Ghouls'n Ghosts'n Goblins

August 18, 2007

Remember. Ghosts'n Goblins on the old NES was one of the hardest games known to mankind. We had it, "we" meaning my family. It was the dear 80's and everything. The game was about a little knight supposed to save a princess, dauntingly original I know, but still effective. I say "little" because your knight may have been 10 pixels, if that. I'm exaggerating (I hope). You began your journey towards the princess in a forlorn cemetery where zombies endlessly rose from the ground to attack you, arms out-stretched forwards like any good zombie worthy of the name. Undoubtedly, this was the busiest cemetery ever. Your only weapon – that is, the only weapon I ever managed to get – was some sort of a lance; the kind of thing you'd see knights use in a joust. You'd just throw that thing around and hope it reached the zombies and other meanies out to get you.

Personally, I never passed the first level. I once or twice made it to the boss, each level had one, but I would invariably get my ass kicked hardcore by this ogre. That dude was dressed in red and had cool-looking spike-studded bracelets to each of his wrists, wrists which, it shall be known, were about as thick, if not thicker, than the entire width of my knight's body. My mother, back to when she still played videogames (that is, before the advent of 3D), once beat this guy. It was a landmark day in the family's history. The feat was so unique that we almost deemed it worthy of becoming a private Holy Day. "Beat the Bad Ogre Day" or something. [That's utter fiction, we never thought of making it a special day, I just like to embellish.]

Does anyone remember how you died in this game? First, if you were touched once, you'd lose the armour, leaving you with your mere knightly undies. Who knew they had any. Then, if touched a second time, you'd lose everything but your bones. And of course, that meant you were dead. Seriously, for those who don't know that game, you really did lose your flesh and skin as if it were just another armour. Then a heap of bones, you, would just fall to the ground.

A mention about the title. The original game was Ghosts'n Goblins, and if you do some research you'll find that the cover of the game had a typo, in that they forgot the S to "ghosts", as if there was only one ghost in the game. [See the top of this webpage.] Now please notice the 'n thing. Back then, that was the hype, I imagine. Guns'n Roses, Chip'n Dale, Simon'n Garfunkel. So they used it for the game. And for the Super Nintendo version of it: Super Ghouls'n Ghosts. Now, I know, the titles aren't exactly alike, and I don't really know why there's a discrepancy there. Hence the all-encompassing title I chose for this chapter. To compensate for my lack of knowledge on this issue, have a tip: if you want to know the title of any game that was on the NES and that may have been adapted to the Super Nintendo, you add "super" to the title of the game. Appreciate this tip to its just value.

Yesterday, I played Super Ghouls'n Ghosts. And boy did I play it. I played it for 4 hours, perhaps more. The beginning is familiar: a graveyard, zombies rising up from everywhere, and the same classical tune to the whole situation. This was the new busiest cemetery ever. I spent a good full minute just killing zombies that were coming up here and there, before I decided that I'd just move forward. The enemies never cease coming, which some players may find highly unnerving, and rightly so. Then troubles truly began. I came face to face with a... a small sturdy column. And that blocked my way. I tried to jump, and I couldn't jump high enough to get past it. "Well," thought I, "that's a mother." If I can't even get past the first obstacle, how hard will this game get? And how will I find out if I can't get past the first two screens? I was puzzled for a bit, and quite concerned about the rather short distance I could jump, something that is indeed worrisome in a platform game. Then I found out the knight – Arthur, namely – had a double jump. That is, you jumped once, then, in mid-air, you pressed the jump button again, and you somehow jumped again. Do not enquire of me the physics of that. What's even better is that you can jump in one direction, and then with the second jump, change the direction! The other important thing to note is that while you're jumping, you have absolutely no control over your character. In most games, like the Mario games, you can still influence your character in the air. Not so with Super Ghouls'n Ghosts. Once you jumped, you have no control whatsoever over your knight, and he will fly wherever he is meant to go. Just like in the real world. If you jump, you can't suddenly come back to your starting point like that, like Mario does. But then of course, you can effectuate a double jump with your knight which you can't do in reality either, but which gives the game a particular flavour, and some interesting new technical stuff to perform. It also makes the jumping sequences extremely tricky, since you have to calculate beforehand how you're going to jump, since you're not able to rectify anything in mid-air.

