The Curious And Confusing History Of Commando, Bionic Commando And Super Joe

1985’s Commando from Capcom is one of the most massively influential shooters ever made. I am a tad hesitant to say that it created the run ‘n gun subgenre, I need to double-check that, but I will state that Commando certainly popularised it. Following the release of the game, the arcades became full of similar titles and even the home market saw plenty of run ‘n gun games too. The likes of Ikari Warriors, Green Beret, Contra, Who Dares Wins and even more modern games like Cuphead all owe a little something to Capcom and Commando for leading the charge.

COMMANDO SCREEN 1

A couple of years later in 1987, Capcom released Bionic Commando. At the time, I recall my older brother telling me that Bionic Commando was the sequel to Commando. But was it? The short answer is… ‘Yeeeeeaaaah, kind of, in a way of thinking, from a certain point of view, in a roundabout way, sort of… but not’. The long answer is this article.

There were certainly clear connections between the two games. Outside of the use of the word commando in both titles, they were both Capcom games. Both had a similar run ‘n gun gameplay mechanic. Perhaps Bionic Commando was a tad more platformy and swingy but it did still have a run ‘n gun element. Then, of course, there was the fact that both games were designed by the same man, Tokuro Fujiwara. I mean, one could see how it would be possible to think that the two games were sequel and prequel to each other.

COMMANDO BIONIC SCREEN

Officially though? This is where it gets a bit messy and confusing. See, for Bionic Commando’s western release, it was not explicitly said to be the sequel to Commando but it was heavily implied. The original arcade flyer to help promote Bionic Commando to arcade owners looked like this:

COMMANDO BIONIC POSTER

Quickly glossing over the “CAPCOM Swings Into Action With Its First Dedicated Video Game!!!” bit. What does that even mean? Capcom released a number of games pre-Bionic Commando and surely they were ‘dedicated’ video games too? I don’t recall 1942 being anything other than a video game, I definitely didn’t use it to clean my oven or anything. It was just a video game. But it is the bit at the bottom, there is a blurb that roughly describes the game. In that blub, it does say that: ” Super Joe Is Now BIONIC.”. See, this is where I need to address the whole Super Joe character bit. In Commando, you played as Super Joe. And yes, I have an arcade flyer to prove as much too.

COMMANDO POSTER

Super Joe is mentioned several times there. You definitely played as Super Joe in Commando then. So with Bionic Commando claiming that Super Joe is now bionic… for a game called Bionic Commando, from Capcom, with both games having similar titles and being designed by the same man. I think it would be more than safe to make the connection that the two games are sequel and prequel to each other. All good then eh? Well, not quite. See, I did say earlier that this really only applies to the western releases of both games. Back in Japan where Capcom are based… it is a different story.

In Japan, Commando’s character is not Super Joe, he was just an unnamed soldier. Not only that, Commando wasn’t even called Commando in Japan either. In Japan, the game was released as Senjō no Ōkami or Wolf of the Battlefield. In Japan, there was no character connection between Commando and Bionic Commando (called Top Secret in Japan), they were two completely separate games. When Tokuro Fujiwara created Bionic Commando, he actually wanted to make a sequel/follow up to his 1983 game called Roc’n Rope. However, Fujiwara made that game when he was at and for Konami, not Capcom. So he couldn’t officially make Bionic Commando a sequel to Roc’n Rope as Konami owned the rights. If you look at some gameplay of Roc’n Rope, you will see some similar shared concepts with Bionic Commando. Platforming action with the use of a harpoon-gun to reach different platforms. Throw in some run ‘n gun action and you’d have Bionic Commando.

ROC N ROPE

So yeah in Japan, the home of Capcom, Commando and Bionic Commando were completely unrelated. There was no Super Joe character to link the two games and Bionic Commando/Top Secret was even created as an unofficial follow up to Tokuro Fujiwara’s Roc’n Rope and not Commando/Wolf of the Battlefield. The Super Joe connection was purely created for the western audience. Which does kind of leave a question mark over if the two games are ‘officially’ connected when that was not the intention of the game’s creator… even though they are officially connected by Capcom themselves outside of Japan. It really is a rather strange history and one that only became more confusing with later games. Oh yeah, this is not done yet, there’s a lot more to look into.

See, Commando actually did get an official sequel. Not a ‘yeah I guess there is a slight connection here’, but an actual bona fide direct sequel that was not Bionic Commando. Released in 1990 from Capcom came Mercs or Wolf of the Battlefield II in Japan. Yes, an official, no bones about it, sequel. Featuring the same classic run ‘n gun gameplay that made Commando so popular. Only now, with a simultaneous 3-player option. Yup, you and two chums could team up and blow the crap out of stuff. Now, one could bring up the different titles here. It may have been an undisputed sequel called Wolf of the Battlefield II in Japan, but not here in the west. Why was it not just called Commando 2 if it was a direct sequel to Commando? I guess that really comes down to the story of the game, I mean, the characters are mercenaries and no longer part of the military. So calling it Commando 2 wouldn’t quite fit, would it? Wolf of the Battlefield II worked as it doesn’t necessarily make a connection to the military but still very much does work as a sequel to the original game and its title.

MERCS

So yeah, the title of Mercs here in the west just sounded better as the characters were not part of the military and worked as mercenaries. Still, you do have to question how a game with a different title can be considered a sequel if there is no real connection other than a similar gameplay style. Well, there was another connection. The three playable characters in Mercs were called Joseph Gibson, Howard Powell and Thomas Clarke. Of those three, Joseph Gibson, who was always depicted in blue, was the main character. It doesn’t matter if you take the official promotional material for the arcade version or the various home ports. Joseph Gibson, dressed in blue, was always front and centre.

combine_images

Do you know who else was dressed in blue? Super Joe in Commando. Hey, wait a minute… Joseph Gibson and Super Joe? Yup, they are in fact one and the same character, officially canon according to Capcom too. So yes, Mercs (despite the lack of a sequel title) is the real sequel to Commando and not Bionic Commando, which was actually an unofficial follow up to Roc’n Rope due to legal reasons… even though the western release of Bionic Commando was officially linked to Commando by Capcom themselves. Confused yet?

Well, there is more. There was another game. Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 was released in 2008 on the PS3 and Xbox 360. Finally, the two official titles merge. We now have the original Japanese name and the western one together to make the third and (so far) final game in the series. This one played more like Mercs in that it was a 3-player, mass explosion run ‘n gun game… but now in 3D! Again, the main character was depicted as being in blue with promotional material having him front and centre. So… Super Joe/Joseph Gibson again then? Well no. The three characters had codenames and this fella was called Wolf… as in the title of the game. But he must be Joe just using a codename then. No. The character select screen displays his real name as Roy McMurray. This game really has nothing to do with Commando other than the name and run ‘n gun gameplay. There was no connecting plot or characters to the previous two games.

COMMANDO 3

So, what happened to the star of the series Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson then? Well, this is where we need to go back to Bionic Commando. Now, the original arcade game never had a sequel, not a connecting one anyway. There was Bionic Commando: Elite Forces on the GameBoy in 2000. This is said to be a ‘proper’ sequel to the original, yet it has nothing to do with the original at all. Still, it’s more of a sequel to the NES port of the original game, which itself was very different from the arcade version. Anyway, Bionic Commando: Elite Forces has nothing to do with the Bionic Commando featuring Super Joe. There is an all-new plot with new characters, none of them are Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson. Really, this could be seen as a stand-alone game. So we aren’t going to find any answers as to what happened to Super Joe here. For that, we would have to wait a good few years. 2008 saw the release of Bionic Commando Rearmed.

