If I was a betting man, I would say that most gamers with fond memories of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts on the SNES have never even come close to beating it. The series was always notoriously known for its incredibly high difficulty, and reaching the first checkpoint would feel like an endgame achievement within itself. Many players would simply accept the fact that they were never going to save princess Prin-Prin. Yet, that never stopped plenty of fans from trying until their fingers bled.
With the convenience of save states and rewind features, the pipedream of becoming a Ghosts ‘n Goblins completionist is closer within reach now than ever before. However, such privileges haven’t stopped this latest outing from providing a sinister challenge. Even with some of the modern-day luxuries in place.
For those new to the series, you play as Sir Authur, a brave knight sharing a similar fate to Nintendo’s own Super Mario by always being lumbered with the job of saving the bloody princess yet again. However, unlike Mario, poor Arthur is destined to fail miserably.
As valiant as he may be, Arthur is not nearly as acrobatic nor athletic as our plumpy plumber. His running speed is slow, the trajectory of his jumps have to be fully committed to, and while he possesses a strong throwing arm, the angle to which his weapon can be dispensed will greatly depend on what tool he just happens to stumble across along the way.
Yet, strangely enough, it’s these very restrictions that provide the addictive quality and charm seen in Tokuro Fujiwara’s original vision – who is also back in the director’s chair for this latest instalment. Measuring distances, timing jumps and finding the breathing room not to get sabotaged between an incoming projectile and a sprinting ghoul is a trial and error formula that demands a meticulously calculated approach of spatial awareness.
For many, this type of gameplay could sound like an absolute nightmare, but those who get it will certainly see that it’s the good kind. Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection manages to keep all these elements securely intact by never really deviating too far from the game’s roots. An achievement within itself really, by how it’s all been faithfully recreated, improved but never over polished.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection essentially mixes up familiar environments and scenarios from across the first three games in a choose-your-pathway progression system. Arthur’s mechanics mainly mirror that of the 1988 CPS1 arcade version of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, in how he can launch his lance in four directions but lacks the double jump found in the 1991 SNES sequel – an action that replaced his vertical throw in the console variant.
Where the biggest gameplay adjustments have been made are in how the development team has handled the convenience structure of an infinite lives system, a choice between four difficulty settings and a negotiable checkpointing system. In any case, all this really does is allow for an even harder game than ever before with far more enemies on the screen at once for Arthur to deal with.
The default, and by far the hardest, Legendary difficulty moulds around traditional Ghosts ‘n Goblins rules. Get hit once, lose your armour. Take another hit and you’re dead as a dodo. The lower the difficulty, the more dents to the armour old Arthur can handle. However, with the exception of the casual Page mode, even the lower difficulty can provide a genuine challenge. With the Page difficulty selected, Arthur faces far fewer foes and is able to respawn on the spot. While this difficulty setting is undoubtedly relevant to allow younger and more casual audiences to experience the building blocks of the game, it’s almost a blasphemous road to go down as it strips away the core reason for owning such a game in the first place.
It’s the checkpointing system that I found the most interesting though, and how the menus throughout are always keen to highlight the harder option as standard. The series is infamously known for the wide gaps between checkpoints and Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection highlights this fact with big blue flags. Thankfully, there are red checkpoint flags, known as banners of rebirth, which are a separate choice on the death screen once reached. They play the part in narrowing the gap if slightly closer together in aid of a more manageable experience without tarnishing the challenge that is known for.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I still haven’t yet beaten Ghosts n’ Goblins Resurrection. At the lower Squire difficulty, I’m confident I could have gone all the way by the time I typed up this review. I did try them all for testing sake, however, I stubbornly decided to stick with the Knight difficulty – the one below the highest – which allowed me three hits in total while taking the utmost advantage of red flags.
Yet even on this difficulty setting, there would be certain checkpoints that would take me up to an hour to reach while often topping over 100 deaths in between. Sure, the gameplay can often be cheaper than a flea market sale, but it never felt broken to me. With enough determination, there always seems to be a way through eventually, as long as I was willing to pay attention and respond to the reason for failure. At the end of the day, I know exactly what I’m letting myself in for. Anything less would be a disappointment.
There are of course some brand new level designs and features implemented to show that Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is more than a copy-and-paste revision. Arthur can now unlock various forms of magic abilities by collecting little hidden fluffy balls of light known as Umbral Bees that reside in a skill tree of sorts. Despite taking very little time to reload between uses, magic takes several seconds to charge up to activate, making them ultimately more of a situational tactic rather than a leaning post.
Another new inclusion is an added two-player mode that happens to work well despite the second player merely donning a supporting role. While player one has the privilege to control Arthur, player 2’s job is to keep him alive. The second player can do this by swapping between three separate entities on the fly. Each supporting ghoul has an attack as well as a form of protective aid for Arthur. Whether that be to lift Arthur into the air, build a bridge over tricky areas, or shield him with a protective barrier. It’s an entertaining enough addition to finally get someone else involved and still requires cooperative finesse to be successful in the higher difficulties.
The biggest change for the series is the cut-out animated art style that resembles a mixture of children’s picture books and medieval scrolls. It’s a design choice that could easily be seen as a turn-off, as the style can often be connected to low budget shovelware made for YouTubers to entertain kids. Yet the visual direction is clearly top tier within its creative area and incredibly well thought out. What could easily have been a cluster of sharp and glossy overused 2D vectors of wide-eyed anime characters has instead become something far more distinctive, relevant to its source, and so much more appealing in practice.
With all that said, I can only imagine that overall opinions of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection will be completely spread all over the place. It’s certainly not a game for everyone to enjoy and you can get the same basic feel through playing the SNES version with Nintendo Switch Online for free. But for me, and those with an endearing love for the series, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection does exactly what it meant to do In a genuinely wonderful way. By basically being a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game through and through, created by a team who completely understand the series down to its finest detail.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Capcom