Capcom and the original series’ director, Tokuro Fujiwara, have teamed up again to reboot the classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise, bringing us Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. Arthur the Knight is back and once again he’s willing to strip down to his heart-adorned skivvies to save the fair princess from the army of demons. Has Fujiwara created something fresh and original that recalls the best parts of its predecessors? Or has he created something more akin to Frankenstein’s monster, giving life to a jumbled collection of old mechanics and outdated design choices? Will new players enjoy it? Or is it just a concession to true fans of the series?
The Ghosts ‘n Goblins series is a fan favorite amongst many retro game fans. Capcom released the original in 1985 at the height of the second arcade craze. Three years later in 1988, the sequel Ghouls ‘n Ghosts hit the scene. Both games were ported to consoles and have been released in various forms many times over the years on newer console generations. In fact, they are both featured in the Capcom Arcade Stadium collection that was recently released. Similar to many other ‘80s arcade games, the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series is brutally difficult – designed to keep the quarters flowing. Unlike a lot of other arcade games at the time, Ghosts ‘n Goblins features demons, devils, and all other manners of horror-inspired monsters, which give it its trademark dark atmospheric tone.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection follows pretty much the exact gameplay foundation of its predecessors. The movement and basic mechanics feel like they were pulled directly out of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. The gameplay is a combination of action platforming and medieval run-and-gun mayhem with Arthur being able to attack left, right, and upwards. While jumping he can also attack down. The game features eight weapons, most of which function exactly as they did in previous entries. A majority of them are ranged weapons, like the lance, dagger, and crossbow and they all have differing fire rates. Blue-fire holy water is a substitute for the torches in previous games and performs the same. The discus from the second game also makes a return gliding through the air and then sliding along any surface it comes across. The only new weapon is the spiked boulder that has a throwing arc like the holy water but then moves along the ground damaging multiple enemies until it hits a wall, or falls off the screen. In the time in between games Arthur has had time to spruce up his armor, in the easy mode it now takes three hits to completely break off his armor, and it falls off in pieces which looks pretty cool – I’m always a fan of diegetic interfaces. The hardest mode sticks with the original games’ approach – two hits and you’re dead. Like in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Arthur can don a special golden suit of armor found in treasure chests, and like before it strengthens his attacks but also breaks after taking one hit.
Magic makes a big return in this entry. Like the golden armor, magic abilities also first appeared in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, but their use was severely limited – you could only use magic when wearing the aforementioned gold armor. Each weapon had its own unique spell. This time, instead of spending a bunch of time creating spells that will only be used consistently by the best players (those who can avoid losing their armor), Capcom has created a customization system in the form of an upgrade tree that is accessible from the level select screen and you can use whichever unlocked spell you have assigned freely (there is a short charge-up and cool-down period). Firefly-like Umbral Bees are scattered throughout all the levels, which are used to unlock the spells and abilities. Overall there is a decent selection of spells, and most are extremely useful during gameplay, but they take a while to charge up (spells are cast by holding down the attack button until a circle charges around Arthur). Most of the passive abilities are also extremely useful, there’s one that lets you carry two weapons (pressing Y switches between the two). Another ability will occasionally resurrect you when you die, so you don’t have to restart from the last checkpoint. The magic and abilities system is one aspect that eases the difficulty; it was interesting replaying earlier levels after I had amassed a decent magical arsenal.
There’s one more new addition that changes up the gameplay and eases the difficulty: local co-op. Once it is enabled from the menu or pause, pressing “A” on a second controller (only works with a second profile signed in) a flying angel-like fellow appears on the screen next to Arthur (maybe it was a fairy). The second player can fly freely around the open space on-screen and attack enemies. There are three different angels and they are known as the Three Wise Guys. Each one has a different projectile attack and they each have a magic ability that can be activated by pressing what is normally the jump button “A”. One Guy can create a temporary platform, and another can create a bubble-like barrier that envelopes Arthur if they are close together. After taking a few hits they disappear, but they can respawn after a short period. I only played the co-op mode briefly, but it definitely gives the game more variety and can ease the difficulty.
The game takes place in the same dark fantasy world filled with demons and monsters. There are seven regular levels that you can explore on your quest to save the princess. You get to choose between two levels at the start: the Graveyard or the Execution Grounds. The layouts of each of these levels have strong ties to the original two games. There are a lot of sections that directly mimic their level design and enemy placement. This trend continues throughout the entire game, a few of the sections take elements and change them around or expand them, taking on a much grander scale. This is especially true of the bosses; the Beelzebub fight for example takes place in a descending room with spike platforms coming up out of the ground. After you beat one of the first two levels the path splits again and you can choose between two more levels: the Crystalline City or Hellfire Hamlet. The multiple paths end there as the next three levels are played consecutively, although you can replay previous levels at any point.