BIONIC COMMANDO REARMED

Okay, so let’s get even more confused now. Bionic Commando Rearmed was a, built from the ground up, complete remake of the NES version of the arcade original. The NES version was a very different game with a different plot to the arcade version. Still, Super Joe was in it… and he is captured. That is what happens with this remake too, Super Joe is sent in on a mission and is captured. So you, playing as Nathan Spencer, go in and try to rescue Super Joe and help him finish his mission. This means that Super Joe has now jumped ship from the Commando franchise (he wasn’t in the 3rd game) and is now officially part of the Bionic Commando franchise… a franchise that (remember) was not originally part of the Commando one. It was an unofficial follow up to Tokuro Fujiwara’s Roc’n Rope.

Anyway, Bionic Commando Rearmed actually served as, not only a remake, but also a prelude to 2009’s Bionic Commando. This game was a kind of a reboot of the original arcade game but still a sequel (of sorts) to Bionic Commando Rearmed… which was a remake of the NES port of the arcade original… which itself was a different take on the arcade version. This new Bionic Commando takes place 10 years after the first game… that’s the NES version and not the arcade original. You play as Nathan Spencer from Bionic Commando Rearmed and this time, Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson is the bad guy. Yup, you have to track down and deal with the hero of the original game that you are currently playing the reboot of. The character who jumped from the Commando franchise to the Bionic Commando one. Could this shit get any more convoluted? Well yes, yes it can.

BIONIC COMMANDO 2009

Finally, in 2011, we got Bionic Commando Rearmed 2. So, while this was released after the 2009 Bionic Commando game, it is actually set before it… but still after the first Bionic Commando Rearmed. I’m seriously getting a headache now. Nathan Spencer is the main character, back from the previous games. Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson serves as Nathan Spencer’s commanding officer in this one… who becomes the bad guy in 2009’s Bionic Commando which was released before this one.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what happened to Super Joe. He started out as the hero of Commando (outside of Japan) before being placed in the world of the arcade version of Bionic Commando by Capcom but not the games creator, Tokuro Fujiwara. Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson then popped up as the main character in the official Commando sequel, Mercs… before disappearing from the next game in the franchise with Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. That was because Super Joe had officially been placed in the Bionic Commando franchise, thanks to Bionic Commando Rearmed, which was a remake of the NES port of the arcade original that featured Super Joe as the hero… even though he wasn’t in the Japanese arcade original. Anyway, in the NES port and the 2008 remake, Super Joe became a secondary character as Nathan Spencer took the lead (though he was called Ladd in the NES version). Only for Joseph ‘Super Joe’ Gibson to become the bad guy in the 2009 Bionic Commando reboot… which is a sequel of sorts to the Bionic Commando Rearmed remake. Which then got its own sequel Bionic Commando Rearmed 2 in 2011… which saw Super Joe return as Nathan Spencer’s commanding officer.

SUPER JOE

Now that is out of the way, I suppose I could tackle the whole Double Dragon/Nekketsu Kōha Kunio-kun/Renegade multiple franchise mess… after several months to recover from this whole Commando/Bionic Commando/Super Joe chaos.

Game Review: Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection

Following on from my review of the amazing Capcom Arcade Stadium, I’ve got some more Capcom greatness to take a look at. The Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise really is one of my favourite ‘old school’ series. From the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins way back in 1985, the brilliant Ghouls ‘n Ghosts sequel from 1988, the simply sublime Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts from 1991. The Gargoyle/Demon Quest spin-offs, the overlooked Maximo games. Even the very little known Makaimura for WonderSwan game. I just love any and everything Ghosts ‘n Goblins, I even wrote a retrospective looking at the whole franchise back in 2019. A retrospective I finished by saying “an all new Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for the modern audience still using that classic gameplay would be amazing. Some kind of remake/reboot”.

In February of this year, Capcom released Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection exclusively for the Nintendo Switch. It looked great from the trailer. Classic G’n G gameplay, but with a modern edge. I was both elated and annoyed. Elated because we got a new G ‘n G title, annoyed because I don’t own a Switch, so I couldn’t play it. Then, a few weeks back and it was announced that Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection would be ported to the other consoles… I was happy.

Well now I have finally played Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, it is time to see just what it is made of. First up, this is pure, old school arcade action. If you’ve ever played a G ‘n G game before, then you know exactly what you’re getting here. Playing as a brave knight called Arthur, you have to rescue Princess Prin-Prin who has been kidnapped and taken to the Demon Realm. Fast action platforming with plenty of shooting of classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins enemies. What Resurrection does is it takes a lot of elements from the first three games in the series and mushes them all together. As you’ll play, you’ll instantly recognise all of the enemies, the zombies, skeletons, giants, pigmen and more. The bosses are all from the first three games too, only they’ve got a lot more tricks up their sleeves now.

Everything about this game will definitely hit a nostalgia nerve with anyone who loved the originals. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is a perfectly penned love letter to a bygone age of gaming. You can choose one of two different routes through the game… At first, as the two opening levels have two alternate paths to take. But after that, it’s a single route to the end. As for the levels themselves, they’re very open and pretty long. All of those classic weapons from the previous games are back too, got a favourite from one of the other G ‘n G games? Then you’re sure to find it here. Oh and now Arthur can be upgraded. Magic attacks, the ability to hold more than one weapon and more. Sadly, the double jump from the SNES game is sorely missing. Honestly, I’d trade every single upgrade in this game for a double jump.

GHOSTS N GOBLINS RESSURECTION BOSS FIGHT

It’s also a challenge how the upgrades work too. It is not as if you just finish a level and get to pick from the upgrades, you have to pay for them with Umbral Bees. These bees are hidden in each level and you have to find the right spot for them to be revealed. Even then, collecting them may not be quite as easy as it first seems as these bees fly about the level and never in the same pattern. Some just fly around in a circle and are easy to nab, others will move all over the place and even put you in a direct path of danger and death. It becomes a skill in itself to grab these things before they are gone for good.

Controlling Artur often feels like a bit of a chore. He slugs along and feels clunky. I get why though, that was he was like in the originals and this game is recreating that feeling. You can shoot in four directions, but there are times when you really could do with attacking on the diagonal too. Again, this is what it was like in the originals. But I think how sluggish Arthur feels could put off a lot of gamers. Still, if you’re familiar with the original G ‘n G titles, then you’ll feel very comfortable with just how Arthur controls.

GHOSTS N GOBLINS RESSURECTION BOSS FIGHT 2

Looks-wise, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is a beautiful looking title. Wonderful hand-drawn art, highly detailed backgrounds, splendid animation, Everything looks amazing and very atmospheric, but still recognisable from previous entries in the series. Each level has its own unique look and the hand-drawn art really stands out and makes them look glorious. Even the sound department is wonderful, with excellent rearrangements of instantly recognisable G ‘n G tunes. Everything works and clicks together, making a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Okay, so let’s get this out of the way. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is insanely hard. I believe that, when talking about anything Ghosts ‘n Goblins that you have to, by law, make reference and comparison to Dark Souls. So there you go, there’s your Dark Souls reference right there. Now, just saying that Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is hard doesn’t really get across just how difficult the game is. If you’ve ever played any of the G ‘n G games before, then you already know how hard they are. Resurrection ups the ante by adding selectable difficulty settings. There’s the Page mode (easy) through to Legend (very hard). Even so, the Page setting is still pretty difficult, you’ll not be breezing through the game at all. I settled for Knight setting (normal) and even that was still bloody difficult. On the lower difficulty settings, Arthur can take more than the classic two hits. In fact, on the easiest setting (I had to check it out), you can respawn exactly where you die. This definitely takes a big chunk of the challenge out of the game, even on the Squire setting, you can take five hits before you die… No respawning though and you have to rely on checkpoints.

