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Page 1:
Intro
Ghosts 'n Goblins

Page 2:
Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Page 3:
Makaimura for Wonderswan
Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins
Ghosts 'n Goblins: Gold Knights

Page 4:
Gargoyle's Quest
Gargoyle's Quest II
Demon's Crest

Page 5:
Maximo
Maximo vs The Army of Zin

Page 6:
Nazo Makaimura
Makaimura Online
Magyechon Online
Cameos

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by ZZZ, David DeRienzo, Munchy, Kurt Kalata and Sam Derboo - last updated March 2012

Nobody likes a video game to be frustrating, so exceptionally difficult games are often inaccessible to all but the most skilled players. This is especially a problem in more linear games. If the game doesn't consist of anything other than progressing from point A to point B, then it can seem pointless to keep playing it if you never get anywhere. So for a game to get away with a nigh-impossible difficulty level, it has to be executed at an extraordinarily high level. Remember Battletoads? Most probably stopped playing that game after realizing that they'd never get past the bike race section in level three. If the bike race in Battletoads had been the greatest section of any level in any video game ever made, then it wouldn't have mattered how difficult it was.

Of course they are plenty of masterpiece caliber games with absolutely obscene difficulty levels. Robotron, for example, is not only difficult, it's practically impossible t obeat. Yet it remains easily among the greatest video games ever made. Arcade-style games like Robotron or Pac-Man present the entirety of their gameplay at the very beginning, so players of all skill levels can experience everything the game has to offer. Whether arcade-style or linear, what makes any great-yet-nigh-impossible game work, and is also tragically absent from video games in general these days, is guaranteed reward. Anybody should be able to enjoy any video game regardless of how much effort and/or time they put into it. Anything that gets in the way of that is simply dogmatic design philosophy. A hard game needs to be designed in such a way, and executed at such a level, that its difficulty becomes irrelevant and it can be enjoyed even while failing miserably.

The best example to demonstrate this point is Capcom's Ghosts 'n Goblins series, which is known as Makaimura ("Demon World Village") in Japan. It stars a knight named Arthur, who always has to rescue his girlfriend and perpetual kidnapping victim, Princess Prin-Prin, from various monsters. The Ghosts 'n Goblins series is immediately associated with its astronomical difficulty level, to the point where they are rightly remembered as being more or less impossible. Few have ever advanced beyond even the first level, yet amazingly Ghosts 'n Goblins was among the most popular action games back in its day and the series has been able to retain a sizable cult following since. So how do games that most people can't never get anywhere in keep people coming back? That's where the "guaranteed reward" comes in. Its fantastic level designs and weapon systems wouldn't matter at all if its difficulty overwhelmed them, so by pushing it to the point where it becomes, for all intents and purposes, completely impossible, you come to accept failure as an inevitability. As a result, its difficulty becomes irrelevant and you can focus purely on the joy of simply playing the game. By always keeping Arthur on the verge of death, the games gain a level of intensity and urgency that few, if any, other platformers replicate.

A large part of the series' difficulty is due to the random nature of the enemies. Games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden are extremely difficult, but once you get accustomed to the control systems of each game and memorize the enemy patterns, you can eventually progress. Enemies in Ghosts 'n Goblins spawn almost everywhere, without a moment's notice, and will quickly overwhelm players that are not on their toes at all times. Furthermore, like the early Castlevania games, you can't control jumps in mid-air. All too many times, you'll realize that you made an error in judgement, and will cringe as you send Arthur dropping to his death, powerless to do anything about it. Many "power-ups" are actually to your disadvantage, giving you weaker weapons than even your standard spear. Many treasure chests simply contain magicians that'll curse you, turning you into a crotchety old man or a defenseless baby. In most of the games, it only takes two hits to get killed. The first destroys Arthur's armor, leaving him to fight in his boxers. The second hit kills. The checkpoints are sparse, requiring that you become intimately familiar with the layout of the stage to even stand a chance to reach them.

