GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS

By Sean Harris

Capcom was on quite a roll in the late 80′s, cranking out hit after hit of destined-to-be classic platformers. It was no surprise that their smash hit GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS would receive a bigger and badder sequel in this outpouring of titles, enhanced with the latest that current arcade hardware had to offer. For Arthur’s second foray into the realm of the evil spirit world, the story line would remain basically unchanged, while the visuals, audio, and main character control took a polished retooling.

You can take the top or the bottom road in this cemetery.

Pressing start, you’re treated to an intro animation sequence similar to its forbearer, but instead of being whisked away by a demon, the Princess of Hus is zapped by a phantom beam in the royal courtyard. Her lifeless body falls to the ground with countless others, as our hero rushes in stage left gallantly on a white horse.¬†Dismounted by a second beam attack, Arthur turns his head skyward, just in time to catch a glimpse of the monstrous entity that overwhelms the fading stratosphere.

Stage one will feel familiar to GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS fans, since it’s a souped-up version of its opening graveyard scene. Instead of zombies lurching forward from the ground, you’re attacked by Skeleton Murderers (cloaked reapers bearing scythes). Climb through the various torture devices of this place of execution–specifically, haunted guillotines that you have to time running correctly through–and you’ll also be picked at by hungry vultures nesting in the twisted trees, along with the occasional skull-spitting plant thing. Past the wooden bridge on the lake, you’ll be greeted by shifting winds that slow your progress down, with little tasmanian devils called sickle weasels, who spin through the air in cyclones and can only be hit when they momentarily blink out of their protective vortexes. Spiral up the wicked mountain in the swamp, facing sentient roots that slither up through the broken dirt, and then make haste through the pig-headed Big Men (who come at you with spears, and just for kicks, try to vomit toxic puke on you from high above on the catwalks).

Strafe and shoot for that one-eyed mug.

Now it’s time to face your first giant boss: the shielder. He takes up a great portion of the screen, coming out of his statue form, lifting off his head, and then stomping at you and spitting fireballs with his disembodied gabber. If you can best this juggernaut, a key falls from the clouds, granting access to the first of five gates that stand in your path.¬†Four more terrible stages still await, and your journey takes you through a decayed village, immolated city, ghostly tower, an alive and carnivorous mountain range, crystal cavern shaft, and finally into a castle of death for a stand-off with Lucifer himself. What’s worse…just as in the hellish first game, you’re required to run through this map twice and get a special item to actually receive the true ending!

Watch for the rock turtles that bounce down the hill upon you, shooting them when they unshell.

With three chances per coin, each life is given a suit of armor for protection. This shields you from one attack or bump into a creature, which will knock off your coverings and expose you to the hostile environment in fancy medieval undergarments (armor can be found again, fortunately). A second hit skeletonizes your knight and forces a return to the beginning of the first or second half of the level. Your protagonist can jump obstacles or fire his respective default lance right, left, up or down (a huge blessing from the programmers over the restrictions of the original). It’s a decent instrument, although it can only be thrown at medium speed. Along the way, you can change weapons, found in chests or dropped by enemies. The dagger remains your most prized asset, so hang on to it once you have it in hand (fast, multiple attacks). There is also an axe (it’s ok), disc (pretty good, and handy for traveling along crooked floors and hitting enemies), giant sword (cool looking, but useless on ranged enemies), and the torch, still falling in last place for efficiency. There is also special golden armor, which can be acquired by opening a chest successively after vanquishing a sorcerer (who themselves also pop out of the chests–kill them quick, or you’ll be temporarily enchanted into a helpless duck of wobbling old man). Once you’ve donned this lustrous plate mail, you then have the ability to cast magic spells. Each weapon corresponds with a different necromancy, and, just as with their namesakes, are varied in effects. Try them out by simply holding down the fire button until the little red meter fills with yellow, then release.

Stay on the gargoyle tongues, but leap to the platforms before they recede back into their mouths.

Aside from small statue icons which bring you points, the occasional 1UP arthur doll, and both silver armor replacement and golden armor upgrades, there is nothing else left to worry about snagging. Try to keep your preferred weapon, though the game will make it difficult by often dropping a different one directly in your way and forcing you to switch. Jump around often, which will unearth hidden chests, and try to memorize where they are placed so you can have better chances of staying powered up to your liking.

GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS is a true blue-ribbon affair. Stunning foreground and background detail, beautifully animated parallax scrolling planes, giant horrible bosses, ugly monsters, cool weapons, magic, and a hero that doesn’t mind taking on the forces of darkness in his knickers. Capcom lowered the challenge just enough to pull it down from the KILL YOURSELF NOW insanity that was its precursor, so thankfully it isn’t impossible to master. With enough practice (and quarters), you will eventually get good enough to blow through this addictive adventure on a single twenty-five cents.