I was 9 years old when Ghosts 'n Goblins first landed at my local arcade in 1986. This 2D side-scrolling platformer cast you as Sir Arthur, a noble knight running headstrong into battles against zombies, demons, and a variety of other monsters to rescue a princess.
The horror styling and spellbinding musical score sucked me in right away. And the lighthearted comical mood, with Arthur’s armor falling off whenever he took damage leaving him vulnerable in strawberry-covered boxer shorts, disguised a fiendishly difficult challenge. I spent a summer of my pocket money without ever moving past the second level.
Fast forward 35 years and I’m playing Ghosts 'n Goblins: Resurrection on the PlayStation 5. Much has changed in that time, but taking on the mantle of good Sir Arthur and battling waves of ogres, specters, and man-eating plants is still incredibly fun and frustrating.
A Co-Op Challenge
The warm glow of nostalgia hit me as soon as the unforgettable theme kicks in. The Ghosts 'n Goblins series always featured riveting music that pushed the boundaries of whatever system it was on. Yoshiaki Hirabayashi, the chief producer for the game at Capcom, says that in Resurrection there are fresh arrangements of classic tracks, including the main theme, alongside newly composed music.
“The original game had two key pillars which have stayed consistent in the series all the way up to Resurrection,” Hirabayashi says. “The horror theme-park concept, which is about both the atmosphere of the game and the layout of the levels, and a level of challenge that may come across as impossible at first but that you can get through if you try.”
The latest entry is instantly recognizable as a part of the series, but there are many tweaks and additions. The art style has more of a storybook feel that fits the narrative, there’s a choice of four difficulty levels, and you can play co-op with a friend for the first time.
“We wanted to include the kind of fun you only get from couch co-op where you’re in the same room with the other player,” Hirabayashi says. “You may come to blows sometimes, but as the [game's] director Mr. [Tokuro] Fujiwara told me, a little mischief between the players is one of the joys of co-op. Ultimately, you should be able to get through the game together and have a blast.”
You can toggle multiplayer on and off whenever you like. The second player is a floating ancestral spirit who can fire projectiles, but there are three of these “wise men” to choose from, each with their own special power. Barry can conjure a shield around Arthur, Kerry can pick him up and carry him a short distance, and Archie can build a temporary platform. A devoted companion can be the difference between life and death in Resurrection.
“Co-op is also a great tool for cross-generation play,” Hirabayashi says. “Parents who are old enough to have played the classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins games could introduce the series to their own children by handing them a controller and inviting them to join in the fun.”
This is exactly what I did. I enlisted the help of my daughter, who happens to turn 9 this week. We played the Unravel series together, so I knew the gameplay would appeal to her, but I had no idea Resurrection would become our go-to for after-school play sessions. Even her persistent favorite, Sackboy, has been temporarily shelved in favor of this spooky platformer.
Playing through Resurrection reminds me that the series isn't just difficult, it almost mocks you. I just defeated a horde of zombies and the next marker that will save my progress is in sight, on the far bank of a river. I watch a small patch of grass floating toward me while calculating when I need to jump, but just as I launch into the air, it stops halfway across and moves back again. I splash into the water and sink to my doom.
This failure sparks a traumatic flashback to the raft jumps in the notoriously tough Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which debuted in 1991. I was obsessed with the game, spending days at a time trying to beat it with limited “Continues,” which often meant restarting from the beginning after a failed leap or a mistimed attack.
Thankfully, with Resurrection, I don’t have to go as far back. On my second try, I wait until the platform reaches my shore and successfully clamber aboard. I ready myself, eyes already wandering to the flagpole that marks the next checkpoint; just as I start to jump, the platform stops halfway again, consigning me to another watery grave. I have to laugh. This is the essence of Ghosts ‘n Goblins; it’s perfectly logical and terribly unfair.
“The director feels it’s important for a game to not just be very difficult but to provide satisfaction and a feeling of achievement when players finally beat it,” Hirabayashi says.
He has a point. I did eventually beat Ghosts 'n Goblins on the NES a few years after that summer in the arcade, but it was painfully tough. No game before or since has given me such an intense feeling of satisfaction on completion.
I wondered if I was misremembering its difficulty. To make sure, I gave the original another spin. (It's now available on Capcom Arcade Stadium.) It took me an embarrassingly long time to get past the first stage, even with the addition of a rewind function and the ability to save at any time. Not to mention I hit a wall with Satan, the Stage 5 boss.
There was a break of 15 years after Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts before we were treated to Ultimate Ghosts ’n Goblins in 2006. Coincidentally, it took another 15 years for Resurrection to claw its way from a shallow grave. It's available on PlayStation, Xbox, and Nintendo Switch consoles, as well as on Windows.
“It was a case where the stars aligned in terms of the resurgent popularity of 2D platform games and our development preparations,” Hirabayashi says. “I think it’s really important that a series as long-running as this continues to bring fun experiences to players without losing its own identity.”
Resurrection is a triumphant mix of old and new. Alongside the familiar treasure chests filled with weapons and armor, there are Umbral Bees to catch and trade in for new powers. Each level also contains a secret area, and you must collect all of the Demon Orbs to unlock the true ending of the game.
It may sound tough, but you can drop the difficulty level at any time, and each section is short. Just remember the original game returned you to the start when ran out of lives, and you had to beat every level again to face the final boss. It was a real sucker punch in the days before ubiquitous internet walkthroughs, but that made it all the sweeter if you managed to win.
“I’m really proud of the fact that, thanks to the work of the director, who started the series originally, this game stays true to the challenging but rewarding style established all those years ago,” Hirabayashi says.
I'm having fun playing Ghosts 'n Goblins: Resurrection on my own, but the addition of co-op elevates the experience to a whole new level. My daughter and I laugh a lot, mostly at my inept jumps, but as the game progresses, I see a steely determination glinting in her eyes. Even as Sir Arthur disintegrates into a pile of bones for the hundredth time, she wants to try again, and I’m right there with her, feeling 9 years old again.
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