Then the other two difficulties are more like the older G ‘n G games with two hit deaths. Purists will probably scoff at there being easier difficulty settings in a Ghosts ‘n Goblins, but for me, I think it’s a great idea. You have the best of both worlds as newbies to the franchise can ease themselves in and get used to just how tricky-dicky these games are. While hardened vets can dive right into the brutality of the game and get their buttocks whacked over and over again. I actually thought I’d try it on Legend setting and it took me three hours to finish the first level. Oh, and in keeping with tradition, finishing the game once will not give you the proper ending. You, you have to finish it twice to see the real finale of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. After you do finish it once, the game allows you to play special shadow levels. Here, the levels are played in the dark and they have slightly different layouts and surprises. It’s really more like having two games in one.

GHOSTS N GOBLINS RESSURECTION SHADOW LEVEL

Still, you will die a lot regardless of which difficulty setting you play on. But that is the very nature of these G ‘n G games. You have to die to learn what you did wrong, to progress further. Each death is a small step towards the end of the game and you’ll need to play and replay each level to learn everything you can about them. There isn’t a gamer on this planet who could pick up this game and get to the end on their first try. Trial and error is the name of the game (well Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is the name of the game, but you know what I mean), and only by dying a lot will you learn to get better and better. I lost count of how many deaths I had in my two playthroughs. Yet, none of them felt cheap. Each death I suffered was because I got cocky, mistimed a jump, tried to rush where I didn’t need to, got a bit too overconfident against a boss, etc. I learned every time and those deaths made me better at the game.

Now, normally when I do these reviews, I look at how much the game is selling for and decide if it is worth the money. As I write this sentence right now, I have not looked into how much Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is going for, because I want to do something a bit different. For this review, I’m going to say how much I’d be happy paying for the game (I got my review copy for free, and free is always a great price) and then look at how much it is being sold for. Now I have put a good chunk of time into the game and gotten a decent understanding of just what it has to offer. Given the difficulty of the game, the upgrade system, unlockables, alternate paths, hidden secrets and more. I’d quite honestly be happy spending £25, £30 at a push. You do get a lot of game here and while it’s certainly not for everyone, I think that Ghosts ‘n Goblins fans will really get a nostalgic kick out of this, I did.

GHOSTS N GOBLINS RESSURECTION BOSS FIGHT 3

Now looking at the price, Resurrection is being sold at £24.99. Yup, that’s a fair price for what you get. This a hard as coffin nails game, but that is what the G ‘n G franchise is all about. There’s good variety in the levels, the upgrade system really helps to even the odds, it looks great and plays even better. Old school gaming for those that want a very tough but fair challenge. For me, a measure of a great game is one that draws you back in even if you’ve already poured plenty of time into it. I’ve put in a good twelve hours or so into Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection already, got to the end credits twice, and I really can’t wait to get back into it.

Game Review: Capcom Arcade Stadium

Well, this is going to be a big one. I’ve been given a review code for Capcom Arcade Stadium, a collection of classic Capcom games from the arcades… A total of thirty-two Capcom arcade titles in one amazing package. And I’m going to go through all thirty-two games to review this pretty impressive collection, as well as take a look at the overall bundle and see just how well put together it all is. There’s a lot to cover here and I’ll be going through all the games in chronological order (which I’ve not previously looked at, so doing this blind) and as there are so many, I’ll just gloss over each one. With thirty-two games to cover, I had better crack on.

CAPCOM ARCADE CABINETS

The Games

Vulgus (1984). A top-down, vertical shooter. This one is really rather simple compared to other similar shoot ’em ups. There’s no ending and you just keep going for a high score until your lives run out. No actual weapon upgrades or anything like that. For an early shooter, it’s pretty average.

Pirate Ship Higemaru (1984). A top-down maze game. Imagine if Pac-Man and Bomberman had a baby, you’d get Pirate Ship Higemaru. Playing as a deckhand, you pick up and throw barrels at attacking pirates. Clear the screen of all the pirates, move onto the next stage. Simple stuff, but pretty good, simple fun.

1942 (1984). One of the all-time classic shooters. The first in the long-running `194X games, and there are more to come in this collection too. It doesn’t have most of the features and refinements of later games in the franchise, but 1942 is still a very playable shoot ’em up regardless.

Commando (1985). I think this may have been the first-ever Capcom game I ever played in the arcade. It’s another classic shooter and one that was always a very tough challenge. Great shooter even if it is bloody hard.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985). Speaking of hard, this is often described as being our generation’s Dark Souls. A fairly apt descriptive I guess… Even if Dark Souls was much easier than Ghosts ‘n Goblins. This really is some tip-top platforming-shooter action. And yes, it really is ‘effing difficult, even on the easiest setting. Utterly brilliant though.

CAPCOM ARCADE GHOSTS N GOBLINS

Section Z (1985). A really interesting multi-directional shooter where enemies come from all sides. With a nice gimmick where, at the touch of a button, you can change the direction that you are facing. Really handy when the screen starts to fill with enemies. I don’t recall playing this back in the day, but it’s a pretty decent shooter.

Tatakai no Banka (1986). This one was Japanese only, no English version. I assumed it was only ever released in Japan, but a quick check says it was released as Trojan in the west. Not sure where there is no English version here then? A side-scrolling beat ’em up kind of thing that was just a bit too dull. I played as if Double Dragon had raped Ghosts ‘n Goblins and neither was happy with the end result, very okay-ish.

Legendary Wings (1986). Another game I think I missed originally. This is a vertical-shooter with a twist, as at certain points, the game changes to a side-scrolling platform-shooter. Basic power-up stuff here, but it plays pretty well and does get extra points for mixing up the gameplay styles.

Bionic Commando (1987). This was one of my favourites growing up, I spent so much coinage on this bad boy as a kid. A multi-directional scrolling platform-shooter with a brilliant gameplay mechanic… A grappling hook. Well, a grappling arm to be more accurate. Shoot bad guys, get power-ups and swing from platform to platform using your grappling arm. I don’t think I ever played this ‘properly’ back then, I just used to love swinging about the levels.

1943: The Battle of Midway (1987). The next entry in the 194X franchise and this one is so much better than the original 1942. One of my all-time favourite shooters as it took what was great about the previous 1942 and sprinkled it with just the right amount of spice to heat things up.

Forgotten Worlds (1988). Another side-scrolling shooter, but with some great bells and whistles. It plays a bit like the previously covered, Section Z with its multi-directional shooting, only if it had swallowed the kind of steroids WWE wrestlers use (allegedly). Wonderful bold late-eighties graphics, top shooting action and a nice weapons upgrade shop too. Oh and some awesome, huge boss battles.

CAPCOM ARCADE FORGOTTEN WORLDS

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1988). Okay, this collection is seriously spoiling me now. One of my favourite sequels, only bettered by the sublime SNES version. This is what happens when a dev team gets together and says ‘that Ghosts ‘n Goblins really need to be harder’. More rock-solid platforming-shooter action with some of the toughest stages in any arcade game ever… And I love it.

