Friday, October 16, 2015

Super Ghouls n' Ghosts (Super NES, 1991)

It's a Corona Jumper Halloween Spooktacular! Today I look at an insanely difficult game that has caused more than a few gamers to explode over the years. It's from Capcom circa 1991, though, so you know it's awesome.




This was one of the first wave of Super NES games, and as such the graphics aren't much to look at in hindsight. They're still well beyond what the NES could do at the time, something abundantly clear when you compare this game to its predecessor (Ghosts n' Goblins for the NES). More on that later.

We begin with the hero, Arthur, hanging out with some blue-haired hottie. Why is he all suited up in armor when she's clearly trying to be romantic? Is this guy an insensitive lover or what?

Is he being icy to subliminally make her want to win his approval? What kind of "modern alpha male" hipster bullshit is this?

Moments later, a giant red demon swoops in and kidnaps her. Wow, Firebrand really let himself go.

The game has several difficulty levels: Beginner, Normal, Hard, and Professional. All of them are horrible, and you may want to bring 9 lives (or "Players" as they're called here).

"Are you a bad enough dude for the first level of Super Ghouls n' Ghosts on Professional?"

Nope. I'm playing on Normal and it's still pretty damn rough. I can't imagine how people played it on Professional. 

 The world map. You see this thing scroll by every time you die, to the point where the brief music that plays will get stuck in your head, evoking Pavlovian horror every time you hear it in the future.

It begins with this iconic first stage, where zombies grind their way up out of the ground via coffin-elevators. This game is one of Capcom's best, for sure.

 In this game, you're only allowed to take two hits. After the first one you lose your armor, and after the second you're dead. This is the main reason the game is as difficult as it is; the jump controls are a close second. While you can double jump, you can't control your trajectory once you start any given jump. Mastering the second jump becomes crucial, as it's the only way to change course.

Later in the brutal first stage, our hero must cling to rocks to avoid massive tsunamis that roar in with little warning.

Even simply hopping from platform to platform is difficult with these jumping controls. One thing is for sure: The game makes SURE that you don't get out of the first stage without really knowing how to play. It prepares you for the rest. The downside is that it's likely a majority of players never got past the first stage.

Every so often, you might find an armor powerup that restores your suit. They aren't nearly common enough, though. If you somehow survive with the suit intact long enough to get another, it gets upgraded to a stronger suit. Still just absorbs one hit, but your attacks get significantly enhanced. It's like the Fire Flower in Mario.

The first boss is tough at first, but he's pretty simple once you figure out his pattern. There are a variety of weapons in this game that you fling at enemies; the one you want to stick with is generally the Knife. The torch, seen here, is one of the worse weapons. It does okay against this boss, though.

The secret to victory? Stay under him when he's on offense, only running left to attack when the coast is clear.

The second level is a very memorable ghost ship. One of the reasons it's so memorable is that to most people, the Super Ghouls and Ghosts experience is one or two levels long, tops. And if you get good enough to pass those levels, well, it throws a stage three at you that might well be the longest and most difficult stage in the game.

The ghost ship is full of vicious, psychopathic mimics. That is, fake treasure boxes. You're playing a wicked game, Super Ghouls and Ghosts.

The second half of the stage is a considerably easier raft ride. I find green armor at some point, which upgrades my weapon. Still, one hit and I'm back to no armor at all. If you can keep your green armor on for a bit, you might find gold armor, the highest tier of raid loot in this game.

Second boss is some sort of malevolent sea sponge. It's a slightly trickier battle than the first boss, but the key here is to be proactive and just blast this thing before it can get any major offense off.

Lost my green armor during the fight, but the game is nice enough to restore your regular armor at the end of a stage.

...though I promptly lost that armor too in the next level (the aformentioned brutal stage 3), which is apparently some sort of hellish inferno. This is the beginning of the road to the final castle, now that we've crossed the sea.

Behold! More green armor! The ladder on the right looks like a ladder to nowhere, but moving onto it is what triggers the appearance of the armor.

Less than halfway through the ridiculously long stage 3, you have to do some very difficult jumps over lava. With the jump controls being what they are, this is HARD. If this game had the controls of Mega Man X, this would be no problem even if I still only had two HP.

