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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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?