June 6, 2010

Refresh Rate – Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

Filed under: Archives — Tags: , , , , , — Dan Rankin @ 12:28 pm

Super Ghouls n Ghosts
Throughout the years, countless storytellers have taken up the legends of Arthur, monster-hunting king of yore, and his heroes of the round table; these storytellers sometimes seemed on a quest against one another to put Camelot’s king and his brothers in continually more romantic and fantastical adventures. While the chivalrous hero of Capcom’s 1991 SNES platformer Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts may not be the same Arthur of circular table-fame, he certainly shares his name, appearance, and general quest; that is, to save a princess from a slew of horrible beasts.

Arthur begins in a classic iron suit of armor, purely utilitarian and consistent with the mythical prehistoric defenders of Britain, but he can uncover several upgrades that become increasingly more ornate and regal. The suit upgrades also magnify the power of whichever weapon Arthur happens to be holding onto; he starts with a lance but other options encountered through the game include speedy daggers, frightful bows, and useless torches. No matter how terrific Arthur appears in his shiny armor, a single hit from an enemy instantly rips our hero from his protective shell, leaving him to carry on in nothing but his skivvies.

But aren’t suits of armor notoriously hard to put on and take off? One wonders if perhaps Arthur expected his quest to the princess to be a rather lackadaisical journey, and designed his suits of armor accordingly, so that when he finally reached his damsel he could more speedily disrobe and make with the obligatory reward sex.

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Yes, I have fond memories of braving zombie-filled cemeteries and haunted frigates in an attempt to rescue the beautiful princess, so wrongfully plucked from her castle in the chilling opening cinematic. I have just as many memories of never coming remotely close to doing so.

There are a few reasons I was forever destined to suffer the blue balls of defeat at the hands of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. I’m inclined to say that the first was the awkward double jump employed by Arthur. In regular practice the jump boosted the height and length of Arthur’s jumping range, allowing him to reach platforms that would otherwise be unreachable.

However, if Arthur’s first jump were vertical, i.e., not to the left or right, the laws of the game dictated that his second jump must also remain perfectly vertical.

I cursed this feature, which I perceived as a design flaw each time it caused me to plummet to a watery grave in either of the opening two levels.

The second reason is one I suspect confounded many young gamers over the years: you had to play through the damn game twice in order to beat it.

Call it tradition, as this was the exact same fork-in-the-eye treated to players of Capcom’s 1988 arcade game Ghouls ‘n Ghosts – or, just call it what it was, a way to encourage kids to pump more quarters into arcade machines.

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Upon defeating the two hairy pig fellows at the top of the demon Sardius’ castle, the player is instructed by an apparition of the princess that only a magical bracelet that she’s hidden somewhere has the power to defeat Sardius. Sorry Mario, our princess is in another castle. Except this time it’s not another castle. And the bracelet you need is just right behind you (but I’ll explain that in a moment).

In the mean time, the player must return to the first world in order to open up a chest while wearing magical golden armor and pick up a dumb bracelet that, despite possessing the unique and formidable ability to kill a 50 foot demon, suffers from a pitiful range of attack and is not even potent enough to kill some standard baddies in one hit.

A peculiar design choice has it that, so long as the player avoids cracking open chests on their second run through the game, they’re not forced to pick up the bracelet, and can continue using their faster, better weapons as long as they’d like.

Truly skilled players can actually hold off on grabbing the bracelet until the last level, just a few screens away from where they were previously told to return to the beginning to find the fucking bracelet that they just picked up about fifty feet away in that very same locale.

“Upon defeating the two hairy pig fellows at the top of the demon Sardius’ castle, the player is instructed by an apparition of the princess that only a magical bracelet that she’s hidden somewhere has the power to defeat Sardius. Sorry Mario, our princess is in another castle.”

Speaking of locales, I always got the feeling that Capcom jumped the shark on places for a knight to fight ‘ghouls ‘n ghosts’ midway through the game and was forced to include otherworldly locations such as the ‘Maze of Death’ and ‘The Ghoul’s Stomach’.

Don’t get me wrong, considering the constraints of the time I think this game represents some ingenious boundary stretching for the side-scrolling, platforming genre.

The use of axis-shifting and direction-altering in the ‘Maze of Death’ level took the lemons of constantly moving in one direction for an entire level and stirred it into some pretty sweet lemonade… but is that surreal nightmare really where you’d expect a knight to fight ghouls ‘n ghosts? I suppose nobody would expect an Italian plumber to be bopping crotchety turtles amongst the clouds either, but I just thought it warranted mentioning how silly the setting of this game became after a couple of incredibly memorable early levels.

It’s hard to imagine games being made today the way Capcom was developing them in the eighties and nineties with an arcade-dwelling audience in-mind. What if, upon reaching the pinnacle of Ganondorf’s castle in Ocarina of Time, the player was told that the only weapon that would allow for the destruction of the evil Gerudo prince was located back in Kokiri Forest where the quest began, and where the player would have almost certainly seen it on his first go round? It would have pissed off a bunch of righteously angry 12-year-olds, you can be sure about that.


  1. Niiice! Makaimura famicom cart sits in my Retro Duo at all times. ;) Even though I still haven’t beaten it in 20 years of trying… Wow that’s sad. Do you by any chance have higher res versions of that artwork?

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — June 6, 2010 @ 12:51 pm

  2. Not so much on the hi-res, but there’s a bunch of artwork here –

    Also a larger deviant art piece remix here –

    Comment by Jamie Love — June 6, 2010 @ 12:55 pm

  3. Thanks for those links Jamie! I was just playing my iPhone Ghosts N’ Goblins game… and it just made me wish Apple would release a real controller already! This game needs BUTTONS! Also there is a lot of slowdown on my 3G… I wonder if it runs smoother on the 3GS? How much are SNES games on the Wii VC? Maybe I’ll download Super Ghouls…

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — June 6, 2010 @ 2:56 pm

  4. GN’G on an iPhone? How does one control such a complex game with a touchscreen and not die every two minutes?

    Comment by EdEN — June 7, 2010 @ 12:07 pm

  5. One doesn’t. Hence my cry for an official Apple controller.

    Comment by Ujn Hunter — June 7, 2010 @ 12:29 pm

  6. Well, the DS has a lot of games and is very much a portable. I’ve tried playing on an iPhone/iPod and the games felt ok at best, specially those (Earthworm Jim for instance) that REALLY need physical input by a controller.

    Comment by EdEN — June 7, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

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