Back in the arcade era, most games were ridiculously tough, all the better to keep gamers coming back with more coins to fatten the arcade operators’ wallets. None however were more infamous than Ghosts ’n Goblins.
In this horror-themed run-and-gun platformer, your heroic knight Arthur battled legions of undead and demons in a bid to save his beloved princess. The difficulty came not just from the tough enemies but also from how death would send you back to the start of a level while losing all your lives meant ‘Game Over’ no matter how much pocket change you had.
Given the comeback of uncompromisingly tough games in the previous decade spurred on by the likes of Dark Souls, it seems apt for the series – dormant in the West for 15 years – to make its overdue return to humble all the hardcore gamers who thought they knew a thing or two about getting good.
More lately however, there’s also been plenty of important conversations around accessibility and gatekeeping in games. In fairness, the Ghosts ’n Goblins series was ahead of the curve when its 2006 PlayStation Portable instalment introduced difficulty options. Ghosts ’n Goblins Resurrection builds on this with even more options that make it arguably the most accessible instalment to date.
At the very least, Resurrection never fully drags you back into the 1980s (there’s the original games on Capcom Arcade Stadium for that – and even they have a rewind feature). Lives have been done away with, progression is saved, and you can even return to levels you’ve beaten to find any outstanding collectibles. Even those who want nothing but the most old-school hardcore challenge, where one hit knocks Arthur down to his boxers and the next sends crumpling into a pile of bones, will still find that being thrown back to the start is just an option as each stage is split into areas with checkpoints.
But besides the old-school Legend mode, you can also take the difficulty down a notch to Knight or Squire, where Arthur’s armour can sustain more damage, as well as other modifiers like reduced enemies or more checkpoints.
There’s more options beyond this, as you can choose to lower the stage’s difficulty after dying a certain number of times or change the game speed with a ‘Magic Metronome’. There’s even local co-op for the first time with a second player able to control supporting ghost characters to shield or carry Arthur, or create bridges. And yes, most of these are still available even in Legend mode.
The most welcoming option however is Page mode, where you can basically respawn almost in the exact spot you snuffed it. It may render the whole challenging ethos of the series obsolete, but then the point is, does that matter? Even for those who still want a challenge, this mode provides an excellent test run to give you an idea of each of the game’s seven stages, like a harmless trip through a ghost hose theme park ride.
Interestingly, Resurrection’s art style has something of a comical theme park vibe to it where characters’ limbs animate like animatronic puppets, which feels apt as Arthur still has the same robotic movement that locks in his jump animations while he’s still only able to fire in four directions. That said, while some may grumble over this art direction, the varied enemy designs nonetheless look more faithfully like their original illustrations than ever.
Not that they’re anything but harmless as you’ll still have to traverse plenty of deadly threats and traps, from zombies and curse-casting magicians to guillotines and flying stone dragons. Classic bosses like the Shielder and Astaroth also return but on a much larger scale than before, their encounters now a proper screen-filling event.
However, overcoming these challenges also means trying to overcome the rather rigid controls, which at times feels far too sluggish for you to avoid certain enemies’ charging attacks or to survive treacherous and demanding platforming sections. Death from an enemy is one thing, but it was more often missing a jump or receiving a knock-back animation and plunging into a bottomless pit that had me letting out ghoulish wails of despair.
There is at least a greater sense of progression in Resurrection as you have a literal skill tree at your disposal. By collecting Umbral Bees that appear throughout each stage, you can spend them on restoring the Umbral Tree, each branch providing new magic spells or passive skills to give you an edge, although some of the more useful ones, like a chance of instant resurrection or a belt so you can equip more than one weapon, requires unlocking a few other skills first.
Yet although the skills should be lifesavers, such a lightning spell that zaps away onscreen enemies or another that transforms them into frogs, they also take far too long to charge up, canceling should you get hit mid-charge. The few times I was able to use a spell was having it preemptively charged, which made it far from ideal. Naturally, there is a skill that can shorten the charge but it also happens to be stingily tucked away as a very expensive skill high up the Umbral Tree.
True to the traditional Ghosts ’n Goblins spirit is that a second playthrough is required to truly beat the game. In Resurrection, this requires playing through ‘shadow’ versions of stages you conquered previously. They’re not only tougher with more enemies and revised layouts but they’re also visually more nightmarish, sometimes literally cast in shadow so that you can’t see where you’re going properly. That’s not difficult so much as it is a sadistic level of trolling.
It’s worth noting that the shadow stages aren’t available to those who select to play in Page mode. However, given how maddening these variants are, a casual player probably won’t feel like they’ve missed out. More importantly, the game doesn’t really taunt you like in the original – you still get to take on the final boss and see the credits roll. For a taster, most will more than likely come away feeling full and satisfied. It’s to Resurrection’s credit however that it succeeds in not being a gatekeeper but as a gateway for luring newcomers onto the path towards more death, and the glory that awaits beyond it.
‘Ghosts ’n Goblins Resurrection’ is now available for Nintendo Switch.
After torturing players for decades, Ghosts ’n Goblins Resurrection shows that it’s possible to give its infamous series some much needed training wheels while still offering longtime fans the hellish punishment that makes it a beloved hardcore classic.
More could have been done to adapt its timeworn mechanics to make it stand shoulder to shoulder with modern greats like Hollow Knight or Cuphead. Nonetheless, this is still very much Ghosts ’n Goblins at its core, which gives players more than a ghost of a chance of success.
- A variety of difficulty modes and further adjustable settings makes this the most accessible entry in the series
- New art style gives classic enemies a faithful update while bosses are reimagined on a greater scale
- Umbral tree collectibles and upgrades provide more flexible combat options and reasons to replay
- The difficulty remains an acquired taste, mostly down to some rigidly old-fashioned controls
- Shadow stages are maddening to the point of trolling
- Magic spells take too damn long to charge up