Ghosts’n Goblins a.k.a. Makaimura (1985)
By: Capcom Genre: Platform Players: 1 Difficulty: Hard
Featured Version: Arcade First Day Score: 43,400
Also Available For: Sharp X68000, NES, Game Boy Color, PC, Amiga, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Commodore 16, Amstrad CPC, ZX Spectrum
The adventures of Sir Arthur, the brave and noble knight of Demon World, have long since passed into legend and become known as some of the grandest in the world of Men. However, the latest in what is becoming an embarrassing series of confessions here at Red Parsley is that until very recently I’d never even played this, the original game in the series. Eeek! Time to rectify that I deem, and what better way than to try the original of the original! First though, it might be prudent to try honing my skills and reaction times, for even I already knew that Ghosts’n Goblins is a supremely difficult game, apparently one of the hardest ever, and that scares me. As much as I may like retro gaming, I’ve never been especially good at most types of games, so I find myself approaching this notoriously hardcore challenge with a great deal of caution. Gulp!
Despite my love of the Shinobi series and my mastery of some of its sequels, side-scrolling platform-shooters are one type of game I’m not especially skilled at. I am already familiar with the aforementioned knight though, having played his second game extensively on my treasured MegaDrive over the years, so I should be fairlyready for this, surely? Hmmm. Anyway, like that game, Sir Arthur’s first quest consists of six mostly-multi-tiered stages, each teeming with predictably scary creatures. He can run and jump through them to his heart’s content, provided the time-limit doesn’t expire (which spells instant death), but his objective is only to reach the end and defeat the evil boss that dwells therein. At the end of the final stage Sir Arthur must battle Satan, King of the Demon World. If he manages to defeat him, he will not only restore balance to the world, but also get his hands on Satan’s prisoner – the delightful Princess Prin Prin.
Killing the lesser enemies on each stage is not mandatory – some of them are actually infinite so it’s not even possible. With this and the time-limit in mind, it’s advisable to proceed to the end of each stage as quickly as possible. Sir Arthur is initially armed with throwable lances which are in unlimited supply and defeat most enemies, certainly on earlier stages, with one hit. A few of the enemies, however, carry urns. Killing them allows you to then collect the contents which is most often one of numerous sparkly items for bonus points (including some of the Princesses’ possessions!), but occasionally you’ll find a new weapon. These include Daggers (my favourite – narrow range but rapid fire), Flaming Torch (short range fiery things), Axe (wider range and powerful, but fires slowly), and one final secret weapon which is required to defeat Satan.
The only items you’ll find already dotted about on the platforms are coins or money bags, again for bonus points, but putting any degree of emphasis on the collection of this stuff is not advised – the default weapon is fine for the whole game (except the final boss battle), and points, while nice, won’t get you any further into the game! For that, practise is required, and lots of it. That brings me to that legendary difficulty… I’ve been playing Ghosts’n Goblins for a couple of weeks solid now and, while it’s definitely a tough game, I wouldn’t call it one of the hardest ever. After the reputation and build-up, I was expecting the most savagely torturous game in the universe, but for me it’s just… very tough! The main problem with the actual stages comes from the infinite nature of some of the enemies. The first stage, for example, features zombies who rise out of the ground and amble toward you. These don’t really cause a problem unless one emerges very close to you, and it’s the same story with the other stages.
The second features small flying demons which this time come from some of the windows of the buildings that form the various backdrops. These things also appear without limit and again the main problem is when they appear very close to you, and there is an equivalent beastie through most parts of the game. For me though, the biggest problem in terms of difficulty was the larger enemies – specifically, the annoying Sons of Satan (red devil things – see screenshot below), as well as the even larger bosses which take the form of dragons and ogres and things of that nature, all of whom take numerous hits to put down. If you lose a life while attempting this you’ll return to the half-way point of the stage so each guardian has to be defeated with a single life – no small ask when Sir Arthur can only take one hit without dying which removes his armour, forcing him to fight on in just his undies – one of gaming’s most enduring images!
If Arthur does lose his armor more can be collected if you’re very lucky, but a new suit isn’t exactly forthcoming a vast majority of the time, and can never be collected during a boss fight which is another reason these confrontations are the part of the game I have most trouble with. If you can last long enough though, there’s a lot to see here. The sprites are numerous and look superb for their day. Even more impressive are the backgrounds which change several times during the course of most stages and range from the graveyard in which you begin to a town, various towers, and gloomy caverns, on the way to Satan’s castle itself.
As mentioned earlier, you need a specific weapon to fight the Dark Lord himself (a Crucifix in the Japanese version, a Shield in other versions) and if you don’t have it you’ll be sent back to the star of the fifth level.As well as looking nice, and highly varied for its time, the music and sound effects are also great and add a lot of charm to an already-distinctive game. Control of Sir Arthur is pretty good for most part, with two exceptions – after playing Ghouls’n Ghosts so much I assumed the controls would be the same here, but sadly this original doesn’t offer the option of shooting directly upwards. I also found that he often got ‘stuck’ at the tops or bottoms of ladders. Apart from this though, our hero is still pretty nippy and can run and leap his way out of most hairy situations in the right hands. There are a few unfair moments which will have you turning the air blue but generally I found Ghosts’n Goblins to be very tough but an addictive and highly enjoyable challenge all the same. It’s taken me far too long to give it a proper try but I’m really glad I did now. A true classic indeed!
RKS Score: 8/10