Video game franchises are typically known for certain things. The Metroid and Castlevania games are known for their non-linear gameplay and item-hunting. The Legend of Zelda is known for it’s wide ranging adventures and the Mario Party franchise is known for ruining even the best friendships. Ghosts’n Goblins, on the other hand, is known for its soul-crushing difficulty and remorseless hatred of the player. Super Ghouls’n Ghosts exemplifies the masochistic gameplay that the franchise is known for and will cause its fair share of ragequits.
Super Ghouls’n Ghosts (hereafter Super G&G) was released for the SNES in 1991 as the second entry in the Ghosts’n Goblins series to find its way to Nintendo home consoles after the original titular title on NES. It is also, quite possibly, the hardest game ever released for a Nintendo console. This is a game that makes Ikaruga look like a walk in the park and The Lost Levels feel like Hello Kitty Island Adventure. Super G&G will constantly smack you down and crush your morale. In typical G&G fashion, it will also ask you to beat it twice before you can see the true ending – the ultimate retro gaming slap in the face.
If I had to sum up Super G&G in one (ok, two) words, it would be: Double Jump. Super G&G demands absolute control and mastery of its jump mechanics. Compared to most games, the double jump in Super G&G is quite unique. The jump, similar to the original Castlevania, cannot be controlled once you are airborne, leaving the payer with 3 options: jump left, jump right, or jump straight up. By itself, this wouldn’t be so bad. In addition, you can adapt how far you travel by when you initiate the second part of your jump, and herein lies the true challenge of Super G&G. Unfortunately, Super G&G is full of jumps that are a little too far for one jump, but not far enough for two, double, max-horizontal jumps. You must constantly adjust the timing of your second jump to prevent yourself from either over, or undershooting the tiny precipice you are aiming for. Your entire success in Super G&G hinges on your ability to successfully execute double jumps of different lengths over, and over again and land on tiny ledges where the slightest miscalculation will spell doom.
In addition to the challenges posed by the jumping mechanics, Super G&G throws countless enemies at you. Just like the original game on NES, enemies can come in overwhelming numbers at times. As well, you can often find yourself with a weapon that is inadequate for the situation (need to kill a Red Devil but you’ve got the torch? Have fun!). Unlike the original, however, Super G&G gives you more variety with each weapon by introducing an up-gradable armor system. The game is littered with hidden chests that appear when certain requirements are met, usually by traversing or jumping through a certain part of the level that is not on the direct path, and knowledge of where these chests are is critical to being successful. By finding these hidden chests, the player can upgrade their armor twice, from steel to bronze, and then to gold. Each armor level unlocks an additional ability with your weapon. The bronze armor gives you an enchanted ability that usually enhances the damage of the base weapon without modifying its mechanics. The gold armor allows you to charge and unleash a magical attack that is completely different than the base attack. These can range from pointless to incredibly powerful, and can often offset the weaknesses of the base weapon. No longer is the torch completely useless, as its magical attack is one of the most useful in the game (granted, the base weapon still blows).
Graphically, Super G&G is well done. The sprites are detailed and the backgrounds are vibrant. Enemies can be quite large and impressive. When sprites start to crowd the screen though, we see some of the standard sprite slowdown so common on Nintendo’s early consoles and their hardware limitations. The game makes good use of unique mechanics on the SNES hardware however, including levels that can rotate completely around the player to change orientation, and good 3D effects with rotating columns akin to the original Battletoads game.
Gameplay: Super G&G is probably the hardest game you will ever play on cartridge based Nintendo consoles. Compared to the original, the weapon and armor upgrades are a welcome addition and provide a little bit of respite. Overall, the gameplay is fair, but demands complete mastery of the double-jump and precise execution of each level in order to progress. Without an emulator, few players will ever see past the first or second levels.
Graphics: The graphics are detailed and appropriate for the SNES. Levels are vibrant and varied. Slowdown is not uncommon however when sprites start to crowd the screen.
Sound: Honestly, I’m not a tremendous fan of the sound in this one. I find the music somewhat grating after awhile, and it all sounds more or less the same throughout the game.
Nostalgia X-Factor: I had never spent an appreciable amount of time with Super G&G prior to this, and as a result, had never passed the first level.
Worth Playing? It is a fun game and worth playing, but you have to appreciate a good slog. Super G&G takes the formula of the original and turns it up to 11. If you aren’t looking to slam your head against a brick wall repeatedly while you ingrain the double jump mechanic into your mind, you might want to give this one a pass.