Feature Review: Ghosts ‘n Goblins

The many flying foes Arthur encountereth find neither gravity, nor the firmness of walls and ceilings, an impediment to their motion.

Even unencumbered by armour, Arthur clunketh along with the surefooted grace of a drunken hippopotamus.

LATTERLY, Capcom, erstwhile titan of video game development, hath fallen intro strife. Its monuments lie in ruins, its heroes of design and creativity have made good their exit, and its triumphs are near forgot by those gamers who today hold in esteem titles more visually attractive. Spectacle and show o’ercome all other concerns so that the modern gamer doth, like unto a babboon, gape and gawk with mouth all agog at the flashing and blinking lewdnesses and vices on display, ripe for perusal and, indeed, for purchase.

But, whilom, ’twas not so. For Capcom hath fallen into these pressing circumstances from lofty heights formerly occupied with a surety. Deep is the abyss into which it hath sunk–and rightly withal. For, the crimes of Capcom are severe, and none moreso than the development of Ghosts ‘n Goblins published on nearly every platform imaginable since its release to arcades in September of 1985. From that time henceforward, this world hath suffered mightily from the affliction of Ghosts ‘n Goblins blighting first one console, then another, with the advent of Virtual Consoles only worsening the matter by making available again to unwary moderns the failures of the past. Today, the hapless gamer, playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins uninformed, doubteth whether any game of the past is like to bring happiness or joy.

Then, he doth undertake exactly the same thing in the next stage.

In the third stage, Arthur leapeth over chasms to reach the Dragon boss.

For what manner of torturework hath Capcom deserv’d its terrible fall? To be sure, brethren, the work of Ghosts ‘n Goblins is an abomination in the sight of the mighty hand which worketh all causes to the Good. From the shrieking tones of the first bars of the soundtrack, the unhappy player knoweth well that what soon shall follow bringeth no gaity. The painful, screeching noise is compounded by the high-pitched squeal–not entirely unlike that sound attendant upon the slaughter of a well-voiced swine–which cometh solely from the use of Arthur’s weapon. To this further is added sound after sound, similar in intensity and disagreeableness, the which emaneteth from the small selection of monsters that populate the game. And indeed, they are few in number. The game reuseth monsters and bosses to such a degree that nearly everything can be witnessed in the first two stages alone.

With ears shattered by the shrieking soundtrack, enemies, and weapons alike, the player may be of a mind like to quit Ghosts ‘n Goblins ere it hath hardly begun. But then the player should miss that which cometh next: six stages, replete with enemies whose movements are devis’d with a randomness taken straight out of that other work of malice, Deadly Towers E’en equipped with save states, the unfortunate gamer will discover that, each time reloaded, the monsters and game doth behave differently: sometimes so as to make the game impossible, sometimes not.

And then, he doth undertake, again, the same, whilst fighting all of the previous bosses withal.

Near the end of his quest, Arthur climbeth many vertical labyrinths, fighting winged demons that he might progress.

In story alone Ghosts ‘n Goblins doth stand ahead of the other vile works of the Enemy. For, in presenting a story so brief and simplistic that it can be compass’d in the opening cutscene alone–“a devil hath taken the princess; savest her, thou knight!”–it also hath managed thereby to provide a player with all he must know. All this is typical of stage-based platformers of the era: indeed, it surpasseth that found in near predecessors. Super Mario Bros., for example, presenteth no such story hook.

But, truly lamentable are the controls, which casteth into disarray and confusion any momentary pleasure deriv’d from the story. This reviewer, who hath no small experience with yon game, was confounded for some minutes by Arthur’s propensity to kneel and remain kneeling. After increasing irritation, this reviewer did switch the very controller, only to discover that ’twas the design of the game, not any fault of the peripheral. So, too, are Arthur’s jumps fiddly, the physics undependable, the collison detection faithless, and the engine itself unstable withal.

Arthur stutteringly climbeth a ladder, only to get stuck at the top trying to disembark. Monsters shoot down the ladders and hover atop the ladders, take ten hits to kill, and idle nearby whilst the clock counteth quickly the two minutes afforded. The experience is a concatenation of frustrations layered like an onion, and just as like to coax forth tears.

And, after he doth undertake THE ENTIRE FUCKING GAME again, Arthur rescueth the Princess through his STRONGTH, and they abide happily ever after.

Arthur confronteth Astaroth, the final boss.

