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In the arcades of the 1980s, games weren't there for a good time - they were there to rinse you, the player, of your pocket change. Whether it was Pac-Man's haunted mazes, Donkey Kong's lethal scaffolding, Bubble Bobble's baddie-poppin' platforming, or Dragon's Lair's sublime animation set to agonising QTE patterns, these classics of the era existed to milk you clean. If too many players got too good, too quickly, it was time to shuffle the arcade's attractions - because if you could complete a one-credit run of a game, that was bad news for the location's takings.
Capcom's action-platformer (I guess, nowadays, we'd call it a run-and-gunner) Ghosts 'n Goblins, released in 1985, hung around arcades right through until its sequel, Ghouls 'n Ghosts, followed in 1988. It was that tough that only the most elite players ever saw it through to its proper ending, where the player-controlled Sir Arthur - a knight whose armour is only ever a whisper from an enemy away from dismantling itself - caught up to the Demon King Astaroth, who has the Princess Prin-Prin stolen away in the game's opening scene. Look, it's not a game that's big on story. That's not really the point here.
What is: super-challenging gameplay where enemies come at Arthur from all sides at once, where just two touches will see our hero collapse into a pile of bones. Assuming you were good enough to one-credit it, Ghosts 'n Goblins could be finished in around 45 minutes - which mightn't sound like much today, but the game was so intense that any longer would have just been cruel (and yet, the game then did ask you to go around again, the merciless monster). Years before 'git gud' became the go-to for anyone arguing against accessibility facilitating difficulty options, and Dark Souls became a shortcut for challenging interactive entertainment, Ghosts 'n Goblins was the game to brag about beating.
And now, Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection is taking that crown back from any so-called soulsborne you'd care to mention. This tribute to both the game that provides its title and its sequel - a half-remake, half-reimagining of Capcom's arcade releases, and actually directed by the series' creator Tokuro Fujiwara - is so hard to grind your way through, at its top Legend difficulty, that you'll feel your very soul start to sob. There are considerations, and quality-of-life improvements added: upon death, you now return to a checkpoint rather than the very beginning of a level, and continues are infinite (which might irritate those looking to complete a 'one-credit' run). But if you want Resurrection to hand you your own arse, time after time, it is more than happy to do so.
The gameplay remains much as it was in the 1980s: Arthur throws his weapons on vertical and horizontal paths, no diagonals allowed, and awkwardly runs and leaps from left to right through zombie-filled graveyards, menacing forests, frozen towers and crumbling castles while either splatting foes or outright avoiding them. Oftentimes, the latter strategy is the preferable option, lest you be caught in a holding pattern of facing off against a lengthy onslaught of enemies whose waves repeat. Classic monsters like the gargoyle-like series mascot Red Arremer, the chest-bursting Magician and shielded Flying Knights are present and correct, and they've never looked nor sounded better. The addition of checkpoints means there's less to fight through, should you fall foul to a level's boss (and, you will), but otherwise this is about as perfect as any old-school G'nG fan could want a modern take on the franchise to be.
Resurrection does throw in a few extras, too. There are splitting pathways, initially, with the player able to decide which way Arthur goes at the end of the first few stages (after which, the campaign turns linear). Levels can be replayed after completion, for collectible hunting. Special, unlockable challenge areas can be discovered - drop the knight into a purple-glowing hole in the ground and you'll be faced with a stern test of agility and aggression, and rewarded with something to make your next steps a little easier, like improved, golden armour.
Simultaneous two-player local co-op gives a second player control of a floating trio of supporting characters: Barry (manifests a magical barrier around our hero), Kerry (carries Arthur to safety) and Archie (creates bridges, saving on precarious jumps). All can attack, too, when it's called for (which is: often). Would it have been more fun to have two Arthurs in the mix? Maybe, but playing as a pair, where one can prioritise protection and another aggression, sure makes beating this game easier. The music and visuals are expertly evocative of their predecessors, with the gorgeous, painterly graphics in particular worthy of celebrating for never throwing too much at the player, and keeping busy levels readable. Even Arthur's famous boxers look good enough to wear.
The difficulty can be dialled down, which will help any player of any level get through to the ending - or, rather, the first ending. Because while playing on Legend, Knight or Squire (even the third-down toughness remains tricky) rewards you with a second-loop run-through of past levels given a darker, deadlier overhaul, in order to unlock the true ending, playing on the easiest mode, Page, keeps that hidden away. I'm on the fence about that. I appreciate that holding it back might inspire some players to keep at it, rather than fall back on the sorta-immortality model of Page difficulty (Arthur respawns where he fell, and doesn't return to a checkpoint); but it's also, well, a little ableist, isn't it? It's not really one for me to make a call on, but I'll be looking around the internet to see how players who can only play on the Page setting feel about this.
There are some things I'd have liked to see included. Arthur can cycle between magic he's unlocked on the fly - from lightning bolts to the ability to turn enemies on screen into frogs - but only hold onto and use one weapon at a time - and it'd be great to swap weapons as you need them, as a rolling ball of spikes isn't always as useful as a pointy lance. There's a new magic skill tree, which you evolve by collecting Umbral Bees, sparkling buzzing things that pop up in each level. It's a good, if basic, system, and it'd have been a treat to see how a similar levelling-up model could have been applied to Arthur's assortment of weapons, and his armour.
I get the impression, too, that Resurrection's default difficulty of Knight is harder than what I played on the original Ghosts 'n Goblins, its arcade sequel, and the Mega Drive port of Ghouls 'n Ghosts, which I adored way back when. I've been dabbling in Capcom's new Arcade Stadium collection on Switch, which features the arcade versions of Ghosts 'n Goblins and Ghouls 'n Ghosts, but I haven't played it enough yet (I bought it, so it's for my downtime, not for review work) to really know where Resurrection sits in terms of overall toughness, and in regard to a series 'ranking' - but after a few runs through its devilish dangers, it's made quite the impression. I'm just glad I'm not paying for it with my pocket money, nowadays.
Pros: it's definitely a Ghosts 'n Goblins game, with everything that series has to offer in terms of challenge and style, and looks like a perfect love-letter to the arcade classics
Cons: that challenge might be too much for some, there's very little reinvention of the series' formula, and the game's retro roots have it (and Arthur) feeling decidedly stiffer than modern equivalents like Celeste or Dead Cells
For fans of: Ghouls 'n Ghosts (obviously), Metal Slug, Cuphead, Dead Cells
Ghosts 'n Goblins: Resurrection releases for Nintendo Switch on February 25. Review code for Nintendo Switch was provided by Capcom. Read a guide to our review scores here.
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