Strider (1989). When it comes to iconic Capcom games, I think that Strider is high on the list. Hack ‘n slash, platforming action with a ninja-type bloke who has a plasma sword. Strider really is one of Capcom’s finest arcade titles. Fast and frantic gameplay with some really creative level design.

Dynasty Wars (1989). Get ready for some side-scrolling horseback riding. This is a scrolling beat ’em up, kind of thing with some light RPG elements. Smack people in the face with a large weapon as you scroll through each stage, pick up orb for experience and level up. I was never really a fan of this one back then, not a real Capcom classic for me. An okay game I guess.

Final Fight (1989). Now we’re talking! One of the finest scrolling beat ’em ups ever made. Big chunky graphics, a lot of punching people in the face, an all-time classic and a real coin muncher. This is what arcade gaming was all about. Best to play the Japanese version of this due to ‘reasons’.

CAPCOM ARCADE FINAL FIGHT

1941: Counter Attack (1990). More 194X action and what I love about these shooters is how they evolved over the years. Yes, it is more scrolling shooty action, but these game get better with every instalment to the franchise. Loads of enemies, loads of bullets to dodge and some pretty epic boss fights.

Senjo no Okami II (1990). No English version of this one, which is strange as it was released in the west as Mercs. Plays pretty much like the classic Commando, but with multi-directional scrolling and weapon power-ups. A rather tough shooter but great fun to play.

Mega Twins (1990). Another game I’ve not been familiar with before. A platforming, hack ‘n slash thing with some very cute graphics. Not a great title, not my cup of tea at all.

Carrier Air Wing (1990). This is the follow up to U.N. Squadron (missing from this collection). A classic bit of side-scrolling shooter, using fighter jets. Pick one of three jets, and go shoot some bad guys out of the sky. There’s a weapon upgrade shop between levels. This is a damn good shooter.

Street Fighter II (1991). Does this game even need an introduction? One of the greatest beat ’em up and greatest games ever made. This is the standard, vanilla version of the game, great for purists. No frills, just great Street Fighter and iconic action.

CAPCOM ARCADE STREET FIGHTER I

Captain Commando (1991). Capcom made some great scrolling beat ’em ups and this was one of their best. Crazy characters and bold graphics. Plays very much like Final Fight, but for me, I always thought this was the better game.

Varth: Operation Thunderstorm (1992). A vertical shooter that really wouldn’t be out of place in the 194X franchise. Nothing remarkable about this one and it plays a good shooter regardless. Scroll up the screen, shoot enemies, grab power-ups, kill end of level bosses. Standard stuff, but still very playable.

Warriors of Fate (1992). The follow up to Dynasty Wars, and for me, the better of the two games. Still yer standard scrolling beat ’em up stuff. But this one feels much more robust and playable all round. A decent and a very satisfying brawler, with that familiar Capcom feel.

Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting (1992). More Street Fighter II and this one offers some tweaks over the original. Different colour costumes, slightly altered special moves and the ability to play as any of the four bosses. It’s Street Fighter II with some minor bells and whistles.

Super Street Fighter II Turbo (1994). Of all the different versions of this game, this is probably the best. The original eight characters, the four bosses and four new characters too, with new stages. More costume choices, variable speeds, the addition of the super meter to pull off awesome super combos. Plus, this was the game that introduced Akuma to the franchise. If you’re going to play some SF II, then this really is the best version.

Powered Gear (1994). Another Japanese only rom here, which once more is strange as it did have a western release where it was called Armored Warriors. Anyway, this is another scrolling beat ’em up… Only in mech-suits. A really good game that feels very ‘chunky’ as you stomp around in your mech. Some nice little touches, like being able to walk over little peeps before they can get in their own mechs. A lot of crunching metal as mech fights mech and everything plays and feels great. Proper arcade action.

Cyberbots: Full Metal Madness (1995). This is actually a spin-off from the previous Powered Gear (Armored Warriors) game. Whereas that was a scrolling beat ’em up, this is a one on one fighter. This really wasn’t too bad. Chose a pilot and then select a mech, the combo of which actually affects how the story and even gameplay pans out. Some great destructible scenery and the fighting feels really ‘meaty’. Perhaps not as great as Street Fighter II as a beat ’em up, but still very much worth playing.

19XX: The War Against Destiny (1995). Yup, another in the long-running 194X franchise… Only this is 19XX. You already know the score by now. Vertical scrolling shooty-shoot action. This one really is a marvel and is rock solid hard, goes from pretty tricky to serious bullet hell within a couple of levels. Seriously great shoot ’em up and one not for the faint of heart.

CAPCOM ARCADE 19XX

Battle Circuit (1997). More scrolling beat ’em up action, and this one is beautifully crazy. With a very cartoony-like art style and featuring some pretty insane characters and enemies. Really OTT action with a penchant for the WTF… You fight an Elvis impersonator. Cracking good fun

Giga Wing (1999). If there was one thing that Capcom were fantastic at, that wasn’t the beat ’em up, then the shoot ’em up was that thing. This is another vertically scrolling shooter, kind of like the 1944 series… Only not actually part of it. Rather unusual for a vertical scroller, this uses a horizontal screen. Different planes to fly, each with different weapons sets and power ups. Plenty of action and some really great level designs.

1944: The Loop Master (2000). How many of these 194X games are there? Like the previous Giga Wing, this is another vertical shooter that uses a horizontal screen. Lots of shooting, power ups and big bosses to take out. Pretty standard stuff, but a good shooter nonetheless.

Progear (2001). The last game in this collection… And it’s another shoot ’em up featuring planes. Capcom really liked that motif eh? At least this is a side-scroller just to be a bit different. This is a serious bullet hell of a game, really great to play too. A steampunk-esque slant to the graphics and the best shooter in this whole collection.


Overall

As a gamer in his mid-forties now, I grew up in and around the arcades of the eighties and nineties, so this collection is right up my street. Presentation-wise, Capcom Arcade Stadium is a sheer delight. Each of the games in this collection are represented via their own 3D rendered cabinets and all of the games are loaded with plenty of options. Multiple display settings with scanlines and more, screen sizes (full screen, arcade cabinet view and more), screen orientation (great for those with a rotatable monitor to play vertical shooters in the correct aspect ratio). Then there’s the game settings, where you can change the difficulty, time limits, speed (if your reactions are not as great as they once were), extra lives frequency and more. Plus, you can fully customise the controls and even use a rapid-fire mode for all those shooters. With different games having multiple different settings. So you can really tailor each game to suit your very own playstyle.

There are things like score and special challenges, with scores being uploaded to the interwebs and the global leaderboards. You can read each of the game’s manuals for a quick lesson on how to play. There’s even a save/load games states feature too… Pretty handy for some of the harder titles, or if you just want to take a break for a while. Plus, a rewind feature, so if you mess up, just rewind and try again. You can even choose to play the original Japanese or English ports, seeing as some of the western releases were censored over the original Japanese ones, this is a nice feature to have. And there’s local multiplayer options, depending on the game. Honestly, in terms of options and variables, you really are spoiled here. You can tweak and refine each game to suit just how you want to play. Perhaps you can finally get to the end of some of those arcade classics that have eluded you for many years now? I mean, I actually finally finished Ghosts ‘n Goblins after thirty-six years.