As the music screecheth, and the engine stuttereth, and Arthur stumbleth, and the array of monsters weareth out its welcome, and the player wearyeth from an experience too tiresome and painful readily to be devis’d in words, still doth Ghosts ‘n Goblins wear on, like an inebriate, Australian uncle, uninvited to the family reunion, but present nevertheless. Keen to partake of a beer, and another, and another, he drinketh until–shambolic and tight as an owl–he urinateth in the urn holding the ashes of great aunt Nora. Cast out from the gathering, his departure is met with sighs of relief: ’tis enough, and he is well gone. –Until it is found, some hours later, that he hath deposited a goodly quantity of his stools right atop the plum pudding meant for the familial dessert.

This is the end of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. The boss battles, randomised between easy and impossible do, once vanquished, give way to a boss fight that can be predictably beaten in a few seconds each and every time (controls notwithstanding). The final battle is followed by the worst aspect of all–far worse than anything heretofore related. A message, improperly rendered into English, asserteth thus: that the final chamber was an illusion and that, moreover, Arthur must again assaileth the keep of the enemy, and every stage and boss withal, that the true ending might thereby be achieved.

If, at such a time, following upon such travails, the player doth not become unhinged, doth not bestir himself to the destruction of the game cartridge, doth not betake himself thence to a place of debarkation, doth not arrive in Japan seeking the demise of those responsible for the offending title, doth not commit many savage acts of gruesome and deadly murder, and doth not find himself arrested for his violent and terrible actions–then such a player hath more patience and self-control than this reviewer who even now, of consequence attendant upon the actions latterly related, languisheth as prisoner gaoled in cell, where, awaiting his own Arthur, he prayeth that he might anon be rescued.


Ghosts 'n Goblins Box Art

GBox Art

Review Grade F

Review Grade


Game Information

Title: Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Genre: Platformer

Developer: Capcom

Publisher: Capcom

Platform Reviewed: Nintendo Entertainment System (NA)

Release Date: 1 November 1986

15 comments on “Feature Review: Ghosts ‘n Goblins”

  1. The most I’ve ever played of this game is about 10 minutes of the PSP remake. I died about a billion times, got frustrated, and never picked it up again. I feel that I made the right choice.

  2. As did so many clueless children of the Arcade Generation, I probably sank countless quarters into this and other “fantasy” arcade games (anyone remember the Willow arcade game? What about Rastan?) without realizing that the games were not made to be “beaten” or “enjoyed,” but rather simple ways to suck quarters out of gullible kids with fingers tucked inside their parents’ pocket books.

    It makes me nostalgic when I hear children today whining about in-app purchases. Real pain was having to go and ask for cold, hard cash if you wanted to keep playing Mortal Kombat before the older kids could run you off the machine, not asking if you can charge $1.99 for extra candy or whatnot.

    Curmudgeoning aside, why would anyone expect the home version of the game to be anything other than a shoddy port of the arcade game that punished you in other ways, since it obviously could not do it publicly and financially?

  3. @Lane: The worst thing about the NES port of Ghosts ‘n Goblins is that it is by no means the worst version of the game. There are versions for the Amstrad, Commodore, etc., and some of them are vastly inferior even to the terrible NES version.

    Check out this video for a round-up of some of the worst shit to shit the shit since shit shit the shit shit.

  4. And in an era of such great games for the C64. Truly, a rare example of many-faceted shitium, the gemstone-like mineral composed of the essence of poo.

  5. I enjoyed the first Ghosts and Goblins in the arcade as a child. By the time this came out I considered it an exercise in masochism and played better things.

  6. I watched some of the videos of this and Milon’s. Thanks for doing what ended up being a fun-to-follow exercise in frustration and futility!

  7. Just so I’m clear when you beat the game it doesn’t give you an ending it gives you a request to beat it again? Is there an ending or is this just like an endless sorry Arthur your princess is in another castle?

  8. Immediately after the final boss is defeated, this screen is displayed:

    The game then restarts. After completing it again, the end game texts (click the last picture in the article) are shown instead.

  9. @Michael: Thanks. I hope I don’t have to do any more reviews soon, because they are generally punishments inflicted upon me rather than some sort of choice that I make.

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed Axiom Verge and my review of that helps to balance out all of the dross that I’ve been forcefed by the readers.

  10. Try beating that bastard without rewinds and save states. You would have given it an F -as far as the depths of hell are from here.

  11. @RabidKitten: Back in the 1980s, on my NES, I did just that!

    But I have never (and will never) obey the instruction to “Go ahead dauntlessly!” Fuck that. Making someone play the game twice is not ‘more content’.

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