So I played this game. And despite the sheer difficulty, which I expected, it being the worthy offspring of its ancestor, I liked the game quite a bunch. The graphics were sweet, and actually really good for the times, early 1990's. The levels are so full of details and decoration that at first it took me some time to see what was potentially dangerous and what was just decoration. But that's quite a good thing.

I am not going to sum up my entire adventure in the game, but it shall be known that I made it to the end. I beat the boss, and then the blue-haired princess kindly let me know that I didn't seem to have the bracelet required to save her. And thus, I was back to the fucking graveyard and the zombies. "Are you kidding me?" Nope, that was real. I was really supposed to start all over again. I took me quite some time to finish it the first time around, and it took a lot of nerve because it is damn difficult. Then I noticed something. That difficult game had become harder. The zombies didn't merely rise from the ground now, they also hovered in the air in their coffins. Enemies took twice as many hits to be killed. Etc. For a minute I figured that finishing the game on "easy" wasn't allowed and that I had automatically been made to restart on "normal" or something. Wrong, according to my sources, whatever level of difficulty you choose, you must end the game twice anyway. How many games do you know that would do you a thing like that? Imagine that, the momentum you have before you kill the final boss, after hours of hard and tormenting gaming, and then... when it should be your reward, when you should finally relax, sit back, breathe heavily in a proud way, then at that moment, you're told you don't have the fucking bracelet you never knew existed and must go back to find it. Standing in disbelief in the graveyard among energised zombies, I asked my Super Nintendo if that was legal in Nintendo Land. I believe this is what husbands feel when their wives cheat on them after 7 years of marriage.

Then, when I learned this was no mere readjustment of the difficulty level (and that, consequently, I couldn't just turn the game off and go do something else), I had to start all over again if I didn't want everything I had done thus far to be meaningless. The game had taken me hostage. I either stopped playing and made those long hours futile, or engaged in spending a lot more in it, to validate the whole effort. Being me, a stubborn hardcore player, I opted for the latter.

And there I was, battling demons and zombies and whatever insane monsters there was on the path, back to where I had already been countless times before. Except this time it was damn harder. And you have to know this about the game: the weapons you use, which are supposedly on your side – well, they're not. Some of them are the lousiest weapons I've ever used. The torch for instance. You throw it, it doesn't get far, and falls on the ground, then, thank God, some flames lit up and move forward, thus giving a semblance of usefulness to the weapon. But you can only throw two of them, once two torches are thrown, you got to wait till they disappear before you can send a new one. Some levels would be impossible with this weapon, because you can't afford to have your enemies at your goddam feet every time. Suppose they're beyond some gap: you can't hit them.

But there's worse. In the game you can get better armours. Your normal one is the metal grey one, then you can get a green one (probably a reference to the Green Knight) and then you can get a golden one, with fancy red hair and a shield (which is utterly useless). The green armour upgrades whatever weapon you have; in the case of the bow and arrows, you shoot three arrows instead of two, and they're like homing missiles. They get to the enemies on their own. Sounds great doesn't it. Now bear this in mind: for each weapon, you can only send a limited amount of them until they disappear (by hitting the enemy or going offscreen) before you can throw it again. The lance is two, the dagger is 3, and the arrows I think are just one, but they're fast, so it's usually not a problem. It is a problem, however, with the homing thing, because often, one of the arrows would stupidly turn around a fixed enemy and it would never hit it, and consequently, I couldn't use the weapon anymore. So you just have to run around avoiding enemies and attacks until the goddam arrow eventually dies off. Believe me, in a game where you can be attacked by 7 monsters at once, that disadvantage is lethal.

