Ghosts 'N' Goblins

Format: GameBoy
Published by: Digital Eclipse/Capcom
Based on: A better version of the same game

Genre: 2D Platformer
Media: Cartridge
Date: January 20, 2000

The name Ghosts and Goblins is bound to instill one of two reactions in gamers: fond nostalgia, or shuddering fear. It's hard to deny Ghosts 'N' Goblins was one of the seminal platform action/shooters, a game which helped set the foundations of modern game design. But anyone who has played the game knows that it was fiendishly difficult. Well, maybe "fiendish" is an understatement - it was one of those games that grabbed players by the throat, smashed them into the ground, jumped on their mangled bodies and feasted on their innards.

And, lucky GameBoy Color owners now have the ability to take this exercise in punishment where they go! Unfortunately, the overall experience is somewhat lacking, leaving the icky taste of a callow cash-in in the mouths of gaming babes who know this port could have been so much more.

First, the visuals - this is a straight port of the NES game. The graphics look pretty sharp on the bright little LCD of the GameBoy Color; but - the GameBoy Color is perfectly capable of doing better. Maybe it couldn't quite match up to the standards of the original arcade game, but I certainly wish Digital Eclipse had tried. And the NES-originated nature of the game hurts in another way; like Super Mario DX and Bionic Commando, the game was designed for a much larger screen. Considering the really horrible response time and movement of our hero Arthur, the NES proportions of the characters are utterly frustrating within the confines of the GameBoy Color's dimensions. When 2 hits equals death, you need as much advance warning as possible. There is a small amount of compensation for the play area reduction - enemies now attack once they come within the range of the screen, so you won't be killed by unseen foes. But it's irritating nevertheless.

Maybe I'm just letting my bitterness seep into this. I'm still annoyed that a combination of Capcom and Sony decided not to give us humble Americans the Capcom Generation collections a few years back - including Capcom Generation 2, which contained a perfect arcade port of Ghosts 'N' Goblins as well as a great port of Super Ghouls 'N' Ghosts. The fact that this watered-down GameBoy title is the first G'N'G game to come to America in nearly a decade is needlessly galling, especially considering some of the other hackjob compilations that have appeared on the Playstation.

To add to the shame, this particular Capcom classic conversion came to GameBoy Color almost simultaneously with another, Bionic Commando. But whereas Bionic Commando displayed technical prowess and inventive game design while maintaining the general feel of the original NES title, G'N'G is a totally slapdash port. Considering that you could buy an NES and the original version of the game for less than the GameBoy Color version costs, there's the question of value. Sure, it's good to have a portable edition of the game, but as a fan of the series I want more than this absolute minimum effort.

For those who have never played Ghosts 'N' Goblins, here's a quick rundown: you play as Arthur, the very wussy knight with an infinite supply of lances. As Arthur was picnicking with his girlfriend (in the graveyard, wearing nothing but boxer shorts), Satan swooped down and stole her. Arthur leaps into his armor (literally) and decides to do an Orpheus, descending into the jaws of Hell to rescue his Eurydice. Unfortunately, Satan's minions are as numerous and mean as, well, hell. A single hit will knock Arthur out of his armor, and the next hit will reduce him to a pile of bones. Along the way he can find powerups as well as curses; but the Highway to and through Hell is really, really challenging.

It sounds silly, but it's addictively fun - or at least, it should be. There are enough little things in this port that chip away at the fun factor until the pleasure in the original game has completely eroded; in the end you're left with a game that's less challenging than annoying.

Ghosts 'N' Goblins deserves better. This isn't a terrible game, merely a terrible port (it is Ghosts 'N' Goblins, after all), but I wish I had spent my $30 on something else. Find Capcom Generation 2 if you can, or play the original NES edition. If you're dying for a great portable action/shooter, buy Metal Slug for Neo Geo Pocket Color - unlike G'N'G, it was redesigned for portable playability. Or at the very least, buy Bionic Commando: Elite Forces and watch Nintendo school Capcom on how to do their own games. So, so sad.