Blood is red, spirits are blue, here come Ghosts ’n Goblins, to murder you.
If you’re a gamer of the old-school persuasion or just a masochist who enjoys agony, you will be undoubtedly titillated by the torture that Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Resurrection promises to deliver later this month.
The first new console game in Capcom’s fabled series since the PSP’s Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins in 2006, this is a series that’s suffered neglect for fifteen years. Well, no more. Dust off your Iron Maiden and affix those nipple clamps, because, this being the series 35th anniversary, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is back to hurt you. A lot.
Tokuro Fujiwara, director of the original 1985 Ghosts ‘n Goblins arcade game and subsequent ports, had involvement in almost all entries in the series until leaving Capcom in 1996 to form Whoopee Camp studio, responsible for the cult classic Tomba!. Capcom invited him back to handle directorial duties for Resurrection, and, obviously loathed at the thought of someone else presiding over his baby, he was quick to get involved.
An action-platforming trial by fire, populated with pitfalls designed to catch you out, trip you up, and kill you over and over again, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a series infamous for its hair-tearing difficulty. It’s also a game where the dedication to your demise is equally matched by a remarkably precise design ethic, and Fujiwara understands the formula implicitly. Bar a few choice moments, it’s very difficult to label the Ghosts ‘n Goblins games as genuinely unfair. Evil is probably a more fitting term.
So how much of a ‘new’ game is Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Resurrection? At first glance it looks like a graphical re-skin of Ghosts ‘n Goblins games past, and a mishmash of stages and enemies pulled from almost every entry in the series timeline. And while all of that is true, it turns out that Resurrection is actually far more new than it is old.
Familiar locales await you, but you now have a choice of stages at each new juncture, making the adventure less linear. The Graveyard from the very first game and the guillotine-laden Execution Grounds from its sequel, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, kick things off. And it all goes swimmingly for the first thirty seconds. It’s the same old Arthur, clad in Knight armour, spear throwing and hopping over headstones; but when the enemies start to pile in and the stages start to evolve into new design territory, you’re quick to realise that it’s really, really, really hard. More-so than any of its predecessors, Resurrection sets out to grind you into a fine dust from the get-go.
There are four difficulty options to choose from. Legend, the default, is billed as the most authentic Ghosts ’n Goblins experience (it’s the setting used for the screenshots on this page). And, while that may be the case where Arthur’s health properties and stage checkpoints are concerned, this one impressively ups the ante in terms of pad-hurling, expletive-braying experiences.
Other difficulty levels allow you soften the game right down, through Knight and then Squire and Page modes. The latter, aimed at total beginners and/or the very young, won’t be acceptable for series aficionados, but certainly balances things out for a broader audience.
In addition to the old favourites, Resurrection features a host of new weapons, including flying discs and magic hammers that require close range negotiations, and a curious rolling boulder projectile. Most interesting, perhaps, is the new magic system and Arthur’s accompanying magic waistband, offering the player a range of offensive and defensive powers. We’ll explain all of this in detail in the forthcoming review, but it involves trees and bees. Make of that what you will.
One aspect that’s a first for the series is the addition of a clever co-operative two-player mode. While it might not be what you expect, it breathes new life into the platform adventure format by changing the way the game can be approached and dissected.
Traditionally, Ghosts ‘n Goblins requires you finish two loops to see the game’s true ending. This involves finishing it once, watching the Princess get nabbed all over again, and then repeating the motions until the penultimate stage, where you’re tasked with acquiring a special weapon to defeat a true last boss.
Resurrection’s second loop deviates from this by plunging Arthur into ‘shadow’ versions of each stage, featuring remixed elements, enemies and traps. Instead of simply retreading old ground, the player is now required to come up with a whole new strategy.
Though typically dark and foreboding, Resurrection’s art style has been incredibly divisive since the first screens were released. Many feel as though it looks off or somehow ill-fitting, and that’s understandable. The marionette, shadow-puppet animation of the sprites and their gangly, soaring limbs does give one flashbacks of a late-’90s Newgrounds affair. In many ways it’s a Streets of Rage 4 situation all over again, and, like that game, we’re happy to report that once things get underway it’s a style that not only blends in well with the action, but grows on you extremely quickly. Rendered like a medieval picture book – albeit in traditionally cartoony form – it works perfectly with the game’s robust mechanics. In a nice touch, the camera often pans out to give you a better view of your surroundings and encroaching ghouls, while the enemy designs and Arthur’s oversized boxer shorts maintain the series staple sense of humour.
There’s a lot to cover in Ghosts ’n Goblins: Resurrection, and our forthcoming coverage will give you the full lowdown on exactly what works and, potentially, what doesn’t. But, if you’re a die-hard fan fifteen-years craving a return to Capcom’s most abominable hell village, fear not adventurer, it looks like you’re going to be well served.
On a platter. As an assortment of bones.