CAPCOM ARCADE GAMES

Now, Capcom Arcade Stadium is actually free to download, but you only get two games with it (as of writing anyway). 1943: The Battle of Midway and Ghosts ‘n Goblins (I believe that G ‘n G is a promotional offer and is normally paid for). Two classics for sure and both worth it for nothing. But you do have to pay for the other games in this collection, and they come in pre-set packs. The three packs that you can download for all thirty-two games, Dawn of the Arcade (1984–1988), Arcade Revolution (1989–1992), and Arcade Evolution (1992–2001), come in at £11.99 each. So, for the whole game with all thirty-two titles, you’re looking at spending £35.97 (though that is just over £1.20 a game). Still, that is a pretty big chunk of cash for a lot of decades-old games… Some better than others. Then there’s the fact that Capcom have said they may add even more games in the future, so more money to spend? And as far as I can tell, you have to buy the packs for the games, you can’t pay for games individually, which I think is a mistake. I mean, there are three versions of Street Fighter II in this. Do you really need three versions of the same game? I feel it would be better if there was an option to just buy the individual games that you want, then you could tailor create your very own arcade. On the surface, forking out £36 on two and over three decades old games does seem a bit steep.

Emulation wise (cos that is how these games run), everything played fine and dandy. I didn’t come across any graphical or audio glitches in any of the thirty-two games. The controls felt responsive using a standard Xbox pad, but Capcom Arcade Stadium does support arcade joysticks too, in fact, there’s a specific option for arcade sticks. So if you have one, I’m sure these games will feel far more authentic using a ‘proper’ controller. Oh and the more you play, the more you earn Capcom Arcade Stadium POints (CASPO), this is basically experience points. The more you play, the more CASPO you earn, you level (class) up and unlock some cosmetics such as background wallpapers, etc.

CAPCOM ARCADE CASPO

So I guess the big question is, is it worth paying for? This is a bit tricky to answer, given the fact that there have already been several Capcom arcade bundles in the past. The likes of Capcom Arcade Cabinet or Capcom Beat ‘Em Up Bundle does mean that several of these games have previously been released over the years and you probably own a few of the titles already (I know I do). So it may not seem worth paying again for games that you already own. The fact you have to buy the packs and can’t buy games individually is a definite downside too, as seperate games would make perfect sense for those that have previously bought similar collections and already have some of the games. Still, for everything, all the games, all three packs, £35.97 isn’t a bad price. Or you can buy a bundle of all three packs in one, which is slightly cheaper at £31.99 (around £1.07 per game). Then you have to add all the extra features, options and variables for all the titles too. You do get a lot for your money, even if £35 (or £32) seems a big price tag for 30-year-old games, I think it is worth it in all honesty. I’ve spent more than that on recent AAA games and not got as much gameplay out of them as I have here. Seriously just buy the triple bundle collection for £32 and enjoy some awesome Capcom arcade greatness.

CAPCOM ARCADE PRICE

I do have a few niggles. Personally, I’d like to have seen some history on the games. Some background info on who made them, original release dates. Maybe a gallery, concept art, a jukebox to listen to some of the amazing Capcom music. I’m a big fan of gaming history and to see a lack of actual history about the games here is a tad disappointing. They could have even put it all behind unlockables, complete certain challenges in the game to unlock artwork, music, etc. Would’ve added some extra gameplay value. As great as the games in this collection are, there is a real lack of celebrating their history in gaming. There are some glaring omissions from this collection of games (Black Tiger, Gun.Smoke, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors), but as I already mentioned, Capcom will be adding new titles in the future. I doubt we’ll see any of Capcom’s licensed games, The Punisher, Alien vs. Predator, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs, etc. There is local multiplayer, but no online multiplayer, which is also a bit of a disappointment.

For me, I think as far as these arcade collections go, that Capcom Arcade Stadium is one of the very best (if not the best) on offer right now. The sheer amount of options for each game is amazing, and you really can find the perfect difficulty for each and every game to suit your own style. It’s clear this collection has been put together with a lot of love and not just a quick cash-grab (shame about the lack of histories though). Of the thirty-two games here, there really isn’t a bad one in the lot. Sure there are few average ones, but there are many more brilliant titles. Plus there are a few only released in Japan ones or titles I didn’t know about and were fun to discover for the first time. I’m not sold on three versions of Street Fighter II though, I’d rather they just had one of the later versions (Super Street Fighter II Turbo) and then two other games instead, perhaps even one of the Street Fighter Alpha titles?  Still, if you have the cash and really want some classic Capcom arcade hits, then you really can’t go wrong with Capcom Arcade Stadium. It’s a wonderful collection with plenty to keep you coming back for more. Highly recommended, buy it now with all three game packs. Just need Konami to put a collection together and as well made as this now…

The Ghosts ‘n Goblins Saga

I’ve not done any big articles this year as I’ve been busy writing my books. But it’s Halloween time again and I do love me some Halloween. I’m a big horror fan so this time of year is a great excuse to sit around and watch some classic horror films or play some scary games… oh and write some Halloween special articles.

I’ve done some belting Halloween articles over the years, even if I do say so myself. Normally I tend to stick with horror movies for my Halloween specials and rarely give games a mention. This year I’m doing both, I originally had four articles planned, two gaming ones and two film ones (though the same film)… but then something Halloween related came to my attention a few weeks back and so I wrote another one, which ended up becoming very large and I had to split it into two. Anyway, that means I have six Halloween articles coming over the next few days.

So all being told, I have several other Halloween articles coming this week, both film and gaming too but before I get to them, I’m going to kick off my Halloween celebration by covering every game in Capcom’s and Sir Arthur’s ghoulish adventures spanning twenty five years…

Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Released in the arcade in 1985 before being ported to every popular gaming machine at the time. The original Ghosts ‘n Goblins features a simple and classic story. Girl (Princess Prin Prin) get’s kidnapped (by a flying demon) and you (Sir Arthur) have to save her. It’s story is simple, however, Ghosts ‘n Goblins gameplay is anything but. This game’s difficulty is legendary, but before I get to that, a quick look at it’s gameplay.

Ghost N Goblins Poster.jpg

So Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a scrolling action/platformer/shooter. Playing as Sir Arthur, you make your way through graveyards, forests, ghost towns, an underground demon realm and a multi-level castle. All you have to do is make your way from the graveyard at the start and reach the castle at the end. Taking on various enemies like zombies, ravens, mini-devils, skeletons and other spooky foes. Along the way you’ll find various pick-ups from treasure to boost your score and even weapons that can help or even hinder your progress.

Sir Arthur has no health bar, this was the days of real gaming. No health, no save states, no checkpoints. You payed the game from start to end (if you could) with limited lives, lose all your lives and it was game over. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a legendarily tough challenge, while there is no health bar, Arthur could take two hits before dying. One hit removes his armour and leaves him running around in his undercrackers but another hit after that and you were brown bread.

Ghost N Goblins Death

But the lack of health and limited lives are the least of your worries. This game is old school hard, but one of those where the more you play, the more you learn, so you make little advancements each time you play. But it gets worse… see, even if you do manage to get to the castle at the end and battle you way to the top and come face to face with the mastermind behind the kidnapping of your lass… even  if you do manage to beat the big boss man, Astaroth. You have to go back to the start and finish the whole game again and on a harder difficulty setting too. Ghosts ‘n Goblins is legendarily cruel but also one of the most playable games of the 80s and still is today too. Got it on my Xbox, play it quite often when I feel like punishing myself.

