Compared with most games currently available on the Game Boy Advance, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts is like a fish out of water--or a man out of his time. In its original form on the SNES, the game was very difficult to begin with. Most longtime gamers would agree that the average difficulty level of games has dropped since then, and as a result, the extreme difficulty of Super Ghouls 'N Ghost sticks out like a sore thumb in this new GBA port. Many people will consider this game to be downright impossible, or so near it that completing the game just wouldn't be worth the time and effort. As such, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts can't be recommended to just anyone, despite the fact that it's a very good game overall. Those out there who've played the original version and are looking to take a trip down memory lane will find the original mode to be exactly the same as the SNES version--complete with severe slowdown in the same places. They'll also notice that a save feature has been included, as well as an arranged mode, which mixes in levels from the arcade game Ghouls 'N Ghosts.
Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts is above all else a platformer. You assume the role of Arthur, a king who's unfortunately been usurped by a band of demons, who have stolen his bride as well for good measure. Upon embarking to reclaim his love and his land, Arthur finds that the world has been twisted into some nightmarish dreamscape that often changes on the fly. The very ground you walk on in the first level is constantly rising, dropping, or being washed away by waves. Other environmental hazards in the later levels include avalanches and even a stage that locks Arthur in a cage as the entire level rotates around him. It's all very creative, and it's quite beautiful in many places. Unfortunately, the game tends to slow down quite frequently, especially when multiple sprites gather onscreen or when some of the environmental craziness takes effect. Interestingly enough, the arcade levels included in the arranged mode slow down just as much--even more so in some spots. There really is no excuse for the amount of slowdown you'll encounter in the game.
At any moment, there will be a multitude of enemies spawning all around you, and dispatching them using your various thrown weapons is easy enough in theory. Arthur has a number of them in his arsenal, though he can carry only one at a time. Weapons are picked up as you progress by cracking open treasure chests or obtaining them from fallen enemies. Arthur's only defense is his armor, which can be upgraded by finding more advanced suits, which in turn improves the characteristics of your weapon. The highest level of armor also grants you a super attack that can be charged up and unleashed. These attacks differ according to the weapon--for example, the dagger's super move is a fiery dragon that circles the screen dealing out damage, while the super move for the crossbow merely reveals any hidden treasure chests nearby.
Another aspect of the gameplay that bears mentioning is the fact that Arthur can double-jump to access hard-to-reach places. The levels in the original mode were laid out with the double jump in mind. However, enemies are constantly spawning, so oftentimes you'll find yourself flying through the air toward certain death. Once the second jump is initiated, there's no turning back, and this can be quite frustrating when you find yourself a victim of some random spawn or other unforeseen consequence. Arthur can die instantly in some instances, and at best, his armor can absorb just one extra hit. Something else to consider is that in Ghouls 'N Ghosts for the arcade and Sega Genesis, you had the ability to fire your weapon upward. Here you have no such ability. Conversely, you didn't have the double jump in the arcade game. So the arcade levels in the arranged mode seem a bit odd in this game, considering that they were designed with a different set of gameplay mechanics in mind.
As mentioned, there are two modes available in Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts. The first is a straight port of the original SNES game that is true to the original in every detail, with the exception of a newly revamped intro. The second is an arranged mode that diverges into three paths upon completion of the first level. Which path is open to you depends directly on which armor you've completed the level with. The lowest level of armor drops you to the lower track, which is essentially the original mode with the difficulty kicked up to expert levels (completing a stage with no armor at all will produce the same result). Surviving the first stage with the second level of armor--the green plate mail--will send you down the second path, which is composed of the levels from Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Finally, arriving at level's end with a full set of gold plate mail opens up the third path. This third path is a much more difficult rendition of the original mode, and it includes a few tweaks and fixes that will go unnoticed by all but the most die-hard of fans. Having the gold armor also allows you alternate levels on the three tracks, while having the green armor allows you to alternate between the first two, so these options should extend the life of the game.
If one attribute of the game stands out more than the rest, it's the sound. The music in the game is very well done and quite catchy. Each level has its own track that is well suited to the environment that you find yourself trying to overcome. It should be noted that the recent game Maximo: Ghosts to Glory for the PlayStation 2 was inspired by Ghouls 'N Ghosts--as well as by Super Ghouls N' Ghosts--and the soundtrack of that game consisted of remixes and variations on the Ghouls 'N Ghosts themes. The music was quite good in the PS2 game, but the original tracks contained in this game are purer, and they're also proof that the cartridge format really doesn't restrict music quality. The crisp sound effects combine with the music to make for a game that sounds superb.
All told, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts for the Game Boy Advance is a tight game that experiences a few technical difficulties along the way. It's too bad that the developers didn't take some more time with it to solve the slowdown problems, but as it stands, the game is quite enjoyable if you have the patience to deal with the high level of difficulty. Those who are looking for a straight port of the original along with a few extras thrown in won't be disappointed, either.