Think of Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts as that friend in your life who is kind of a dick. You know you need to have extra thick skin when you’re around them, because they are always speaking their mind, never sugar-coating it, always pushing it. Sometimes you might find yourself wondering why the hell you hang out with them at all. But, in the end, underneath it all, they do possess all the meaningful qualities of a true friend, and you may be all the better of person because of the time you spend with them.
Alright, that analogy may have run off the rails a bit. But bear with me – there are some parallels to be drawn here! This game is tough as balls. It’s not just tough, it’s basically designed to be a prick. As the knight in shining armor Arthur, your goal is to traverse a diverse series of treacherous lands in order to, of course, save a princess.
But the armor is all for show. Take one hit from anything at all, whether its the boss of the stage or a measly bat, and it explodes off of you like a bomb. You are then sentenced to battle your way to the end of the stage in nothing but your boxer shorts. You won’t usually find additional health, either; this system of “only one mistake allowed per stage” is part of the deal from the beginning of the game to the very end. And saying “usually” is being very generous – there was one time, exactly ONE, that I stumbled on a treasure chest that restored my armor. It was so risky to grab that I immediately lost it as soon as I took it.
You’ll come across armor upgrades, but they don’t do jackshit for your health – this is one of the many lessons Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts imparts early on in order to ingratiate you
into its hellish gameplay. Green armor powers up your equipped weapon, and if you can manage to hold onto the green armor long enough to find another power-up chest, you’ll get GOLD armor, which allows you to charge your weapon for an high-powered attack. Logic would tell you if you take a hit while wearing green or gold armor, you would revert back to the standard gray armor, and your usual weapon. Not the case, though; take a hit and it’s both back to your standard weapon, and into your boxer shorts.
The other two factors that will literally decide life and death in this game are the weapon you’re using, and the jumping system. Weapons make up several different types of projectiles you toss out at unlimited amounts – lances, daggers, firebombs, arrows, scythes, axes, and… some crazy three-pronged bladed weapon. They range from your absolute-best-friend, could-never-pass-the-stage-without-it (arrows), to if-not-literally-useless-than-pretty-damn-close (firebombs) and everything in between. Most of the weapons fire at a direct line in front of you, but the arrows, while slightly weaker than the other weapons, shoot both a straight on shot and diagonally upward shot. Spamming the hell out of this weapon allows you to cover yourself from multiple angles, and there were many stages that I would be stuck on until I got the arrow weapon back.
The jumping, though… Jesus Christ, the jumping. It’s a basic double-jump system, but it’s more complicated than it first looks. Each of the two jumps can have a direction committed, and it’s important to learn this early. For example, you can jump to the right, and on the second jump, double back to the left. Or, you can jump to the right, then ascend straight up for your second jump. You can also initiate the second jump at any time, allowing you to either time a super long jump, or pop the second jump very quickly, tacking on a tiny distance onto your first jump.
You’ll need to master all of these tactics for some of the platforming nightmares you’ll experience. Trying to eyeball how far away the next tiny island is across the lava pit your leaping across will be the difference between life and death. And then, of course, is the usual Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden nightmares of hopping across the path of an enemy who careens your arc backwards and sends you into a pit of death.
All this BS aside… this game rocks. Seriously. It’s not easy, but once you have your head wrapped around all of the rules it demands you play by, it’s pretty cool. When I used to play it, it was nothing more than one of those games where I booted up countless times, played through Stage 1 four or five times, made no progress and promptly said LOL, fuck this! and moved onto something else. I was determined to see it through this time, and it was worth it. The levels are diverse – graveyards, sunken ghost ships, lava-filled hellscapes, winter nightmares and some sort of biological-themed, pulsing internal monster stage make up a whole slew of different challenges. Boss battles
are tough, but all fair. A testament to a great game is one that knocks you down over and over again and has you jumping in for just one more try rather than slamming it off in frustration. That was pretty much my story for every level.
Graphics are great – full of color, cool cartoonish monsters vary on every stage, and boss designs are always intimidating. The music isn’t legendary, but not bad either, comprising a sort of funhouse-in-hell, merry-go-round-of-death feeling. All of these elements, combined with the unforgiving gameplay, create the feeling that the game knows it’s a jerk. There’s an overbearing feeling that it knows it’s not being “fair”, but if you’re playing well, it’s fair enough. You end up having honed some of your video game skills, and feeling like you beat something that really made you work for it.
Alright, I’ll admit it – I didn’t officially “beat” this game. True to its fashion, and like its predecessor on the NES, you reach the end only for the princess to turn you around and make you start the entire journey over, citing a “goddess bracelet” you missed that is imperative to winning. It’s only through running through the game two times in a row do you actually “beat” it. Maybe someday I’ll have the time for that nonsense, but for now, I’ll settle on one go-through. If you’re in the mood for a tough as nails, solid throwback experience, definitely give this one a go. The timing sure is perfect – it is among the stellar, flawless setlist of the upcoming SNES Classic.