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

After the success of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, of course there was a sequel. Released in 1988 for the arcades before (again) being ported to every popular system at the time. This time around, Princess Prin Prin isn’t kidnapped, she’s killed and her soul taken, along with all the souls of the citizens of the kingdom by Lucifer himself. Arthur sets out once more to take on the big red bastard and get back all those stolen souls.

Ghouls N Ghosts Magic.jpg

The baisc gameplay for the original is back with a few tweaks. Arthur can now shoot in more directions, up and down instead of just left and right. The levels themselves are much more varied and exploreable. The weapons have been improved and there is now the addition of golden armour which adds another power level to your weapon and magic attacks. Then there are the hidden secrets when you jump is specific spots and uncover a hidden chest that could contain a nice bonus or a not so nice booby prize. You still have to make your way through various spooky levels battling demons and the undead. It’s essentially the same basic game, but with many, many refinements.

Oh and there is something else carried over for the original too, the difficulty. Now I personally didn’t find Ghouls ‘n Ghosts as hard as the first game, but it’s still bloody hard. And yes, that damn fake ending and having to back to the beginning and play through the entire game again on a harder difficulty setting. A fine sequel to a classic game but for me, it just doesn’t hold that same ‘classic’ status as the original.

Gargoyle’s Quest

Next up in the franchise wasn’t a direct sequel, but a spin off. Gargoyle’s Quest was released in 1990 for the Nintendo Game Boy. This time you play as the gargoyle Firebrand, who was actually an enemy in Ghosts ‘n Goblins. You have to battle King Breager in order to bring piece to the Demon Realm, the world the first game takes place in.

The gameplay in this one shifts slightly from the classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins template. That side scrolling action is still there with the platforming and so on. But there is the addition of overhead Zelda-like exploration and light RPG elements. Firebrand had a basic skill set that can improve over time, jump higher, stronger firepower, hover, etc. Each side scrolling level ends with a boss fight, classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins style.

Gargoyle's Quest Screen.jpg

Overall, Gargoyle’s Quest is really good. It’s heart is still Ghosts ‘n Goblins but it manages to do it’s own thing at the same time too. A nice little action/adventure game that stands out as one of the better ones of it’s time.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Now and again, a sequel game comes along that is just sublime. They don’t happen often, but when they do, they’re pure genius. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is one of those very few. Released in 1991 for the SNES, this is the third ‘proper’ game in the series. With you playing as Arthur once more and having to save a kidnapped Princess Prin Prin again, this time from Emperor Sardius. Arthur also has to find the Goddess’s Bracelet, the only weapon capable of destroying the evil Emperor.

Super Ghouls N Ghosts Title.jpg

There’s a very good reason why this is called Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts… aside from it being on the Super Nintendo and a lot of the console’s games had the prefix of ‘super’. The main reason is the fact the game is exactly that, it’s super. It takes everything great about the first two games, then fine tunes and refines everything. The multiple directional shooting is back, as is the golden armour and magic, etc from the last sequel all return. But then there is the truly amazing level design, the shifting land of The Dead Place level, the Mode-7 twisting and turning of The Ghoul’s Stomach stage and the general creepiness of The Rotting Sea ghost ship area. The whole game oozes atmosphere and a beautifully dark and scary art style. The levels in this game are some of the finest ever seen on the SNES and definitely the best in the entire franchise. One of the finest action/platformers ever made and still highly playable today.

Super Ghouls N Ghosts Screen

Oh yes, that punishing difficulty is also back… and yes, so is all that being forced to play through the game twice, the second time on a harder difficulty too. Yeah this is classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins and for me, the best game in the series.

Gargoyle’s Quest II

Next up is the sequel to the spin off with Gargoyle’s Quest II. Released for the NES in 1992, you play as Firebrand again with a basic plot of having to save the Ghoul Realm once more. I guess I should point out that this sequel is actually a prequel set before the events of the first game.

Gargoyle's Quest II Screen

Gargoyle’s Quest II is pretty much more of the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing at all as the first game was pretty good. It once more brings back that overhead action/light RPG thing and mixes it with more traditional side scrolling, Ghosts ‘n Goblins platforming action. A more refined version of the first game and one that is still very playable today.

Demon’s Crest

The main games in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise took a bit of a break for a while as next up was Demon’s Crest. This was the third game in the Gargoyle’s Quest spin off series released in 1994 for the SNES. Yup, Firebrand is back as he has to find six magical stones… or crests which he uses to rule the Demon Realm, only for a rival demon, Phalanx who tires to stop our anti-hero from finishing his task.

Demon's Crest Screen.png

Yup, this is again, pretty much more of the same. Basic RPG, exploration with side scrolling action. But this time around, the game features more depth and variety. Firebrand’s skills set has been improved, the world map is much bigger with more places to visit and explore and the game even feature multiple endings plus a secret final ending. With each crest you find, Firebrand earns a new skill that will allow him to explore an area even more, so the levels have some replayability. The graphics are wonderfully bleak and very Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts-like, giving off a very nice and spooky horror vibe.

Demon’s Crest is a great title and one that is often overlooked, the best of the Gargoyle’s Quest spin off series. If you have a SNES (or emulator) you really should play this one.

Makaimura for WonderSwan

So this one is a bit of an oddity. First I think I’d better quickly cover what the title means. So the WonderSwan was a black & white handheld console from Bandai that was meant to rival Nintendo’s Game Boy… it didn’t, it pretty much failed. As for Makaimura? Well that was the original Japanese title for the very first Ghosts ‘n Goblins game, with Makaimura basically translating to Demon World Village… which does pretty much sum up the first game. Oh and by the way, I didn’t add the name of the game console to the title of the game… that is the official title. Anyway, on with the game itself.

So you play as Arthur again as he battles the evil Azrael who has gone and kidnapped Princess Prin Prin (of course and why not, everyone else has). So Arthur sets out to battle hordes of demons and the undead to get his girl back.

As I said before, this is a bit of an oddity. I believe it was only ever released in Japan and in 1999. Now as far as I can tell, it’s not a sequel or a prequel, but more of a reimagining of the first game. There’s no multi-directional shooting here, this is pure Ghosts ‘n Goblins simplicity, left to right shooting only. But it does seem to borrow from the sequels in terms of it’s graphics. Much more simplified for the handheld limitations and black & white graphics, but the game definitely uses assets from the earlier sequels. Plus there’s a branching paths idea on some of the levels where you chose different ways to go. Then some levels require you to turn the console itself 90 degrees as the gameplay shifts from horizontal play to vertical.

Makaimura for WonderSwan Screen.jpg

You know what? Makaimura for WonderSwan (full title) is a great little title. It’s plays more like the original game with is simplicity, but it also throws in some Ghouls ‘n Ghosts/Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts tweaks to keep things fresh and exciting. Oh and yes like previous games in the series, you have to finish it twice to see the proper ending. If you get chance, give this one a go.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory

So I guess this is the start of the second spin off series within the main franchise. Released in 2001 for the PlayStation 2, this one has you playing as King Maximo who has to save the kidnapped (of course he does) Queen Sophia from the evil Achille, who uses the power if the undead to try and take over the world… with the help from the Grim Reaper himself.