Nothing can compare to RIGHT AFTER THAT when you encounter Firebrand for the first time. Well, at least it's the middle of stage three, and there's only one of him until later. In the NES predecessor, this guy shows up halfway through stage one, and myriad times thereafter.

He swoops and dodges like a madman, and he can EASILY out-pace and out-maneuver our slow hero.

 ERGH! WHY! CAN'T! I! HIT YOU?

After somehow managing to hit Firebrand three times with laser beams, it's onward to a huge spinning tower. Here I find gold armor for the first time. Now THIS armor rocks. You still have the enhanced weapons, but you can also charge up to unleash magical super-attacks at will. You also get a shield that can absorb enemy projectiles, but it breaks after taking a couple shots.

The third boss, a giant tapeworm from hell, is quite unsettling. It's probably the easiest boss in the game, though. For the most part it just circles around you while you pummel it.

...and since it's so unsettling to look at, let's just move on quickly.

Stage four is significantly easier, and involves a trip through some sort of weird organic cavern as it rotates around you. Believe it or not, I'm roughly halfway through the game after the atrocious ordeal that is stage three. I could never get past that stage as a kid...and that was after hours of beating my head against the first two stages.

At some point, any enemy spell turns our hero into a dainty little girl. Behold how she adorably prances!

Squeee!

After regaining his normal form, Arthur must ride a platform through the bowels of... some very large creature, apparently.

At the end of the stage is another not-too-difficult boss, this three-headed serpent. Maybe it wasn't difficult because I got here with a powered-up bow and arrow, a weapon that unleashes hell on this guy.

Fifth stage is my favorite, and the one that most came to mind when reminiscing on this game. It's an icy cliff level with amazing music. Seriously, that is some great 16-bit sound right there.

Firebrand returns here, but this time I'm prepared. The bow seems to be the best weapon against him, and the powered-up bow - which homes in - makes quick work of him.

As he climbs the mountain, Arthur is assaulted by hyenae (which may or may not be voiced by Whoopi Goldberg).

The fifth stage boss is the hardest boss in the game, launching a deluge of vicious ice spells. It also looks really cool. The hell is that thing? It's like someone merged Goro, a samurai, a terminator, and Zombor from Chrono Trigger, then gave it ice-elemental powers. The bow works very well here too, luckily for me. As long as I can hold onto the gold armor, the powered-up bow absolutely owns this game.

...then I nearly-inevitably take a hit and lose the gold armor. FUUUUUUUUUUU-

Stage six is basically a short vertical area where you fight a bunch of Firebrands in succession. A bunch of Firebrands in succession is the stuff of nightmares, but I forge onward. I stupidly took a non-bow weapon at the beginning, adding to my woes. Not sure what this weapon is, but it travels in the weirdest flight pattern known to man.

WHY CAN'T I HIT YOU?

I'd like to think that I'm pretty good at this game, but these gargoyles have to be the most erratic and tricky foes in gaming history. If they aren't tops, they're definitely on the list.

Hmm, there's an idea... Top 10 Most Difficult Regular Enemies. People are always doing boss lists, but you never see lists for the plain ol' regular enemies.

I proceeded to die... a lot. Eventually I re-obtained the bow, and after that I managed to fight my way through. Luckily there are two armor powerups close together in this stage, getting me back to gold armor level. It also helps to run back to the beginning every time a new Firebrand is encountered, as the first couple screens are easier to fight on than the later platforms are.

I meticulously make my way to the final battle... the Red Emperor. The big bad. He's...surprisingly easy to defeat.

Just watch out for his PENIS FLAMETHROWER.

There's a stage seven after that, and it's another quick vertical jaunt. Instead of a bunch of cardiac-inducing Firebrands, this time Arthur must battle disembodied first boss heads.

At the end of stage 7, you battle... this guy again. While he's technically the same boss as before, he isn't a complete pushover this time. The step in the floor adds a new dimension to the fight, as the Penis Flamethrower can go over it and strike the lower floor if he walks forward too much. You need to be careful, unlike the previous fight.