Despite all this, I made it again to the final boss. But, and you can sure think that worried me, I had found no bracelet. There was no bracelet to be found! And I was curious to see what the princess would tell me this time, if this game had the balls to get me to redo the whole thing because I didn't get the bracelet. So I beat the final boss again, without the bracelet. Well, the princess told me I didn't seem to have the bracelet. Thus, she said, I had to go back to find it. Then I reappeared two levels ago, and, thankfully, not in the graveyard of the first level. I imagined the bracelet must be somewhere in the castle, since the last levels are some kind of castle-like levels.

According to my sources, the bracelet could be found only when you had the golden armour. The way this game works is that now and then you find trunks, in which you find upgrades for your armour, or weapons. You can only get the green armour if you already have the grey one on, only get the golden one if you have the green one on, etc. To get the bracelet, you had to have everything on you and find a trunk. Mind that one single hit from any enemy makes you lose whatever armour you have, and gets you back to being in your undies. Pretty tense.

Eventually, I managed to keep all my stuff on me, and find a trunk. Surprise, some fairy gets out of the trunk. I get on it, I wait, and then I get a new weapon, which is like a blast of pure magicness. It's straightforward and powerful. Thing is, there is no fucking bracelet. Maybe the fairy gave me a bracelet, conceptually, that is. Maybe the bracelet, supposedly given me by the fairy, gives me those magical powers. Who knows? I'd find out by defeating the final boss with this kick-ass new weapon.

At that point, I was beyond 3 hours of playing. Then, big mistake, I fell on a regular weapon. In this game, if you get a new weapon, it makes you lose the previous one. So get this: I had lost the magical weapon thing. Immediately, I wondered whether this meant I lost the bracelet too, which I could only suppose I had in the first place. I decided to go beat the boss with the bow and arrows, which, for technical reasons I won't explain here, make it much easier to defeat him. So I beat him again, and the princess once again told me I didn't seem to have the godmotherfucking bracelet. So back to the entrance of the castle. This time I had to get me the magic weapon again, since that's the only thing I supposed could be the bracelet.

I played like a whole hour just to get the goddam thing once again. Then I was beyond 4 hours of playing, and really tired and pissed off with it. Eventually I made it to the final boss with the right weapon, only to find that this weapon sucked ass in the face of such bossness. You can get hit twice, and then you're dead; that is, provided you made it there with your armour, which I rarely managed to do, thanks to the antechamber that's filled with countless ghosts and fucking shitheads in fake trunks that keep flying at you.

I tried at least 30 times. I knew the level by heart, and every move to make you get through as fast as possible. I was a PGM as they say: a Player Game Master, which seems slightly off grammar to me but that's how they coined it.

Now it was beyond 4 hours of constant effort-making concentration and button-tapping. I was wanting to give up, I really was. And it takes a lot to make me give up. By that time, I was going insane; you can't focus on the same thing for so long, and so hard, without feeling things going weird around you. I had knightness coming out of my every hole. I couldn't stand to see my knight double jump in mid-air for no apparent reason. I couldn't stand any more enemies. I had it.

I still went once more to the final boss. This time I had my golden armour, a shield, the right weapon, and I was ready to beat him, and finish this fucking game. Then I got hit by fire from his infernal belly, lost my whole armour and powerups. Then, as I was struggling to dodge both lasers and fireballs, in my noble undies (and mind you don't even have socks at that stage), I was fatally hit by laser from his infernal mouth. There I was, once again a lifeless heap of bones, at the threshold of victory.

I moved to the Super Nintendo, and proceded to turn it off without further ceremony. Then it was over, and I had just spent 5 hours or more battling a game for nothing. I hadn't even won.

The good side of this, believe it or not, is that I will be able to play it again. Had I finished it, there's little chance that I would have decided to give it another try. So there's many more hours of tormenting fun ahead for me. [Epilogue: I never went back to this game.]