Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins Preview: Arthur Strikes Back

We delve further into the valiant knight's latest harrowing journey in our exclusive look at Capcom's upcoming handheld side-scroller.

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After bringing you a series of brief previews on Capcom's Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins, we've had a chance to sit down with the first three worlds of this updated version of the company's classic platformer. If you didn't get to play the classic Ghosts 'n Goblins back in the day, the series stars the valiant knight Arthur as he fights through one grueling level full of monsters and obstacles after another in an attempt to save his lady love. In Ultimate, it seems the demons who have snatched Arthur's royal significant other are actually interested in procreating with her, which honestly doesn't sit too well with us. All the more reason to hunt down the baddies and retrieve the fair damsel, we suppose.

At any rate, as we've reported previously, Ultimate plays an awful lot like the older games in the series, in that the controls for Arthur are just about identical. Ghosts 'n Goblins has never had the most precise control--you don't have control in midair, you can't reverse direction on a dime, and so on--and that old-school feel is preserved here, for good or ill. Actually, it's not so bad once you get back into the groove of the game, but that means you have to be mindful of where you're going to land before you jump, and you'll probably begin to start leading enemies with your attacks after playing for a little while. There's a learning curve to the controls and gameplay compared to some other modern platformers, and this seems like the sort of game that hardcore gamers will really get into mastering, since there's so much skill involved in doing well.

A number of new weapons will help you combat the darkness.
A number of new weapons will help you combat the darkness.

The weapons have always played a big part in Ghosts 'n Goblins' action, and you'll find a mix of the old standbys and some new toys in Ultimate. Of course, you start off with the standard javelin sort of weapon that Arthur has always favored, and you can advance to throwing knives, a Molotov cocktail of sorts that sends a wave of flames across the ground, and a scythe that comes back to you like a boomerang. Then there's a spread crossbow that fires bolts in multiple directions, plus an enemy-seeking blade of sorts. And Arthur has even decided to get all Belmont in this installment by occasionally arming himself with a powerful whip. The weapons can all be upgraded to a more-powerful form with the appropriate power-up, too. Some weapons are more suited to certain situations than others, so we had to learn not to blindly grab every power-up we came across, since we might inadvertently replace the nice weapon we had with something less desirable.

In addition to all these weapons, Ultimate will contain a whole bunch of other goodies for Arthur to pick up that will let you customize your attack strategy. You'll pick up different sets of armor as you go that confer different bonus effects. For instance, one lets you run faster and jump farther, while another raises your attack power but stops you from using magic. Speaking of which, there are a lot of different spells you can pick up, such as directed flame attacks or a temporary invincibility shield. And then there are physical shields that you can use to block attacks while ducking. Weaker shields will break after a few hits, but the more-powerful shields can do things like refill your magic meter when you block with them.

You'll also pick up some story-related items that stick with you for the rest of the game, like a pair of boots that enables the double-jump move in the first world. Finally, you can collect a teleport staff in each level that will let you then warp back to that level later on. It looks like some items and areas of each level are only accessible after you gain certain items or techniques, so hopefully this will add some replay value to the game after you've gone through particular levels the first time.

Ultimate looks strikingly close to the old Ghosts 'n Goblins games.
Ultimate looks strikingly close to the old Ghosts 'n Goblins games.

There are three difficulty settings in the game--novice, standard, and ultimate--but you might as well call them hard, harder, and hardest, since none of them are anything approaching easy. Interestingly, we're not just talking stronger enemies on the harder difficulty levels--you'll actually see elements of each level change slightly depending on what mode you're playing. Some areas might be populated by more monsters, for instance, while another section featured driving rain that blew Arthur backward and boulders that rolled toward him on standard (both of these extra obstacles were absent on novice). At any rate, don't feel bad about playing the game on the easiest difficulty (we'd recommend starting with it, in fact), since that mode is still harder than most games we can remember playing recently. It's also worth pointing out that the ultimate difficulty level is said to resemble that seen in the classic games of the series, though frankly we weren't even brave enough to attempt it when the other two modes were so punishing already.

We've been very pleased with Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins so far--and you can check out some of what we've seen in our new gameplay movies from the early part of the game. Ultimate's adherence to the characteristic visual style of the old 2D games--and indeed its deft application of that style to the new game's 3D graphics--has been eye-catching indeed, and we're looking forward to seeing what the later levels have in store, though our thumbs may never forgive us.

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