If one were to make a list of gaming history’s most frustrating titles (and I’m sure many people already have), then the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins would surely make the cut. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if the game made it into the top 10 of any such list. While possessing excellent audio-visuals and a great theme, it was almost as if Capcom didn’t truly want the game to be played and set the difficulty accordingly. For every action you could possibly execute with the game’s protagonist, Arthur, it was as if the game had a negative reaction to throw back at you. Whether played in the arcades of the late 80’s or on any of the home consoles/portables that the game eventually wound up on, Ghosts ‘n Goblins was just absolutely brutal.
So here we are, nearly 23 years after the game first appeared in the arcades (Christ, I am getting so very old…), and now it has made its way to the PSP in the form of Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins; a “reimagining” of the original. But was it worth the effort? You bet your skivvy-wearing arse it was! (Well, overall anyways.)
OH, YOU PRETTY THINGS
With this “reimagining” of the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Capcom has taken every element from the original and improved upon it. In his quest to save the Princess from Hell’s minions, Arthur now has more weapons, armor and magic at his command than ever before. Also, the stages have been revamped with new areas and elements, and the audio-visuals have received a major upgrade. This is hardly “just another port” to the PSP, and it’s easy to tell that Capcom put serious resources into making this update something special. But of all the enhancements that were made for the update to this classic game, I’ve just gotta start off praising those visuals.
Fantastic. I can think of no other way to describe the visuals in this title. (Static screenshots don’t really do the game justice. It’s best to see it in action on a PSP.) From beginning to end, the game impresses greatly with its superb graphics — which are full of color, accentuated with impressive lighting & elemental effects, and which also contain absolutely incredible detail. I’m a huge fan of the hand-drawn graphics of yesteryear, and while Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins instead uses 3-D polygonal models with a 2-D hand-drawn look, the effect does not disappoint. There’s some wonderful art going on here, and as such, this game is surely one of — if not THE — best looking titles currently available for the PSP. (In this day and age of the pursuit for realistic looking graphics, we definitely need more games with this type of art direction.)
From a gameplay standpoint, the accolades start to drop off a tad. As you may expect from an update to one of classic gaming’s most anger-inducing platformers, Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins can be damn frustrating. Although, to be honest, it’s not anywhere as bad as the original version of the game, as the updated version gives you more lives, and, believe it or not, actual save points (whereas the original had NONE). However, it’s still quite a difficult affair, as each stage is riddled with an abundance of insta-death obstacles and a barrage of never-ending waves of enemies. To make matters worse, Arthur offers no directional control once a jump has been executed and he’s in the air, making it all the more difficult to stick tricky platform landings. There’s a great deal of level memorization involved in getting through this game, and while certainly an homage to the old-school era of game design that Ghosts ‘n Goblins hails from, it doesn’t make things any less aggravating. And I must clarify that these opinions come from my experience with the game on the n00btastic, EASY level — a difficulty setting I pretty much never use when working through a game. (I spent about 15 minutes with Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins on the default ‘Normal’ difficulty setting before reaching the conclusion that it was only going to be a guaranteed road to tears.)
LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
The game also does some disservice, by tricking the player into going through the stages repeatedly in order to actually finish the game. Scattered throughout each stage are hidden golden rings (ala Sonic the Hedgehog), whose purpose are a complete mystery until you reach the end of the fifth stage. Only then do you discover that a great many rings are required to open a door that takes you to the game’s sixth and final stage. If you don’t have enough rings when reaching this point (which you won’t — having only gone through the game one time), the game puts you back at the very beginning of the first stage, requiring you to do it all over again; only this time with even more effort as you seek out hidden areas where rings may reside. No matter how gorgeous the game is or how much one may have enjoyed the first play-through, this is a serious downer that really brings the fun-factor down by a considerable margin. By the time I had reached Stage 3 on my second play-through, the game had become rather laborious, lacking the fun that I had experienced on the first go-round. As a result, I kinda lost any and all desire to continue playing; especially when I had games like God of War: Chains of Olympus and Patapon waiting on me to break their sealed packaging. It really took a lot of effort to convince myself to keep playing after that point.
Sure, it’s frustrating and cheap, but all in all, Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a fine update to one of gaming’s most notorious classics. It sounds better, looks better, and plays better than the original game ever did, and as such, I can recommend adding it to your PSP library; especially if you’re a fan of either the original version or old-school gaming in general. It may become a burden on repeated playings, but that first time through is pretty darn groovy.