Our review of Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Resurrection, developed by Capcom. Available now for Nintendo Switch.
WHAT IS IT?
A reboot/quasi-remake of the greatest 2D action-platformer ever made.
IS IT GOOD?
Yes – on the appropriate difficulty setting.
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
Legends, Knights, and especially Squires.
BORNE OF BLOOD
It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since the last proper entry in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. That game, Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins, was easily one of the best titles on the PSP, taking everything great about the classic series and jazzing it up with beautiful 2.5D graphics and minor concessions to modernity, like optional reduced difficulty. The PSP Ghosts was also the last video game credit for series creator Tokuro Fujiwara – until now.
For a certain type of gamer, Tokuro’s return to gaming in general and Ghosts ‘n Goblins in particular is akin to a beloved athlete or filmmaker coming out of retirement. In addition to his work on Ghosts, Tokuro was also one of the driving forces behind Bionic Commando, Mega Man 2 and 3, Final Fight 2 and 3, Strider, and the (woefully overlooked) Tomba. On top of which, Tokuro originated the concept and design for the very first Resident Evil.
That said, Fujiwara will always be best known for Ghosts, the notoriously difficult and deeply rewarding “Dark Souls of 2D games”. This horror-themed side-scrolling adventure series features the heroic Sir Arthur, who must jump and slash his way through hordes of ghouls, ghosts, zombies, and other creeping, crawling, oozing, flying, snapping, snatching, bouncing monsters. These games are meant to make you sweat, and maybe break a controller or two.
Fujiwara’s latest entry does everything to live up to that reputation – though not always for the better.
A DEMON’S SOUL
Spend any time on gaming YouTube, and you’re liable to stumble across footage of a “ROM Hack”. These are the creation of sadistic programmers, who take well-known games like Super Mario or Sonic, then reprogram them to be ludicrously difficult. Imagine three Bowsers attacking you simultaneously, or a Sonic level that’s 90% hidden spikes. That’s the essence of a ROM Hack.
On its harder difficulties, Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Resurrection plays exactly like a ROM Hack. Stages and creature designs are ripped straight from the original Ghosts, but the difficulty has been cranked up to insufferable levels. Some enemies move twice as fast; others descend on you in groups three or four times larger than anything in past games. I have played the heck out of this series, and Resurrection is, objectively, the hardest Ghosts ever. I do mean objectively – it’s easy to measure the difference when a level looks the same, but has quadrupled the enemies.
On “Legend” or “Knight” difficulty, Resurrection is guilty of the exact thing the series has long been accused of: artificial difficulty. Unlike past titles, which could be overcome by pattern recognition and honing of skills, Resurrection resorts to cheap tricks like overwhelming you with hordes of enemies, making forward momentum next-to-impossible. The original games were notoriously hard – but not this hard.
As a Ghosts veteran, I feel like I can say this with some impunity: the proper way to play Resurrection is on its second-lowest difficulty setting, “Squire”. Enemies are difficult, but manageable. Environmental hazards will trip you up, but it’s possible to learn from your mistakes. Boss fights are tense and frustrating, but fulfilling. Even with the extra hit-points – it now takes three hits to reduce Arthur to his boxers – it comes closest to capturing the spirit of the originals.
Even on “Squire”, the game remains a steep challenge, so it’s nice that Resurrection also includes a few features that lessen some of the frustration. For one, you’re given the option to temporarily reduce difficulty any time you die too many times in the same place. For another, there’s a skill tree that unlocks abilities like the option to carry 2 or 3 weapons at once, drastically reducing the risk that you get saddled with a useless weapon (looking at you, blue torch). There’s also a co-op mode, in which a second player controls a “helper” ghost that can block enemy attacks or create additional platforms. While I’m still waiting for a proper Contra-style two-player Ghosts, this mode is a fun distraction.
I own an utterly fantastic “Dark Ghouls” t-shirt from Toronto company Shirtpunch, which playfully reimagines the Ghosts Level 1 boss as a Souls-esque monstrosity.
Resurrection‘s reputation as the “2D Dark Souls” is well-earned – in fact, I wrote about it in my PS5 Souls review last year. It’s just too bad that the higher difficulties of Resurrection are so unpleasant. And I can say this as someone who has beaten nearly every Ghosts game, including the Genesis, SNES, and PSP titles, along with both of the Maximo spinoffs. (I’ve never beaten the NES original, though. That game sucks.)
Play Resurrection on “Squire”, and you do get something akin to the best of the original games. It’s still a game where pixel-perfect navigation is required, but it’s also a game that gives you the time and space to learn how to navigate – something that’s impossible when you’re overwhelmed by sheer force of numbers on the higher difficulties. Played on “Squire”, Resurrection feels like the long-overdue sequel we’ve been waiting for (and which Tokuro Fujiwara had been teasing for so long).
Like a zombie rising from its pixelated grave, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is back.
Final score: 8/10 angrily busted controllers.
Visit the official page for Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Resurrection here.