I’ve never been so foolish in my gaming career as I was to want to review this game. “You say Ghosts ‘n Goblins is difficult? Well I’m always up for a challenge,” I idiotically said. Even as the words crossed my stupid lips, a small voice inside said in a whisper, “Maybe it really is and you know you’re going to struggle and get frustrated and won’t have a good time.” I never heard that voice until it was too late, drowned out by my gaming triumphs of old, like the time I dared to climb a mountain in a pixel perfect platforming journey that brought me to face the part of me I wanted to avoid most. Or the time I spent cartoonishly beating the devil at his own game—and who could forget how sweet it felt to finally save Bandage Girl, and revel as she stomped on Dr. Fetus. I’m outlining some of my favourite difficult platformers that I’ve played and beaten in the past, titles that made me feel like my jumping skills were competent enough to take on the legendary challenge that is Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. I was decidedly wrong—until I turned the difficulty down two levels, at which point I had a jolly good time.
Turning the difficulty down reveals a really excellent and charming platformer. It’s still challenging, but being able to tank four hits before dying, better enemy placement, and having well-placed checkpoints negate that. The platforming is the real star, and each level is full of multiple points in which the level design creatively injects new ways to jump across. It felt reminiscent of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze in how your path is dictated by a logical forward momentum that unravels as you continue.
You see the reason behind each jump and how it leads to the next based on the environment and how it changes as you progress in the level. You don’t get to pull off any crazy wall jumps or manipulate momentum the way you can in other platformers—Arthur purposely moves at a cartoonishly slow and steady pace—but you feel like each successful jump is a last second evasion from the evils that surround you. It all works to push you forward in your journey and adds to the excitement you feel when beating a level.
The combat is simple, which is good because it is the one thing that lets you feel like you have a chance against the challenge that Ghosts ‘n Goblins presents. Most enemies die after one hit, and those that don’t will die eventually—after you’ve sent about 20 daggers their way. You have a variety of weapons to discover throughout the game and at different points of the levels, but mostly your selection will feel random. Once you have a weapon, you’re stuck with that until you pick up a different one.
You can be caught at times with a weapon you may not particularly like, but you can also find secrets within each level that may include different weapons or the rare gold armour set. Most of the weapons are fine, but certain ones, like the hammer, made me want to use it on myself with how useless a close-range weapon felt in a game where long-range weapons are not just your starting norm, but essential for multiple points where you wouldn’t progress without one. The other added layer to the combat is magic, with different spells you can unlock and upgrade. If timed well, they can be effective, but the time it takes to charge up and use meant I usually strayed away from most of them and only used them when I had ample time to turn everyone into frogs.
I was quite impressed with the design of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. The gothic elements and settings lend themselves so well to the cartoonish-Monty Python puppet design. There’s also far more detail to be seen in each character model, especially with the two final bosses. Paired with a fun soundtrack, this all adds to give Resurrection a nostalgic charm to it while also functioning as a modern title.
The boss fights, in particular, made me very happy. I loved each one, as they were all an excellent blend of using all your platforming skills to out-maneuver your foe and great cinematic set pieces within the story. No boss fight felt the same; they all made creative use of their setting—and sometimes even their character models—to create unique situations that call for quick thinking on your part. Each boss fight was tense and exhilarating to conquer, and it was always funny to see Arthur celebrate his victory over these terrifying creatures in boxers.
There’s really only one major negative point to talk about with Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection: the difficulty. Playing the game on the difficulty level “Legend” which, according to Capcom, is the definitive Ghosts ‘n Goblins experience. The description in the game reads, “Make ready, for this is Ghosts ‘n Goblins! You will die, yes, but so too will you bask in glory. The gauntlet has been thrown, you fearless few: come play with fire and get burned!” If you play Ghosts ‘n Goblins at this level, you will have a terrible time.
In hindsight, I can say that this is not how you should go about playing Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection for the first time; even the description for the “Squire” difficulty level that I played the game at is how you’re told to first play the game. But, by its own description, it is not the definitive experience of the game you’re meant to have, which (right or wrong) has always felt to me like I won’t be getting everything the developers put into fully remaking this classic title. What’s even more interesting is that when you open the game for the first time, Legend will in fact be the first difficulty suggested to you by the game. If you’re like me and read that was the true experience, you might also not bother to read the rest and begin your adventure.
In the grand scheme of it all, this might not feel like the biggest issue—after all, I could (and did) start a new game at a lower difficulty and have a better time. But I still take issue with the fact that myself and other unwitting newcomers are suggested to play at the highest level before any other, and I think it’s important to understand the message that the kind of wording used in the difficulty description sends. All of this contributed to me having a terrible time for my first few days with what is actually an extremely fun game. Difficulty levels are important because they make games more accessible to everyone while still allowing the hardest of the hardcore to test their mettle, and there are ways some games appraoch difficulty scaling that work really well, while others—like Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection—miss the mark.
I spent a lot of time detailing how Capcom states Legend is the definitive way to play Ghosts ‘n Goblins because of the wording they used and because that’s actually not at all true. Legend is leagues more difficult than the original game; the only part about it that remains from the original is your health and the lack of checkpoints. The rest of it, though, is filled with my biggest pet peeves when it comes to difficulty scaling.
Because every difficult game seems to be compared to Dark Souls, people will be quick to say the difficulty is akin to Souls-level hard, but that’s not really the case. Dark Souls and games inspired by it treat difficulty differently, in that each aspect of the difficulty is designed to teach you about the game, and how you can go about defeating enemies. Battles are more like puzzles, and you learn from item descriptions, environmental storytelling, and by fighting your enemies to figure out what you need to be doing to defeat them. A quick example are the members of the Healing Church in Bloodborne; while they hit like a truck, they can be parried at any point in their attack. They serve as a way for you to practice a core combat mechanic, which pays off heavily in the long run.
There’s nothing like this level of depth in Ghosts ‘n Goblins. All the Legend difficulty does is throw everything and the kitchen sink at you constantly. And while the solution to this could be memorizing enemy placements and level layouts to a tee, it’s impossible to do that when you will still have enemies popping up at random. Just constantly throwing everything at the player while they juggle attacking, acquiring collectibles, watching for hazards, and jumping from one platform to the next doesn’t make something difficult, just overwhelming—especially when there is no way other than magic to help give you an upper hand (if you can make it far enough to unlock any spells, that is). It is not difficult like Dark Souls because it is the worst way to approach high difficulty. It’s the kind of design that would turn anyone away unless they want to spend hours smashing their head against a wall. Player frustration should be a side effect, not the goal.
As a whole, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is an incredible remake of the original. It does everything a remake should, in that it keeps the core feeling of what made the original click with players while updating it for a modern audience. However, I can’t stress this enough though: do not play on the Knight or Legend difficulty levels until you genuinely feel ready, whenever that is. Neither are, in my opinion, a good way to experience everything that is wonderful about Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection, and will only leave you frustrated beyond belief.
[A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review]