Defeat him again and he transforms into his second form... the, uh, Green Emperor. This form has a TON of health, so much so that your primary threat here is actually the timer. Yes, you can run out of time trying to kill this guy.

Side note... what's the deal with timers in this old games? They make no sense. Are they the amount of time left before your hero passes out from lack of sleep, or something to that effect? At least Adventure Island explained that the timer was a hunger meter.

Back to the fight... possibly more dangerous than the timer is this huge laser beam that he occasionally launches. Since you need to jump to hit him, this laser can ruin your day in a hurry. The bow is, yet again, the weapon of choice for this, as it can hit him with one hop instead of two (leaving you in the air less). While the knife is the overall weapon of choice for a lot of the regular stages in this game, the bow emerges as the key weapon for Firebrand fights and most of the bosses. If you gotta go with one or the other, go with the bow.

Blue Haired Lady is saved! Except she isn't, because there's another Big Bad who was secretly running the show: Sardius. And the only way to defeat him... is to go back to level 1 and play the whole game over again! The idea is to find the Goddess Bracelet, which gives you a potent weapon, and work your way back through the game with it. The sad thing is, she was wearing the bracelet when she got kidnapped. Thanks for nothing, princess. Thanks for NOTHING!

Annnd I'm back in stage 1. Yep. The game is a little bit harder this time, too, which is the last thing it needed. Even the first level is a pain in the ass.

Very quickly, I find a treasure chest with a fairy in it. This only happens if you have gold armor on, and it just so happens that I still do. That fairy gives you the...

...Goddess Bracelet, which lets you throw powerful beams. Here it is making short work of the first boss. That was, admittedly, a lot of fun. I wonder how the Bracelet fares against Firebrands, though. Not very well, I bet. The big question right now is... why couldn't the princess just handle her own business if she had a mega-weapon earlier?

Thanks to the power of other people's saves, here's Sardius... the real final boss. I didn't play the game a second time because fook that. There's also an area select code that can take you through to the final boss. You end up having to do the last fight with the Lance instead of the Bracelet, but it isn't difficult regardless.

Sardius has all of one attack, and it involves firing lasers in a big clockwise sweep. At first they seem nearly impossible to avoid while also jumping up onto the platforms to hit him, but here's the trick. If he fires lasers right away after the platforms are deployed, jump up. They aren't gonna hit the platforms. If he hesitates for a second between the platform-deploy and the lasers, they're gonna sweep across the platforms and own you.

 ...and that's it. That's the whole trick. From there, just blast him from the air until the platforms break, then do it again. Protip 2: While waiting between rounds, stand off-center, in front of one of his feet. That puts you between lasers 100% of the time.

Fight over in one try. I took a hit when I messed up and stood directly below him while waiting, but other than that it was foolproof. Funny how the big bosses in this game are among the easiest things about it. The most difficult part is the series of Firebrands in stage six (unless you bring the crossbow... BRING THE CROSSBOW).

Arthur is reunited with his beloved, finally. Yeah, it's basically the exact same plot as Super Adventure Island, but hey.

I'd like to play a game where a knight gets kidnapped and his princess girlfriend has to save HIM. She suits up in some armor, grabs his weapon, and discovers that she too is capable of saving the day.

The end credits show us the names of all the enemies, Capcom-style.

...Hail Hydra.

This guy is Asutaroto, while his blue twin is Nebiroth. Interesting that they each have part of "Astaroth" in their name. In real world mythology, Astaroth/Gorgoroth is the name of a dark angel.

The sun rises as our heroes gallop on home.

Is that Daniel Bryan? THAT ISN'T BRIE, YA CHEATING BASTARD!

Great game. A real must-play of the early SNES era, as difficult as it is. Now for something completely different not very different at all...

Time for a quick look at this game's predecessor.

Ghosts n' Goblins for the NES is even more difficult than Super Ghouls n' Ghosts. There was also a Ghouls n' Ghosts missing link in-between, which landed on the Sega Genesis and for whatever reason isn't usually brought up in the same breath as the two on Nintendo systems. Also, the original NES game was actually based on an arcade game of the same name. Confusing, for sure.

We start with the hero and his blue-haired girlfriend...uh... well, it looks like they just got done having sex in a graveyard. He isn't wearing clothes, and it looks like she's on top. More on this story as it develops.

