Ghouls 'n Ghosts Review

This is a good approximation of the classic arcade game, but the intense difficulty toes the line between satisfying and downright cruel.

Even though Ghouls 'N Ghosts for the Sega Genesis is a watered-down port of the original 1988 arcade game, some fans of the series prefer it over other conversions because it offers the closest approximation of the arcade game and has a friendlier learning curve. However, should you decide to purchase the Sega Genesis rendition of Capcom's medieval side-scroller from the Wii's Virtual Console shop, bear in mind that friendlier doesn't necessarily mean easier.

You have to wonder if the artists got the idea for a vomiting pig from Howard Stern's radio program.
You have to wonder if the artists got the idea for a vomiting pig from Howard Stern's radio program.

Playing as a knight named Arthur, you have to run, jump, and shoot your way through five frightful environments populated with ugly monsters. You'll climb ladders made of bones, run past guillotines, and jump over mouthy traps, all while hurling various weapons at the vomiting pigs, grim reapers, and other ghouls that seem to be constantly rising up out of the ground or appearing from the sides of the screen. You can make Arthur shoot straight ahead, upward, or downward, and the controls are very responsive. The levels are also loaded with treasure chests that provide ample opportunities to try out the different daggers, axes, and lances that Arthur can toss, along with their corresponding charge-based magical abilities. Arthur can't double-jump or pick up shields like he can in the SNES sequel, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts. Regardless, the Sega Genesis rendition of Ghouls 'N Ghosts offers a satisfying mix of "old school"-style platforming and killing.

However, that old-school style is accompanied by old-school difficulty. One hit will shatter Artie's armor and reduce him to boxer shorts. A second hit will cost you a life. That's not much margin for error in a game where enemies are constantly spawning around you, and in which every level is littered with split-second jumps and surprise encounters. Some stages also employ forced scrolling segments where you have to deal with retracting platforms and crushing ceilings. The entire fifth stage is loaded with boss battles. Furthermore, if you do manage to beat the game, you'll have to do it a second time to face the real final boss and see the true ending. Checkpoints are plentiful, and continues are mercifully unlimited. Nevertheless, it'll still take you hours and hours of trial and error to get through the game just once.

The Genesis version doesn't offer the reworked levels or lavish looks of its Super Nintendo counterpart, but the graphics and art direction are otherwise solid. Arthur and his enemies move with sufficient grace, the bosses generally take up a quarter of the screen, and the giant trees and stone buildings in the background provide the proper spooky atmosphere. Parallax scrolling and rainy visual effects also lend some much-needed depth to the backdrops. You'll definitely get the willies as you make your way through a haunted village, a demon-infested jungle, and Loki's castle. The sound effects are atrocious and best described as hisses and clangs, which is ironic considering that every note of the soundtrack is crystal clear and haunting.

Ghouls 'N Ghosts is one of those games that you'll find either frustrating or satisfying, depending on how much you enjoy games that test your reflexes and require an inordinate amount of trial and error. You definitely shouldn't spend the 800 Wii points unless you relish the thought of investing dozens of hours to master five levels that wouldn't take more than 15 minutes to complete if they weren't so brutally hard.

The Good

  • Simple design focuses on running, jumping, and shooting
  • Haunting visuals and music
  • It'll take you dozens of hours to beat
  • Good approximation of the original arcade game

The Bad

  • Not the toughest in the series, but still intensely difficult
  • Sound effects are rubbish
  • Doesn't have the reworked levels or lavish visuals that the Super NES version has
  • Despite difficulty, there are only five levels

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