Ghouls 'n Ghosts aesthetics are very loosely based on European monster mythology, but takes a light hearted approach to the horror theme. Every piece of music is perfect for the tone of the game—spooky without being too dirge-like, exactly like its graphics. Every character has cartoonish look that renders even its most gruesome zombies and demons cute rather than creepy. The first game also introduced fan-favorite Red Arremer. In the GnG series, Red Arremer is the most challenging villain to deal with in each game, excluding later bosses. He eventually got his own complete sub-series of games and several cameos elsewhere. Arthur himself is a very memorable character—it's difficult to forget a fiery-haired, bearded knight who spends most of the game hauling tail away from zombies in nothing but his underpants. He also has what is easily the most memorable death animation in a video game ever, where he explodes into a heap of bones.

The series has even inspired a GnG themed entry in the Incredible Machine series, and a series of two "spiritual sequels" called Maximo. The development teams for four of the five GnG games and all three Gargoyle's Quest games were lead by Tokuro Fujiwara. Tokuro Fujiwara was also the chief designer for each NES and SNES installment of Mega Man (at least the games that got released in America), so that should be enough indication as to the level of experience at designing action-platformers behind the series.

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts (SNES)

Demon's Crest


Ghosts 'n Goblins / 魔界村 (Makaimura) - Arcade, PC-88, FM-7, X1, NES, Commodore 16/Plus4, Commodore 64, Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, IBM-PC, Atari ST, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, Saturn, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Mobile (1985)

Japanese Arcade Flyer

American NES Cover

Commodore 16 Cover

Capcom's Ghosts 'n Goblins hit the arcades just nine days after Super Mario Bros. was released for NES. While it's the same general genre, it doesn't really exhibit the more developed platforming elements that SMB standardized (if not invented) and the platforming sequences are not too elaborate on their own, but rather meant as additional obstacles while fending off hordes of monsters. No level is too long, and each is genuinely different from the rest and divided into two distinctive sections, so gameplay never gets repetitive.

Ghosts 'n Goblins begins with our hero, Arthur, having a picnic with his girlfriend, Princess Prin-Prin, in a graveyard in the middle of the night in nothing but his boxers (bad idea). I guess nobody told them to stay out of video game graveyards, because they're all full of monsters and zombies, and this graveyard isn't an exception. So a big winged demon named Goblin King (Satan in the original) appears out of nowhere, kidnaps Princess Prin-Prin, and teleports away to wherever. Arthur, of course, is not going to put up with this, so he dons his suit of armor and goes after her, Mario-style.

Arthur could never have guessed that his attempt to save her would land him in the most difficult platform game ever made. The first level is already really hard, and soon the difficulty becomes so extreme as to make it nearly impossible. Excluding any of you video game playing robots who can beat Battletoads in your sleep, nobody should expect to make progress in Ghosts 'n Goblins, because it is not going to happen anytime soon. Ghosts 'n Goblins is widely considered to be among the most difficult games ever made in any genre, and it has gained an even higher level of infamy due to the game forcing you to replay the entire thing at an even higher difficulty setting after you beat the game. As if it wasn't challenging enough to make it through the game just once. (You're informed that the final room is a "a trap devised by Satan".) Then you need to kill the final boss—a demon named Astaroth—with the weakest weapon (a cross in the Japanese version, a Shield in the West).

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

To get you through (not likely) all this craziness are several weapons that can be acquired during play. You begin each game with a lance that takes a straight path across the screen and can have only two of them on screen at once. There is also a dagger that works mostly the same except that it moves faster. The torch travels with an arc and explodes into a burst of flames upon hitting the ground. It's not exactly great for rapid-fire as a result, but surprisingly effective against the Red Arremer. There is also an axe that keeps going after hitting enemies and also travels with an arc like the torch. The last weapon is the crucifix/shield. Besides throwing it, it can also be used to block enemy fire, and it's the only weapon that's effective against the final boss. It's also possible to find a suit of armor if you aren't wearing any, and it will be replaced after beating a level without it.