Of course, before long, this bastard (referred to in the instruction booklet as "Satan") swoops in and kidnaps her again. The crazy thing is that this game tells a better story in five seconds than Final Fantasy XIII does in 50 hours.

It should be noted that while this guy is "Satan" in the instruction book, the Red Emperor is "The Devil". That's right, the two bad guys in this game are Satan and The Devil.

Also, the Red Emperor / The Devil gets final boss status in this one. No sudden Big Bad stealing all his heat.

 This is very similar to the first stage of the SNES game, with zombies climbing out of the ground left and right.

The knife is the best weapon. It isn't as strong as some other weapons, but it fires extremely fast. Don't think there's a bow in this one. There's also a very noticeable lack of double jumping. It really messed with my controls, given how accustomed I got to that ability.

Death sends you to the world map flyover, with the same infernal music jingle. Similar map and amount of stages here, but the stages themselves are very different.

I nearly got to the end of the first stage, but I was repeatedly GANKED by Firebrand...in NES form. Look at that little bastard go. This game is so hardcore that it doesn't give you three stages before this guy shows up: It gives you less than one.

That's it for me for this game. From what I understand, it's FULL of Firebrands, and that isn't something I want to have to go through. I might give it a shot at some point though.

More on the memorable and deadly Firebrand tomorrow.

8 comments:

  1. The world map scrolls up like a staircase and you see it every time you die? That's a great touch, and foreboding.

    Yeah, this first stage is burned into my brain, too.

    You turn into bones when you die? OWWW!

    Really interesting that it's better to bring Firebrand back to an earlier location to fight. That's some rarely-seen action game strategy.

    This song you shared -is- great.

    They WHAT? They send you back to the beginning and make you do everything again?! The nerve!

    Nevertheless, this was fun to read about, and it's great to see that old Capcom color palette.

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    1. The downside of Firebrand is that he follows you and there's NO ESCAPE. He's sorta like the Hammer Bros in SMB1 in terms of being a regular enemy that causes you a lot of problems, but unlike the HBs, you have to fight.

      The upside...is that he follows you and there's no escape. I realized quickly that the platforms weren't a good place to fight, so I backtracked to the first room where I more easily dispatched the first Firebrand. Kept doing that with each new one.

      The bow is also the best weapon for him, by far. Since it has two projectiles, if you aim it right he can't dodge it the way he dodges everything else. He'll just move right into the other projectile. I'd usually fire just below him with the forward arrow so he'd move up into the upper arrow.

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  2. Nice review!
    You are a much better gamer than me for sure. I've never gotten past the second stage of Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts.
    Have you ever played Daimakaimura - the SuperGrafx version of Ghouls 'n Ghosts? I would love to see you compare the two.

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    1. You mean Turbografx/PCE? I haven't, but I can look into it. I'm going to try to get some TG16 games on here some time soon.

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    2. Just looked into it... found what you're talking about, but I'm not sure if that system is emulatable. It's worth a shot, though.

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  3. Well, the first game's intro has him in boxer shorts on a picnic with him. Dude can't win.

    Lady-Arthur looks like she's in the last level of Contra.

    They did the "play the game twice" nonsense in this one too?!

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  4. I've mastered both SGG and GnG on the SNES Megadrive, I can complete both games with continues at the hardest difficulties but I still can't finish the original Ghouls N Ghost on the NES/Arcade, so yeah I do believe the original is the hardest in the series but the best is probably the SNES one, the two armor and the special attack are all really cool and the difficulty only gets to bullshit levels in stage 3 and at the last boss. There's a newer game on the PSP called Ultimate Ghost N Goblins or something and it seems to be the hardest in the series because it has another difficulty setting higher than professional.

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    1. The good news about Super Ghouls and Ghosts difficulty is that there's a specific timing to the last boss that causes everything to miss you if you jump at certain intervals, and once you get that timing down the fight is actually one of the easiest parts of the game.

      Stage 3 is definitely BS though, a huge difficulty spike and harder than the levels after it.

      I'd like to play Ghosts n' Goblins for the NES but it seems like it'd just drive me nuts.

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