“Nintendo Hard” is a trope for a reason. Part of that reason is the fact that many NES games were ports of arcade games designed to eat your quarters (In this sense, arcade games can be thought of as the original microtransactions). The ones that weren’t ports were nonetheless informed by the “Kill the player early and often” sensibilities of the time. Pretty much any Rare game on the NES falls into this category, with Battletoads being their most famous.
Ghosts ‘N Goblins, released to arcades in 1985 by Capcom, is an example of the former, and it’s the arcade version (Mostly) I’ll be discussing today. I say “mostly” because I played through this on Capcom Classics Collection, which according to research, doesn’t match up 100% with either the US or the Japanese versions of the actual arcade game (The two have some slight differences).
Either way, the plot is the same. You play as Arthur, a knight of some unnamed kingdom. Arthur is chillin’ in his underwear, covertly getting a little somethin’ somethin’ from the Princess. Arthur, however, decided to try and get lucky in a graveyard, which, as you might expect, pisses off the Lord of Hell. Satan swoops in and abducts the Princess, and it’s up to Arthur to put on his big boy armor and save her.
Rescuing your lady love will take you through six levels, plus a final battle. These levels include in graveyard, ruined city, some caves, and a tower. Along the way, you can grab a variety of weapons, including daggers, axes, and torches. This sounds like an impressive arsenal, but you can only hold one weapon at a time. Your sense of awe at your offensive power will be reduced by your lack of defense. If anything at all touches you, your armor goes flying, making Arthur an underwear model on the Runway of Death. Getting hit again turns Arthur into a skeleton.
Your frailty is amplified by the enemies. Some of them take in the region of ten hits to kill, and will charge at you when they see you. With the way the levels are laid out, there are times when these facts combine to put you at the game’s mercy–advancing boils down to “pray the game is in a good mood”.
Increasing the frustration is the game’s uneven difficulty curve. The NES version, despite effectively giving you unlimited lives (You have unlimited continues, and Game Overing, other than resetting your score, doesn’t penalize you any more than a normal death does. Dying will send you back to the last checkpoint you passed, or to the start of the level. Levels 1-4 have one checkpoint, the rest have none.), has a well-deserved reputation for being one of the hardest games on the system. The arcade version is no different. Oddly, large numbers of the juggernaut-esque enemies I mentioned make themselves known on level 2, making it one of the more difficult of the six levels–get past it, and it’ll be relatively smooth sailing until level 5, if not level 6.
There’s a deadly cherry on this sadistic sundae as well. Ghosts ‘N Goblins is the game that started the series tradition of forcing you through the game twice to get the true ending. By the way, the game is even harder on the second loop, with the enemies, including zombies, forest ghosts (“The Flying Burritos”), plants, and the deadly Red Arremer, becoming faster and more aggressive.
I did beat this game. In the interest of full disclosure, though, since the NES version and the Capcom Classics Collection version offer unlimited continues by default, I used them. Had I tried this on an actual arcade machine, the number of credits I spent would likely have totaled over $20 worth. At $0.25/credit, that’s a lot of money. That Jackson bought me roughly three to four hours of play time between the two loops. With more repetition of the game, and more skill, you can complete it in under a half hour.
Ghosts ‘N Goblins, like many games in the Games I Beat In 2014 series, illustrates the difference between “simple” and “easy”. It’s very difficult, sometimes cheaply so. Besides the NES port, and the Capcom Classics Collection version, this game also came out on the Wii Virtual Console, and as part of an arcade collection on XBox Live Arcade (Which sounds like a bad port from what I can tell). Strangely, even the “arcade” re-releases aren’t 100% faithful to the original–the CCC version, for instance, seems based on one of the Japanese board, but is in English. Regardless, I recommend finding some version and playing it, if only to experience Nintendo Hard for yourself.