Although Ghosts 'n Goblins was developed and distributed by Capcom, apparently Taito America also manufactured a run of the arcade game. The flyers show the exact same game, except the character names are different. Arthur is now "Sir Michael", and main bad guy is named "Argon".

Whether in spite of or because of its hilariously over-the-top level of challenge, Ghosts 'n Goblins was pretty popular in the arcades. So Capcom, being already as cash-in happy as they are today, released a ton of home computer ports. ASCII programmed the Japanese 8-bit ports, which suffer from a terrible color palette and some missing sound effects. The controls also aren't as responsive as one would wish for and the physics feel glitchy. Most of the Western conversions were handled by Elite Systems. The ports for ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC are intolerable, inaccurate crapola. The Commodore 64 port plays pretty well, but only has the first four levels, with the third and fourth in reverse order, and lets you begin with five lives. This version features original music that's fairly popular among C64 fans, even though there's only two complete tracks, composed by Mark Cooksey. The port for Amiga looks almost arcade perfect, but it lacks music, you begin with six lives, and the hit detection is iffy. The port for Atari ST is pretty good, but has the final two levels missing.

Famicom Cover

Ghosts 'n Goblins was also ported to the PC with disastrous results. Its music and graphics are total shit, but whats worse is that the gameplay has been completely slaughtered as well. Rather than the screen actually moving with Arthur, it just instantly flips when you reach the right end, like an Atari 2600 game or Prince of Persia. There could be anything at the beginning of the next screen, so if you haven't memorized that section than you can easily end up falling straight into a pit. Making it even worse is the fact that enemies are not initially on the screen when you get there. Instead they appear out of nowhere in predetermined locations. Meaning if you are standing in a spot where enemies can appear at the wrong time than you'll get killed. For absolutely no good reason whatsoever, certain sections of levels will repeat themselves, so it will appear that you have just walked back into the exact same screen. Sometimes this even happens twice. The collision detection couldn't be any worse, and you'll find yourself falling right through platforms. On the other hand, certain sections are way to easy because it is sometimes possible to just walk through a screen before any enemies appear and they can't follow you from screen to screen. The laziness that went into this port is further exemplified by the fact that they didn't even bother to mirror the weapon sprites, so weapons will always face the same direction regardless of which direction they are thrown. This is about as poor a conversion as possible, and is not worth you time even as a curiosity.

The port that was released for NES is actually the one most people have played. This version is accurate, gameplay-wise, but has downgraded graphics and music, and feels kinda jittery, as if it were poorly programmed. It also has fantastically horrible translations, especially in the ending. Best of all, it has a level select cheat code. Years later, a port was released for Game Boy Color that looks kinda similar to the NES game, but zoomed in. The Famicom version was also released as a Famicom Mini game for the Gameboy Advance in Japan. A few levels from this game also show up with some graphical enhancement in Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts for the Game Boy Advance. Arcade perfect versions were released later for Saturn and PlayStation as part of the compilation Capcom Generations Vol.2, and for PlayStation 2 and Xbox on Capcom Classics Collection.

There are also at least two different mobile ports. The first one, released in 2004, reproduces the original with new graphics and several compromises like shortened stages. In 2008 followed Ghosts 'n Goblins Gold, which adds a green armor layer in between the normal one and Arthur's boxers to make things a little easier, and also adds back in some of the content that was left out in the former release. It also uses yet another new set of graphics, but it's really ugly.


Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)

Ghosts 'n Goblins (Arcade)


Comparison Screenshots


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Intro
Ghosts 'n Goblins

Page 2:
Ghouls 'n Ghosts
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts

Page 3:
Makaimura for Wonderswan
Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins
Ghosts 'n Goblins: Gold Knights

Page 4:
Gargoyle's Quest
Gargoyle's Quest II
Demon's Crest

Page 5:
Maximo
Maximo vs The Army of Zin

Page 6:
Nazo Makaimura
Makaimura Online
Magyechon Online
Cameos

Back to the Index