Rediscovering: Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts

| #capcom | #rediscovering | #snes |

I have a love/hate relationship with the GnG franchise. I’ve always considered it a series of unfinished games, each one – including the arcade versions – seems to have a few set pieces that just don’t quite look right, along with one-off events and cheap traps you have to experience and memorize to avoid. It always felt mean spirited instead of fair to the player.

The second in the series was the worst for this, but Capcom started to get it right with the third, which is what we’re about to play.

Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a Super NES exclusive (though later re-released on other platforms in compendium sets) and it’s the best looking of the series. Better, in fact, than the stupid blur-vision PSP release which is polygonal and ass, and certainly better than the mostly annoying Maximo series for PS2 (which was almost awesome for coming with a free pair of boxer shorts).

Anyway. Download the ROM and play along. =)

Oh right, I remember now: This game was probably responsible, more than any other, for the widespread belief that the Super Nintendo console was under powered and prone to incredible slowdown. This game is notorious for it, and is probably running slow just as often as it is running normal speed. Not to mention the sprite flicker…

laser knives

remember this for the first time?

stunning graphics

action shot

This game doesn’t reward high speed play. The random and constantly spawning enemies demand respect, for despite the additional layers of armour Arthur can pick up, he still only gets two hits: one to lose the armour and run around in his boxers, and one to be reduced to bones.

In the first game, Ghosts n Goblins, Arthur only had one suit of armour. With it, he could take one hit and still live, albeit on the precarious edge of bony doom. In Ghouls n Ghosts, he also had golden armour that didn’t increase his durability, but would grant him a devastating charge-attack as long as he wore it. In Super Ghouls n Ghosts there’s the regular silver armour, a green armour that powers up the weapons, and a gold armour that delivers the charge attack. Still, there’s no additional protection, one hit will shatter the armour no matter what colour it is, leaving arthur to collect all three colours again.

I have pretty vivid memories of this game. Once, as a teen in bed for a day or two (whether sick or lazy I don’t recall) I played this game relentlessly. It was a rental and I had a short time to make as much progress as I could. With a little Amdek monitor on the bed with me I played and played and played and still never really got very far.

This game is balls hard. It punishes the shit out of you, but in a way that is much more tolerable than Whirlo. There’s less of a sense it’s being mean and more that it’s just being difficult. Frustratingly, enragingly difficult perhaps, but always assuring you that it’s for your own good.

Died again? It’s your fault. Practice more, get better at what you do. As an adult this sort of mentality is harder to take. Who has the time to dedicate to games? I’m enjoying this now with save states, giving me ample opportunities to claim victory without so much of the excruciating repetition and rage.

The end of the game comes quickly, as the levels seem to get shorter and the difficulty ramped up instead by the appearance of our old foe from previous games, the Red Areemer. He avoids your shots, flies above and below and through walls, and is often easier to dodge for half the level than try and kill. The other enemies and situations aren’t really difficult, and none of the bosses are significantly harder than any other.

So, it seems, the first half of the game whips you into shape and the rest of the game doesn’t get any harder.

Until you reach the end boss, and, like we’re used to in this series, you’re judged inadequate and sent back to the beginning to get a new weapon and do it all over again. That really sort of pisses me off, truth be told, and I’m not really sure I’m keen to do it all over again, with the slowdowns and the hurting and the kicking.

As a first-gen game, Super Ghouls n Ghosts set the stage for the Super NES, and in one mighty whallop set the Sega Genesis in its place, and proved to Nintendo’s legions that the SuperNES was, in fact, a fuckton better than the NES.

Nintendo was never more justified in their confidence than at this time. They had the hardware, and from their own stables, as well as from Capcom and many others, they had the software.

Hell yeah, 16 bit.

Something you might not have known: The Super NES used a fairly low resolution, a mere 256 pixels across, compared to most arcade game resolutions of ~320 pixels. This 25% reduction in size reduced the memory requirements for cartridges, as well as the CPU load for drawing and shifting all those extra pixels.

As you can read in more detail here, the old TVs (pre-LCD) were pretty good at stretching low-res images to fill the space without impacting image quality. Arthur on the SuperNES might have been smaller than in the arcades, but in reality no one was ever likely to notice.

Left: Super NES. Center: SNES stretched. Right: Arcade.

[ Sep 15 2020 ]

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