself as a scroller-platform gamer! Despite my grumbling I must have a hidden masochistic side to me, as I thoroughly enjoyed every clammy-palmed minute of gameplay, in spite of the high degree of difficulty.
It really was a real treat to revisit one of my childhood favorites that both thrilled and vexed me to no end. So hats off to CAPCOM for reviving a cult-favorite franchise, and if you’re familiar with Ghosts ‘N Goblins, take a trip down memory lane and give this title a try.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: Switch (reviewed); Publisher: CAPCOM; Developer: CAPCOM; Players: 1-2; Released: February 25, 2021; MSRP: $29.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Ghosts ‘N Goblins Resurrection provided by the publisher.