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Before I get to the crux of the review, allow me to address those of you that have played Ghosts N Goblins and/or Ghouls N Ghosts. Think about that game for a moment. I’m willing to bet some of the strongest thoughts you just had centered around the first couple levels of the game. You likely thought about the graveyard filled with zombies, a magician turning you into a frog, a giant cyclops that tried to trounce you, and a particularly pesty red gargoyle that gave you fits to defeat.
These are my first thoughts as well. The reason for this is because those are the stages we go through the most when we play. Due to the punishing difficulty of the games, it is easy to want to play it, and then we reach a certain point and put it down again, usually within the first few stages. The difficulty could be brutal and punishing, but it is such that we remember every inch of the level after we completed it, and each level eventually seemed easier. We forged our paths through experimenting and learning, and we eventually knew exactly how to beat each level, especially the first couple. This aspect, perhaps, entices us more to the Ghosts N Goblins games than any of its other lures.
But let us back up for one moment before we delve into what makes Ghosts N Goblins Resurrection such a love letter to the series. For those that may not have played any of the other games before it, the Ghosts N Goblins games are a series of 2D side-scrolling platformers in which the player guides Arthur on a quest to save his lovely maiden. It seems that monsters consider a romantic evening in the graveyard a prime time to kidnap princesses, and since Arthur needs a moment to collect his armor after tossing it aside in favor of his heart-speckled boxers, he can do little more than stare menacingly at the monster before giving chase through the graveyard.
This is the moment where players take over, and it is seconds before the moment where many players may toss their controller due to the incredible challenge. Each of the games in the series changes things a bit, but every one of them begins this way, and it is always a swift kick to the pride for those playing for the first time. It is not the controls or the lack of fun that gets in the way, but rather a slew of interesting creatures who love to hang out in the worst possible places for Arthur to deal with. Some players may give up shortly after a few deaths, but the undeniable fun, charm, and simplicity of the tight controls make it an experience that is hard to pull away from, even as you die repeatedly.
Ghosts N Goblins Resurrection takes this formula and adds in a heaping dose of modern systems to the mix. It adds infinite lives and difficulty levels, which initially caused some fans of the series to be concerned that the game would be easier than the others and would lack the charm and spirit that made the other games so beloved. After a few moments with the game, it becomes clear that those fears were unwarranted. This game has all of the charm of the other games in the series, and boy does it have challenge.
In anticipation of the game’s release, I went back through and completed the original Ghosts N Goblins and Ghouls N Ghosts. They were as fun and challenging as I remembered them. But Resurrection asked those games to hold its drink and upped the challenge to a surprising level.
Part of the challenge for me could certainly be that I remember those old games so well, and I have the tricks and tactics for each stage branded in my brain. But there are aspects that are undeniably much more challenging in Resurrection. The stages are longer and more involved, for starters. Also, remember that pesty red gargoyle that was mentioned earlier? He is known as a Red Arremer, and he is well-known to players of the previous games. Since he was notoriously crafty and difficult to beat, players of those previous games spent a lot of time developing strategies for encountering him in each of the stages. But those strategies are just interesting fairy tales whenever you encounter a Red Arremer in Resurrection. He is almost impossible to beat as he dodges absolutely everything you throw his way. He will mock you, and you will be terrified every time you encounter one. The game knows this, too, and they love to add him as a “punishment” should you go the wrong way or hit something the game doesn’t want you to. It is a noticeable step up in difficulty, and the Red Arremers and longer stages are only a couple differences.
In truth, the entire game is made from the ground up as an ode to the older games, so the entire game is different. But most of the levels are inspired recreations of levels from the other games. Some fans wondered if the game would simply be a remaster with updated graphics and features, but Resurrection is very much a remake in the same vein as the Resident Evil 2 remake. It is not just a pretty coat of paint; it is a wholly different game with much longer levels and much more to figure out to reach the end.
That coat of paint sure is pretty, though. For a game that flaunts wailing and gnashing of teeth as exciting features, it adheres to a child-like storybook aesthetic very nicely. Every stage, enemy, and effect is beautiful and whimsical, and the entirety of the game is a work of art. The musical homages to the tracks of old also pair quite nicely with the hectic goings-on in every scene. The old sound effects also got carefully reworked, and the end result is a game that is a nostalgic treat for the eyes and ears.
