A few old-school design decisions make Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins feel like a relic from the past.
Bionic Commando: Rearmed, Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix, Resident Evil for the GameCube and Mega Man Powered Up. These are some of Capcom’s most popular titles that have received remakes over the past years. But what made these experiences feel so revitalized? While most of the aforementioned titles retain the graphical pizzazz that made the original titles they are based on so appealing back in the day, their gameplay have also received a significant overhaul. Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is one of Capcom’s latest attempts in such endeavor, but a few frustrating design decisions make this remake stumble in its execution.
Ghosts’n Goblins comes from an era where complex stories weren’t really necessary to create an engaging experience. In this side-scrolling game, you assume the role of Sir Arthur, a legendary knight who fights creatures from the devil realm in order to save a kidnapped princess. To help him fulfill such a daunting task, Arthur has a full repertoire of moves, such as crouch, climb, dash, jump, double jump, attack and so on and so forth. Predictably, at the end of each leg of the journey, you need to face a powerful boss that sometimes guards new items, spells or powerful equipment.
In order to deal with the innumerable zombies, Cyclopes, dragons and demons, Arthur has access to a slew of different items. Weaponry includes a wide range of arms, like crossbows, throwing knives or boomerang scythes. There’s also standard equipment such as double-jump boots, feathers and leaves that provide some enhancements and abilities. Additionally, Arthur can make use of a few spells to dispatch the different enemies that hinder his progress. Magic powers include the ability to summon a wave of fire, slowing down time or becoming invincible, to name but a few.
To defend from enemies, you have a wide variety of shields at your disposal, including a shield with extra durability and one that allows you to fly for a limited amount of time. Finally, there are different sets of armor. In the standard difficulty mode, the basic armor allows you to get hit three times before losing a life and if Arthur gets hit enough times, he’s left in his boxer shorts until finding a replacement armor.
Apart from the inclusion of a few additional items that weren’t present in the original Ghosts’n Goblins, the aesthetic overhaul is certainly the most noticeable. The inspired 3D graphics and evocative soundtrack make the game feel fresh and unique again. It definitely helps that the sprites from the first game have been replaced by polygons that provide a unique sense of depth. The rejuvenated graphics engine allowed the design of some grotesque-looking environments, including haunted forests, volcanic pits and gothic castles.
Sadly, Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins isn’t without its serious issues. First of all, this title is brutally difficult: your character’s basic movement feels contrived and awkward, leading to unfair deaths. Furthermore, the torturous level design has a plethora of blind jumps, enemies that materialize out of nowhere and other foibles that constantly break up the flow of the action. One of those foibles is the fact that you can’t control the direction of your jump in midair which represents a rigid mechanic. As a consequence, instead of feeling gratifying, reaching the end of a level is just a relief, a relief that you don’t have to replay that whole section all over again.
If the idea of this remake was to replicate the frustration and exasperation that NES titles generated in millions of players only a few decades ago, Capcom has definitely succeeded in that endeavor. Everything about Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins feels unfair, mainly because the game is constantly presenting you threats you’re not capable of dealing with. When enemies materialize in front of you, your character isn’t fast enough to outrun them or quickly defeat them. When the level of toxic goo rises, there’s rarely something indicating where you should be going next. Consequently, this is one of those cases in which failure is predominantly the game’s fault.
But there’s one particular addition that feels particularly outrageous: the game’s overall structure. In the original Ghosts’n Goblins, the first time the final boss is reached, the player is forced to replay the entire game a second time on a higher difficulty before having access to the true final battle. Unfortunately, the remake is true to the original in this regard and in order to have the right to fight the last boss fight, Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins asks you to collect twenty-two golden rings. These collectible items are hidden throughout the levels and the only way to reveal them is by fulfilling specific tasks. The problem is that to unlock some of them, you need to make use of abilities that you’ll get later in the game, which forces you to replay each level at least twice. Ultimately, this feels like an excuse to add longevity to a flawed and uninspired remake.
Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins isn’t a terrible game, but a few issues mar the experience. The disheartening difficulty, outdated design elements and shoddy controls make this one of the most frustrating titles in recent memory. The spirit of the original has been retained and the fresh presentation is highly appealing, but a few old-school design decisions make Ultimate Ghosts’n Goblins feel like a relic from the past.