Honestly, I have no excuse.
I never took a blow to the head, never took people up on dares, and never got past level two in the original NES game. So why would I think that when I rented Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts my experience would be marked by anything other than quick deaths, maddening frustration, and the lingering longing to have rented something else from the video store? Well, I'm a glutton for punishment and this was a SUPER game you see. So naturally that meant that I had a SUPER time coming my way and that my beloved Mega Man producing Capcom would have learned their lesson. No more of those cheap deaths and lingering regrets this time! Right? Well, no. The only SUPER thing was my frustration. I couldn't believe I had rented the upgraded version of this game. What was I thinking? Did I like torturing myself back then? Well, it's time to relive the frustration and fun, it's Halloween time and this is Super Ghouls N' Ghosts.
You're a knight fighting monsters across ghastly landscapes and horror themed backgrounds again. So is this game just Ghosts 'N Goblins suped up? To a degree you could say that, but it's more than than just a few tweaks of a classic game. Game makers were eager to show off their chops on the "new" Super Nintendo by making use of mode 7, parallax scrolling, and multi-layered backgrounds. Yes, Arthur has shiner armor, and yes, the wide color palette makes everything that much cooler, but it's the attempt to make use of the systems capabilities that really helps the game to stand the test of time. Capcom gave us something familiar when it came to the overall look of the sprites and style they were done in, but they also took risks in making certain creatures and settings a bit more grim and ghoulish. Arthur and his "pals" got an upgrade for sure, and it's great looking one to boot. Ghouls 'N Ghosts never felt like it had forgotten it's roots merely in favor of looking new. Instead, it took what we knew from before and gave it an overhaul to bring it into the more "modern" 90's.
Synthesized organ music makes a triumphant return, this time with the richer sounds of the Super Nintendo to help enhance the experience. Okay, it might not have the full orchestration that modern game could have, but it still feels like I'm listening to some odd pipe organ music. Much like other entries in the Capcom library at this time, the team at Capcom had the ability to churn out soundtracks that were both memorable and enjoyable. I meant what I said in my review of the Ghosts 'N Goblins music, I love it when a game with classic monsters takes the time to make the soundtrack feel appropriately matched.
An added bonus with making the transition to the Super Nintendo is the extra layers of sound that are brought to the table. You've got synthesized organ, flute, and several other instruments. And, while I like the soundtrack to the original Ghosts 'N Goblins well enough, there are moments that are a tad tinny for my tastes, so it doesn't really make it on to my iPod. Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts though is welcome anytime on my video game music playlist, especially around Halloween.
Satan has made off with your maiden, so it's rescuin' time! Like last time, you're fighting your way through undead legions, classic monsters, and insane obstacles. Also like last time, you have two hits and you're dead. First your armor flies off, then another hit and the meat gets ripped from your bones, just like in real life. Also, you can't throw upward, which feels like a bit of artificial difficulty. It's funny that this feels a tad on the cheap side because when you think about it, you don't get the luxury of throwing Mario's fireballs upward, and in the NES Castlevanias you could never whip upward--so why does it feel cheap here? Maybe its the difficulty of the game and sheer number of enemies that seem to attack from above. If they can get above me to try and skeletonize me, I should have the capacity to chuck a knife in their general direction.
Obviously the old saying of "Nintendo Hard" comes to mind when playing this game, but there are moments in my opinion when the game does cross that line into cheap-ville. I don't mind monsters coming at me from all sides, but sometimes you get a natural obstacle that pops up and kills you, so it feels less like skill was needed, and more like a case of trial and error. There's a part right in the first level where a massive wave of water hits the screen and next think you know, Arthur finds himself swept out to sea! There are other parts later in the game where the ground suddenly shifts under your feet and you suddenly find obstacles you've already passed hurtling towards you and murdering your unsuspecting rear-end! Sometimes this feels so cheap it's hard not to scream.
I will say this though; when you do get past a level it's an immensely satisfying feeling that's hard to beat. Yeah, you died countless times. Yeah, you're on your last continue and you've barely reached level 2. Yeah, there are no checkpoints and death means starting from the beginning of the level. But it feels worth it when you beat the level boss and are ready to continue the quest to defeat Satan and rescue your gal.
You can't talk about the control in the Ghosts 'N Goblins franchise without mentioning the way the knight jumps. Once you take that leap, you are committed to that direction. No take-backs! Either you make the jump or fall to your death. Either that or land on an enemy and have the flesh ripped from you body like it can't wait to get away from you.
Other than that, it feels great to move Arthur around, hurling spears, flaming torches, and of course, the all-important knife. While certain aspects of the jump mechanic feel cheap, tossing weapons and moving around on screen feels natural and satisfying. When you duck and dodge enemies and die, you know that it was you who screwed up. Yes, it's hard as all-flipping get out, but you still know that with a bit of practice you can master the game...at least, well...you can master it well enough to move around with some dexterity. Winning, now that's another matter entirely.
Of course this game still has a high frustration factor, even to this day! That doesn't go away with time, but wounds can heal over time. And I would like to say that my emotional scarring has healed up. No longer do I think that the game is impossible. No longer do I wish I could return my copy to the store for a better game. I've learned that it was a better game than most other games on the market back in the day. Heck! I'd say that it's better than many triple A games on the market now. It may not be the best game in the world for unwinding from a long day, but it's still a classic game worth its salt and a replay this Halloween, or any time of year.
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