Perhaps it does not do the same for one’s sanity, though. To reiterate, this game is tough! There is a strange thing that can happen where you may find a section of the game to be unfair, but then you become confident in beating that section when you find a way to win. In that regard, the game can be seen as a giant puzzle game. You’ll move forward inch by inch, taking mental notes of what works and what ends in demise. As you do this, you will realize that what you once thought to be impossible becomes workable. What you once thought would take a stroke of luck to conquer becomes the easy part of the stage. As you learn more and figure out each area, you’ll feel amazing knowing that you worked it all out and actually “beat” the stage! And then it is on to the next.
Every area, at first, will have you wondering why the game hates you and how it could possibly expect you to survive. But you develop your strategies to beat every part of it through not only your skill, but through a skill tree as well. You will learn skills from a skill tree, called an Umbral Tree, that you will come to rely on. Although each stage can be conquered with your base equipment, you will have a plethora of fun spells and tricks that can transform particularly grueling parts of a stage into walks in the park.
Scattered across the many stages of Ghosts N Goblins Resurrection are firefly-like insects called Umbral Bees. They are often found flying in parts of the stage you would never otherwise want to traverse. Do you see a bed of spikes coming up? Chances are an Umbral Bee calls that place home. But collect enough of those crafty bugs and you can unlock skills in the Umbral Tree that can turn all non-boss enemies into frogs, allow you to hold several weapon types at once, and even generate a new suit of armor should you find yourself in a drafty predicament, among many others.
Powering up through the Umbral Tree is not the only way to ease the difficulty on yourself. The player now has a choice of difficulty levels, and each changes factors of the game such as some enemy placement, number of checkpoints, and overall hits you may take before you perish. If you want an experience on par with the other games in the series, you can choose Legend from the start and be on your way. But, if you are not feeling so legendary or simply want to get a feel for things before going fully masochistic, you may pick an easier difficulty, including Page, the easiest.
Page difficulty requires a closer look as it is Capcom’s attempt to get newer and less-skilled players engaged with the game. Page difficulty players have a few unique perks. For one, you can never fully die. Should you be reduced to your skeleton, you simply respawn exactly where your dusty bones dropped to the ground. Should you fall to your doom, you begin at or near the ledge from which you tumbled (apart from one stage which features feats of platforming that can even be quite difficult for Page players). Pages also have access to a unique spell that instantly defeats any Red Arremers on the screen. Of course, all of this great power comes with a tremendous caveat: Pages cannot fully finish the game because they can only access the first playthrough.
In true Ghosts N Goblins fashion, the first time through the game grants you access to a myriad of weapons that may fall from enemies or appear in treasure chests. You have access to each of these weapons, save one. That weapon will not appear your first time through the game (except for Pages; they get all the breaks), and it happens that you need that weapon to complete the game. Since you cannot access the weapon that you need to beat the game on your first time through, you’ll be enjoying another go through the haunted theme park of doom to reach the “true ending.”
And in case you may be afraid that the game would be repetitive by doing this, rest assured that it is anything but. Each stage has been reworked for the second playthrough, and if you thought the game was tough your first time through, just wait until you’re picking your jaw off the ground on your second lap. Not because you’re in awe, necessarily, but because you may have trouble keeping your body intact for more than a few seconds. I am convinced that torture camps around the world will no longer be using water drips and yanking toe nails to extract information from prisoners; they will simply hand the unfortunate soul a controller and boot up the second playthrough of Resurrection.
Like before, however, there is always a way to beat each stage. The second playthrough throws more enemies at you in more precarious positions, and each stage has overall differences and gimmicks that you must overcome, but there is always a way to win. It becomes a more intricate puzzle, but it also is so much more rewarding when you figure it out. You will eventually realize that you do not need luck, but knowledge. Learning not to hit certain things, making sure to duck when you reach a certain part, and knowing when you need to go back to move forward are things that will have you getting through even the second playthrough with confidence. Once you understand how to accomplish it, you will realize your skill, not luck, is the key for coming in.
Ghosts N Goblins Resurrection is an experience that has an old-school heart. It is punishing, but it is insanely fun and rewarding to play. It may not be to everyone’s liking because it can seem fantastically difficult. But if you approach it more as a puzzle to solve instead of a masochistic impossibility, you will not only find it very possible to beat, but you will also find one of the most engaging and surprising experiences of the year. Knowing that one more try can get you through, along with how easy and fun it is to pick up and play, will keep the hours spinning as you nearly reach the next checkpoint. Then you resurrect, confidently, and start it again.