Maximo Ghosts to Glory Screen.png

So this one is not a direct sequel to the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise but more of it’s close cousin. It does play pretty much the same but with some big changes. The biggest departure from the main series is the viewpoint. Gone are the 2D, sprite based graphics and gone too is the side scrolling action. Maximo: Ghosts to Glory is fully 3D and set in a semi-open world environment. It’s also more ‘hack ‘n slash’ style gameplay over the arcade shooting and platforming of the previous games. The game is split into five main worlds with each world made up from four levels and a boss fight. You can go and explore each level at will as you hack down numerous ghoulish enemies. Find weapons and power ups, end Achille’s evil plans and rescue Queen Sophia, job’s a good ‘un.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory’s roots are most definitely in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise, but it’s also it’s own thing. Even the loss of your armour and running around in your boxer shorts from the main games in the series makes it’s way into this one, along with other nods and references to the original games. It’s a cracking action game and a nice addition and evolution of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise.

Maximo vs. Army of Zin

Yup, Maximo is back in this 2003 sequel to the second Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise spin off. Picking up directly after the events of the previous game, (SPOILERS) Maximo didn’t quite save Sophia and has to team up with the Grim Reaper again to save the love of his life. Only this time, the village is attacked by the titular Army of Zin who are powered by lost souls under the direction of Lord Bane. So yeah, Maximo sets out to try and save Queen Sophia (again) and stop Lord Bane.

Maximo vs. Army of Zin Screen.jpg

Still maintaining that hack ‘n slash gameplay from the previous title, the levels are bigger and more varied but still have that semi-open world concept that you can explore at will. There’s also interaction with the villagers and other NPCs who offer advice and even various bonuses in a very lose RPG style. Maximo vs. Army of Zin is another solid title. Nothing too taxing gameplay wise, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s simple but fun hack ‘n slash, with a bit of platforming action game. Both Maximo games are worth checking out.

There hadn’t been a ‘proper’ Ghosts ‘n Goblins game since the release of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts back in 1991. Spin offs and interesting oddities yes, but not a real Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for over a decade, until…

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins

Finally, after fifteen years and released in 2006 for the PlayStation Portable, Arthur is back. Guess what? He has to rescue the kidnapped Princess Prin Prin. I’ll not bother with the predicable and banal story. Arthur has to battle the undead to rescue princess.. again. That’s it. It’s the gameplay that’s worth looking at here.

Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins Screen

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a wonderful melding of classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins with more than a generous pinch of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts/Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts thrown in. Using that basic but effective 2D scrolling that the franchise is famed for, only with lovely 3D graphics. The game features three different play modes, Novice, Standard and Ultimate. Novice is pretty self-explanatory, it’s an easy mode. Standard is the intermediate setting and with both of these modes, you get a much easier go at the game with fewer enemies, more generous bonuses and overall simpler gameplay. But it is the Ultimate mode where the game really comes to life. This is old school Ghosts ‘n Goblins level of difficulty. Fewer lives, two hit deaths, no checkpoints, etc.

The older weapons are back as well as a few new ones, golden armour and magic from the sequels also returns along with a slew of bells and whistles. Unlike previous games in the franchise, you can go back and replay levels at will, which you will have to do if you want to finish the game proper. Gong back on previously completed levels can uncover various secrets. It’s actually impossible to see the true ending unless you do go back and explore previously competed levels.

Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins Screen 2.png

Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is amazing. I still have a major weak spot for Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts which, for me is still the best in the franchise. But this one is a very close second and a very welcome return to form for Sir Arthur. The graphics are very moody, atmospheric and really bring back memories of playing the original games. The levels are wonderfully designed and feature some classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins enemies as well as a slew of new ones. Then there are the huge and impressive end of level bosses. Plus playing it the hardest setting is the only real why to enjoy Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

And that is pretty much it for the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. Arthur himself has had a few notable appearances outside of the games. There was a manga series called Hisshō Tekunikku Kan Peki-ban in which he appeared. He also showed up in a crossover Archie Comics series called Worlds Unite where he crossed paths with other gaming icons like Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog. Arthur has also showed up in other games such as Cannon Spike, Namco x Capcom and Marvel vs. Capcom: Clash of Super Heroes to name a few. His famous costume can even be found in We Love Golf, Dead Rising 2 and Monster Hunter Generations.

Okay, okay. So there’s a handful of other oddities I guess I should look at before I bring this one to an end. There were ‘technically’ two other Ghosts ‘n Goblins games. I’ll cover both of these as one because, well there not really worth going into in depth and they’re pretty much the same game anyway.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Gold Knights I & II

So Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Gold Knights are two ‘games’ released on iOS in 2009 and 2010 respectively. Yes that’s right iOS, mobile games. They’re okay at best. Not really true Ghosts ‘n Goblins games though. Full of the cancer of gaming, the microtransaction, so you can pay your way to win.

Video game image #98184

The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect. Run around shooting enemies, Ghosts ‘n Goblins style… but it all feels very ’empty’. The controls were very ‘woolly’ and felt unresponsive for the most part. You could play as characters other than Arthur for the first time in the (main) franchise, that was an interesting addition as each character had their own strengths and weaknesses. The gameplay itself was just okay. I guess they are not terrible games, but they’re not really worth shouting about either. Not that it really matters as both games were pulled from the Apple App store in 2016.

So there is one final thing I just want to quickly look at, an unofficial ‘sequel’ to Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

Beyond the Ice Palace

So this tit-bit is slightly lesser known I guess. A quick bit of gaming history to explain the backstory to this one I feel. The home computer versions of the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins were published by British gaming studio, Elite Systems. Now the home ports of Ghosts ‘n Goblins were a big hit. So understandably, Elite wanted to capitalise on this, they wanted a sequel and fast. Not wanting to wait for Capcom to make their next game, Elite decided to make their own unofficial ‘sequel’.

They took the idea to Capcom who told them to stop work on the game because they were already working on Ghouls ‘N Ghosts at the time. Elite had all this work done in the game, it was even originally called Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Beyond the Ice Palace too and also featured Sir Arthur. So Elite had this sequel made, but couldn’t sell it as Capcom wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, Elite just dropped the Ghosts ‘n Goblins prefix, gave the main character a makeover, tweaked the plot and released the game as Beyond the Ice Palace for home computers in 1988 instead.

Beyond the Ice Palace Screen.png

Now if you play Beyond the Ice Palace, you will see a lot of  similarities in the gameplay between it and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. The platforming/shooting action is there, many of the enemies are variants on those found in Ghosts ‘n Goblins, a lot of the weapon pick ups are also the same. In fact, the entire setting for this game is based on stages 4 and 5 (Entrance of the Demon Realm Castle and the castle itself) of Ghosts ‘n Goblins.

So yeah, the little known Beyond the Ice Palace was originally a sequel to the home computer ports of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Another little tit-bit about this game is that when Elite lost the rights to use the Ghosts ‘n Goblins name, they tried to sell the game as a Thundercats tie-in. The deal also fell through so just released the game as is… also note how the main character looks a bit like Lion-O from Thundercats but with a different colour scheme?


 

There have been some heavy rumours that Capcom are looking at reviving some of their older IPs after the success of the Resident Evil II remake and Devil May Cry V from earlier this year. Fingers crossed they are looking at Ghosts ‘n Goblins. I’d love to see a complete  Ghosts ‘n Goblins collection with all the games in the main series and spin offs remastered with new features. But an all new Ghosts ‘n Goblins game for the modern audience still using that classic gameplay would be amazing. Some kind of remake/reboot.

Well that’s finally it for my look at the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise for Halloween. But I have several more articles coming up this week to celebrate Halloween. Next up, the story of an arcade game that is said to have killed people in real life… or did it?

