In recent years, it's safe to say that Capcom have absolutely no shame in releasing mediocrity and even clean, shiny shit to the public, but there was a time when a Capcom logo on a box assured that you'll have a quality experience if you buy and play what was inside the box... you know, instead of wondering how they'll manage to *bleep* you up the ass should you sacrifice 60 of your hard earned dollars and your first born son to the devil. Speaking of the devil, this is Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts, the tale of one king's brutal journey through his kingdom and then the kingdom of hell in order to rescue the princess from the devil emperor Sardius (Samael in the Japanese version - Nintendo of America didn't want kids to learn about religion, it seems). At a cursory glance, it seems like the kind of game that would be passable at best with its difficulty being the main selling point. Unlike most modern games, actually playing it is a different story, and I say that in a positive manner.
Running, jumping and throwing an infinite amount of weapons is the name of the game as Arthur will need to jump across gaps or up ledges while slaying undead and otherwise supernatural monsters that get in his way. One thing worth noting is that your jumping is a bit stiff. You can't change trajectory whilst in the air unless you perform a double jump. If you press the jump button whilst in midair, you can not only jump a bit higher, but also change direction if you want. What this means is that you'll need to time your jumps carefully, unless you don't mind making a reservation six feet under. At the same time, it's something that's easy enough to get used to as the levels are designed around this prospect and really, it comes down to either your reactions or some enemies appearing where you're about to land. That's the best way to describe the levels, too – while the layouts may change between each level, there are plenty of death traps and enemies to dodge while you run and jump your way to Point B, forcing you to do quite a bit of multitasking.
While that sounds like the hallmark for a mediocre game, let me assure you that it's anything but, because Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts is a pretty good game. You're given a decent arsenal of weapons, ranging from your default lances to the fast knives, powerful axes, multi-directional arrows and shitty-- I mean totally useful and not at all a pain in the ass to use torches. Theoretically, each of the weapons are balanced and it comes down to personal preference what you should use, but given their speed, the knife becomes the most useful due to its speed. To add onto this is your armor, or rather, how it powers up. You start with silver armor, but you can don green armor to power up your attacks, and then gold armor to unleash a charged attack (and as a saving grace, while the charged attack is active, you'll be immune to damage). It is a shame that you can go from gold armor to your boxers after getting hit just once, though.
I also have to say that to find anything, you'll need to break open chests that you'll find throughout each level, and even then, it helps a great deal to have armor on, because you're more likely to find weapons in it than if you're without armor; in that situation, you'll be more likely to find replacement armor. Overall, this is a game that gives you a lot to work with and any control quirks aren't too hard to get used to, especially since – as I had previously mentioned - the game is at least designed around it.
Let's cut the bullshit – this is a very difficult game, and what it comes down to are the enemies. There are plenty of enemies that will *bleep* you half to death. Whether you'll be facing a barrage of zombies walking around or a couple of devils flying around before swooping down on whatever they see, you'll need to keep your wits about you as one hit will reduce Arthur from a full suit of armor to his tighty whities, and another hit will rip off his skin, disintegrate his organs and break off his bones. Although it's great that you're given two hits before you die instead of just one hit, there are lots of enemies that can and will appear seemingly at random, and some enemies have very devious movement patterns and placements that will *bleep* you up your first time through. There's plenty of trial and error necessary to get the positions down so that you won't die so quickly.
The bosses are easier, but that doesn't mean that they're pushovers. While they aren't firing a million projectiles at once, they can rip off your clothes and flesh if you're not paying attention. Each boss has a particular set of patterns that shouldn't take too long to get an idea of – whether they're jumping towards you or firing projectiles in your general direction. Despite that, the fights can still be intense as you'll need to keep your wits about you, making sure to dodge everything while hitting the boss. If you're fully upgraded, most of the bosses are a complete joke, but even when you're down to your undies, it's a matter of paying attention. Death is a result of your poor judgment, not Capcom being dicks.
Then there's just plain sadistic bullshit, and that comes in the form of being forced to replay the entire game once you've beaten it. Seriously, what was wrong with simply... making more levels? Okay, theoretically, you could get through this game once in under a half hour as there are only six levels (with the seventh being the final boss that you cannot access your first time through). Not to mention that if something was good the first time, surely, it'll be just as good the second time, right? But having said that, you cannot honestly sit there and tell me that this isn't artificial legnthening of a high order. It is that and in general, a load of bullshit. I know that it's common knowledge that these games traditionally implement this twist, but I'm still a little pissed that Capcom thought that this would be a good idea to lengthen the game. Personally, I'd rather play a good short game over a mediocre long game... not that this fits under the latter, but you can tell that it had the potential to do that.
The game does look rather nice. It features a variety of horror settings, like a graveyard, a ghost ship and the bowels of hell itself. There's plenty of gothic influence when it comes not only to stage designs, but enemies too. I mean, you have decaying zombies which are more akin to that of Night Of The Living Dead, but then you have demons and gargoyles that look rather menacing. It all manages to culminate into a mood that works – it's dark, but it's bright as well. There's some mode-7 (psuedo-3D graphics) strewn about, like when you're running around a tower. It does come across as “hey guys we just discovered new technology”, but it's not all that intrusive and it does look decent enough. The only issue I had with the graphics is the slowdown. This game lags like a mother*bleep*er when there are plenty of objects (usually enemies and enemy projectiles) on screen at once. Plenty of older SNES games did this, though – in fact, I think Super Mario World was the only one that didn't.
The sound design also works to give off that gothic yet upbeat atmosphere. Each of the tracks compliment the visuals, like how the graveyard song made it feel like an epic trek through said graveyard, or how the ghost ship song had a creepier vibe to it, giving you the feeling that ghosts and fake treasure chests may attack you at any time. It had the potential to be one of my favorite SNES soundtracks, but something always seemed off about it to me, even as a kid – listening to this after playing a round of Super Mario World or Super Castlevania IV never felt right. Turns out, the production quality is less than adequate as it sounds more like a jumbled mess than a coherent orchestration. I suppose though, given its suseptibility to lagging, a lower quality production would help the game run better... I guess. It is a good soundtrack, don't get me wrong, but it could've been execellent if the quality was better.
Despite its best attempts to frustrate the player, Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts is a pretty good game. Jumbled sound quality, lag and artificial lengthening aside, it ticks all the boxes necessary to make a good game and then some. Its level designs, in conjunction with its atmosphere, culminates into a fun experience with a dash of horror and some trial and error that pisses you off just enough to make you want to keep at it. Those are the kinds of games that stick with you forever. There's none of that soft Call Of Duty “don't wanna hurt the kids' self esteem” shit to be found here – just a damn challenging game that's so much fun to play nonetheless.