The boss fights are definitely a highlight of the game, they all have a very epic feel as you’re squaring off against huge foes in most cases. The penultimate fight against Astaroth is probably the most intense, especially once you defeat the final boss Lucifer, who is sort of a let down. But is that really the final encounter? Just like the first two games, you have the opportunity to play through the levels again to get the true ending; however, in Resurrection they up the ante by forcing you to battle your way through more difficult shadow versions of each of the levels. They make use of the light and dark mechanic introduced in some of the regular versions of the levels where you can extinguish and relight candles with your weapon. This exposes some enemies while others become much harder to see. These shadow levels are billed as the real challenge of the game, and from what I played that seems very true.
One of the best aspects of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is the overhauled graphical style that looks like a watercolored storybook. So many 2D remakes and reboots abandon their pixel art origins and implement boring and lifeless 3D models and backgrounds. Initially, I was hesitant about the change in art style, but after playing through all the regular levels I can say that I am amazed at how good the game looks, it almost has an enchanted feel to it thanks to the storybook inspiration. The backgrounds are nicely detailed and the enemies have a slight children’s cartoon look to them but with a sinister flair. One nice touch that I think is particularly interesting is how the first screen in each level seems to illustrate itself, starting with outlines and then slowly adding color until it gets to the final eye-catching product. Another aspect of the art design that stands out is the level select map layouts. I’ve always been a fan of the side-view world maps depicting elements featured in the levels. These are used in many retro platforming games like the ones found in the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, early Castlevania games, and more recent throwbacks like Odallus: The Dark Call.
As far as I could tell the soundtrack is a direct reproduction of the score found in the original two games, but this time it’s fully orchestrated. I recently played both original games (arcade versions) and Resurrection’s soundtrack fully connects it to its predecessors. I’m not a music expert but the new tracks seemed like they had some extra elements added in at points, which isn’t surprising given the limitations the first two games were working with. Most of the sound effects also seem like modernizations of the originals.
To be honest, I was never a huge fan of the series, yet any time I would come across a mention of it I would nonetheless get feelings of nostalgia and the urge to give it another try. The main thing that always appealed to me was the series’ superb pixel art style and the horror setting. Every time I would come back to it in one of the various collections or reskins like the PSP’s Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins I would remember why I never fell in love with it in the first place: the janky, horrible movement and unforgiving controls.
The onslaught of enemies combined with the slow movement and directional lock jumping are what make the series so difficult. To truly be successful at the games you have to master the controls and memorize the levels. I like fast-paced, twitchy games, and over the years game developers have found many ways to make difficult games without hindering players with outdated movement mechanics. This is why I was so disappointed to see Resurrection stick with the same archaic movement set up. Fortunately, Ressurection does make some concessions to players that might find the gameplay too difficult. There are three traditional difficulty settings ranging from Squire (easy) to Legend (hard). Not only do you have fewer hit points on the harder settings but the enemy onslaught is much more intense. I have no idea how anyone can beat the hardest difficulty – I had a terrible time just trying to reach the first checkpoint.
There’s also an assisted easy mode – Page – which lets you respawn right where you die. I did two somewhat concurrent playthroughs, slowly breaking ahead on my Page save file, and as I played I didn’t think I’d have any chance of completing the regular levels on Squire, but lo and behold I was able to do it. The main element that made this possible is the liberal checkpoint system. They are very frequent and when you die you go back to the last checkpoint. I’m pretty sure the harder difficulties have fewer of them, which would definitely make the game tougher. The bosses seemed like the most ominous part as I played through on baby mode (Page) they are damage sponges. It seemed like some of them take close to a hundred hits to kill, but once you learn their patterns and get a good set of weapons you should fare much better.
I’ve played the game for a little more than seven hours and was able to complete it twice in that time – on the two lowest difficulty settings. There are a lot of collectibles strewn across all the levels that I might go back and collect. I also still have the majority of the Shadow levels to complete. The achievement list is actually pretty reasonable considering how difficult the series is, and I was able to unlock over half the achievements so far in my time with the game. I think they can all be earned playing on Squire (easy), so there’s no need for achievement hunters to stress themselves out playing on the harder settings unless you want to.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is a love letter, or rather a love ballad to the original series, and fans of that series will know every word. I think most of them will enjoy this resurrection immensely. I was on the fence about recommending it to newer fans, but after completing the game on Squire I realized that I enjoyed the game a fair bit. The only caveat is the current price of $30 US which seems a little high. The watercolor art style is striking and the soundtrack is familiar and catchy. Although there are some moments of frustration, Capcom has created a game that any platformer fan should enjoy whether they are a fan of the series or a fan in the making, but the old school fans will get much more enjoyment from it.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.