Bit-History: Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

My previous ‘Bit-History’ detailed my negative reaction to Super Mario Sunshine, a game which was ‘alright’ but felt like anything BUT a Mario game (many of those elements were there, but they just never came together in a cohesive package). Now, I’d like to do a 180 here and talk about a game from my childhood that I’m VERY fond of – Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.

There’s no messing around here. The premise is as straight and simple as it gets – A princess is captured by some demons, and King Arthur has to kick some evil, medieval butt and get her back. The end. Usually a weak premise can hurt a game, but it works well enough for Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts… and why? Because the gameplay is equal parts awesome and infuriating. The game is challenging… like, you’d probably waste about $150 in the arcade trying to beat the damn thing… but the challenge, although punishing more often than not (ok, it’s punishing ALL the time), is what makes this such a unique experience.

Honestly, this game was the ‘Demon’s/Dark Souls’ of the NES and SNES. You needed to execute every move with surgical precision, or else you were toast. This required you to learn the pattern of your enemies and certain environmental hazards, and you often had to replay the same areas over and over again until you found the best way through each obstacle… and even then you could find yourself turned into a pile of bones. Why was this game so difficult? Well, there was always a lot coming at you, right from the beginning of the game. Zombies pop up from the ground, flaming skull columns pop up and shoot flame balls, while red-eyed wolves lunge through the air at you. Tidal waves will wash you away, demons will fly at you from angles that seem impossible to avoid, and that’s not even the tip of the hell-mouth. This game wants you to constantly be 100% offensive and defensive at the same time, and all it takes is two hits for you to die – One to lose your armor, and one more to lose your skin. What makes it hard to stay alive is the game’s jumping mechanism – Once you jump, you’re essentially ‘committed’ to going where you’re going… however, you are able to jump one additional time in mid-air, so you can correct your course if you absolutely need to. Unfortunately, this turns your back on the enemy, and you could find yourself jumping into another inescapable hazard that wasn’t there a moment ago. It’s a brutal game. BRUTAL.

But again, that was all part of the fun. I used to go to my friend’s house around the corner, and we would waste entire weekends trying to beat the game… and we never were able to do it. Ever. Still, there was something incredibly rewarding in being able to get further and further with lots of practice, and even if we couldn’t make a lot of progress, we just didn’t care. The atmosphere in this game was flawless. This game was an action/adventure nightmare, and every stage was fleshed out enough to give you the willies. Gravestones, cobwebs, fog, flames, old haunted sail-ships… what wasn’t to love? There was also a lot to appreciate when you’d survive long enough to gain the special golden armor that improved the abilities of whatever weapon you equipped… you felt proud for having played so well up to that point, but having such an increase in power provided you with a false sense of security. Normally when you acquire such amazing weapons in a game, you became practically unstoppable… but not so in Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Nope… your mistaken assuredness would make you just a tad bit confident, which was enough to cause you to make a mistake and get yourself turned into… yep, you guessed it, a pile of bones again. To add to the experience, the soundtrack was some of the most memorable ‘eerie-vibe’ stuff I’ve ever heard from the world of gaming at the time. It was exciting yet creepy, the major themes always orchestrated by a creepy MIDI sounding organ.

I still play this gem to this very day. Every once in a while I hook my PS3 controller up to my PC, run my SNES emulator, and after debating long and hard about which game I’d like to enjoy for nostalgic reasons and, honestly, to have a lot of fun since these games hold up incredibly well… Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is one of the rare entries that I find myself coming back to again and again… and you know what? I still haven’t been able to beat the damn thing, and I was a pretty hardcore gamer back in the day. For the Mortal Kombat games for example, I had every character’s moves and fatalities memorized for every game… I excelled at most anything I played. The fact that Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is one of the few games that have defeated ME, is probably one of the reasons why it remains such a compelling play more than 20 years after the fact.

I think I just may have to fire up the emulator tonight…

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