Sonic the Hedgehog did not sell me on the Sega Genesis. I know that sounds odd for someone my age, but it’s true. Sonic didn’t do it and neither did Altered Beast or Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle. In fact, no Sega property sold me on the Genesis. A trifecta of Capcom arcade ports (all programmed by Sega) are what made me realize that perhaps the Genesis in fact did what Nintendidn’t. Those games were Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, Strider and Forgotten Worlds. This being our History of Horror Games, we’re of course talking about Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts.
Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts is the second in a series of games that was one of Capcom’s early successes. My initial exposure to the series was Micronics execrable NES port of the first game in the series, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins. It was a pretty awful port, but it kept a lot of the graphical style and the thematic material was, of course, intact. Being a young man fascinated by the macabre, but terrified of real horror material, I was taken with the cartoony take on zombies, ghosts and demons. Imagine my surprise when I first played Sega’s version of the sequel (to this day, I have never seen an arcade cabinet of either game, though I’ve played the arcade versions through emulation and the Capcom Classics Collection). The world was more fully realized, our hero, Arthur, moved with so much more fluidity, there was parallax scrolling, the music had so much more depth, the gold armor added new play mechanics. It was a revelation.
I doubt there’s (m)any of you who haven’t played the game. The entire series is legendary for its difficulty. People who complain about modern games being hard would be reduced to tears by Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts. And it’s one of the easier games in the series, thanks to Arthur’s ability to throw his weapons up and down, which both the first and third game in the series lack. It’s still a tough nut to crack, though, and in keeping with series tradition, when you reach the final boss’s chamber, you are sent all the way back to the beginning of the game to retrieve the ultimate weapon (in this case, it’s known as the PSYCHO CANNON) which is the only thing that can defeat him. This is otherwise known as “Motherfucker, they’re gonna make me play the whole game again?”
Yes. Yes they are. And it’ll be harder this time. But if you’re tough enough, good enough, patient enough, you will do it again! You will brave the graveyard filled with skeletons and guillotines, the burning village with its quicksand and fire demons, the tower with its rock-dropping imps and ectoplasmic knights, the cave with its rushing water and deadly spikes, and finally Loki’s castle with its fire breathing demons and numerous, numerous gargoyles. Then, and only then, will you defeat Beelzebub and enter Loki’s chambers to take him on. He fills the entire screen, he fires lasers that destroy the floor under you from his hands and mouth. He is the ultimate evil and he holds your love, Princess Prin-Prin (yes, that’s seriously her name). And he’s tough to beat, but he is beatable. When you’ve put him down, you can count yourself as one of the few.
All of these stages and battles are filled with great looking sprite art that’s sort of a cutesy take on western monster mythology. It’s not as full of classic horror movie icons as Castlevania, but imps, demons, little grim reapers and the like populate each level as you move through the game. It’s not especially horrifying in the traditional sense, but it carries those themes. A lot of the music carries a good creepy vibe, and the aesthetics have the same, but the fact that Arthur is pretty well equipped to deal with whatever comes his way (he’s got lances, daggers, swords, axes, bombs, magic spells and more) diminishes a lot of the scare factor. Still, as a kid it creeped me out and put a smile on my face all at once, and it has aged surprisingly well. It’s tough, but fair, and just a lot of fun to run through, even if it lacks even the minimal dread factor of Haunted House.
- Released: 1988
- System: Arcade (later ported to Genesis, Master System & SuperGrafx)
- Publisher: Capcom