The History Of Red Dead

Two weeks or fourteen days if you prefer. Hell, you could even say a fortnight. Either way, Red Dead Redemption II is almost here. It will soon be time to head into the Wild West once more – but how did we get to RDR II anyway? Well that’s what this article is all about, from the very start before Red Dead Redemption even existed to the release of the latest game in the franchise. This is The History of Red Dead Redemption.

In 1984, a Colombian artist by the name of Diego Angel set up his own visual effects company called Angel Studios, Inc. By the 90s, the studio specialized in computer generated effects work for movies, music videos and the like. You know all the CGI work in the film The Lawnmower Man? Yup that was Angel Studios.

Lawnmower Man.jpg

In 1996 Angel Studios worked on the cut-scenes for the game Mr. Bones on the Sega Saturn and got its first taste of the gaming industry. From then, they began developing their own games – Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. was their first title released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998. They also handled the port of Resident Evil 2 for the Nintendo 64 too. But it was their driving games that really got them noticed, games such as Midtown Madness, its sequel Midtown Madness 2 and Test Drive: Off-Road Wide Open were well received at the time. But it was a relationship with a certain developer/publisher where things really changed.

Enter Rockstar Games who stepped into publish Midnight Club: Street Racing as well as Smuggler’s Run and Smuggler’s Run 2, all developed by Angel Studios in the early 2000s. But Rockstar were not the only company impressed with the studio. Capcom loved how Angel Studios manged to port Resident Evil 2 back in 98 and wanted to team up on a new game. A few ideas were brought up before it was decided that Capcom wanted to revive one of their arcade classics, a scrolling shooter from 1985 called Gun.Smoke.

Gun

This was a top down scrolling shooter Wild West inspired game where you played a bounty hunter tasked with bringing numerous outlaws to justice. This new version would make use of 3D graphics and in the early 2000s, Red Dead Revolver was born. The game was not finished but an early version was shown around 2002 as a work in progress. The plan being that Angel Studios would develop the game and Capcom would publish it. Revolver was set to be a third person shooter with its heart still firmly in the arcade, an O.T.T., non-stop, action game with little regard for realism. This is where things began to fall apart. While Capcom wanted a straight up arcade style game, Angel Studios wanted to make something with a little more depth, they wanted a story and characters. A divide began to form between the two as they just could not agree on the direction of Red Dead Revolver and so development ground to a halt.

The relationship between Rockstar Games and Angel Studios a few years previously continued to grow as Angel Studios were working on Midnight Club II to be published by Rockstar while the whole Red Dead Revolver debacle unfolded. In 2002 Rockstar Games parent company, Take-Two Interactive bought Angel Studios outright and renamed them Rockstar San Diego. Now a part of the whole Rockstar Games umbrella of studios, the ex-Angel Studios and now newly named Rockstar San Diego could no longer develop games for anyone else other than Rockstar Games… so Red Dead Revolver was finally put in its grave. However, it was a short death as Rockstar co-founders Sam and Dan Houser had been keeping an eye on this Wild West game Capcom had asked Angel Studios to develop, they liked how it looked and felt there could be a good game under all that ridiculous arcade crap. So Take-Two stepped in and bought the rights to the game from Capcom with Rockstar Games taking over publishing duties. Development of Red Dead Revolver was back on track and this time developer Rockstar San Diego and publisher Rockstar Games shared a vision. This wasn’t going to be the all action, arcade title Capcom originally wanted it to be. Now with the backing of Take-Two and Rockstar Games, with the massive success of the Grand Theft Auto series with their character and story driven gameplay – the development team finally had their vision for the game respected.

Rockstar San Diego

Rockstar San Diego got to work cutting out most of the more ridiculous moments Capcom insisted on including (there was a flying character at one point) and began replacing them with gritter and grounded elements. While the game was reigned in from its more outrageous origins, Revolver still maintained a level of humour, a style Rockstar had become famed for with their previous games. There was a level of realism and maturity without losing a sense of fun.

After a troubled development cycle and even a short stint of being all but dead only to be revived by Take-Two/Rockstar Games – Red Dead Revolver finally saw the light of day in 2004 when it was released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Telling to story of Red Harlow who, as a child, sees his parents murdered over the discovery of some gold. Years later, Red has become a bounty hunter who sets out to track down and extract revenge on those who killed his loved ones.

Red Dead Revolver

The game was a moderate hit for Rockstar selling less than a million copies in North America, it didn’t set the gaming world alight as their previous GTA games had done – but Revolver still saw positive reviews and a loyal fanbase was created. The future of this new IP was uncertain for a time as Rockstar San Diego concentrated on the Midnight Club franchise instead. But that little cowboy game still left an impression on the Houser brothers, they saw something in the game they wanted to explore. When Rockstar got to create a title from the ground up, installing their trademark DNA and not just take over a failing project, that’s when the RDR franchise was truly born. The next game began initial development the year after Revolver was released in 2005 and this time they raised the bar. No one expected much of it and hardly anyone really remembered the previous RDR title with some thinking that the new game was an all new IP.

It was six years between games but the sequel, Red Dead Redemption was released in 2010 and the series underwent a drastic direction change. Revolver was a pretty linear game, yeah there were slight elements of openness and freedom. But by and large, Revolver was restrictive… bloody good fun but it lacked that open-world environment other Rockstar Games had and were famed for. Redemption changed that as its basically GTA wearing a cowboy hat and just for the record… I think RDR is better than GTA. Still being developed by Rockstar San Diego for the most part but also enlisting help from other Rockstar Games studios, Redemption took the ideas from Revolver and cranked up the volume. The game is a work of art, but that’s not to say it didn’t have problems along the way.

Red Dead Redemption Art

Development for the game was strained to say the least. It was the first time Rockstar had tired to develop a game via multiple studios and the logistics were a nightmare. The building of the map itself was also a major problem. See with games like GTA that are set within cities, developers can use tricks to hide elements behind buildings or not even program graphics at all and use a lesser draw distance. With RDR being set in a large and open world with a lack of skyscrapers, etc this meant the map had fewer restrictions so the player would see more of the world and would need a bigger draw distance which proved problematic. Plus there were various issues with the impressive horse models in the game that took over a year of development alone. The recent Leslie Benzies lawsuit saw all sorts of accusations come out detailing the many, many problems while developing Redemption. And yet despite the numerous obstacles Redemption was released after a few weeks delay in 2010. With you playing as John Marston who is forcibly working with the government to track down ex-members of his old gang. The whole game is just a joy to play and leads up to one of the greatest endings to a game ever. There was some fantastic DLC released for the game too in the shape of Undead Nightmare and a handful of online extras, but nothing was ever mentioned of another RDR game for years.

Redemption was a much bigger hit than the previous game shifting a little over 14 million copies and fans were screaming out for a sequel. Then in October 2016 and after several rumors, Rockstar announced Red Dead Redemption II via a teaser trailer saying the game would be released in the fall of 2017 but it was delayed. This time given a spring 2018 date… only to be delayed again. This time given a solid 26th of October 2018 date, a date just now two weeks away. Developed by pretty much every studio under the Rockstar Games umbrella and reportedly coming in at a whopping 105gb install (on the PS4, that doesn’t include the 4K enhancements for the Xbox One X), RDR II is going to be a huge game of epic proportions.

Lawnmower Man Red Dead Redemption II

From wired cyber sex scenes in The Lawnmower Man to the realistic horse bollocks of Red Dead Redemption II. Angel Studios/Rockstar San Diego have come a long way.