"This is one challenge you'll want to partake."
When creating a difficult game in the 8 and 16 bit days, it certainly wasn’t a monumental task. A sizable number of titles held quite a bit of difficulty to them, which still holds up to this day. The challenge however, was crafting a title that blends a high level of challenge with a high level of production value. We had plenty of difficult games with a lessened emphasis on entertainment and replay value (Silver Surfer on the NES) as well as a challenging game that managed to make you think (Journey to Silius on the NES). The one game that was hard to come by was a thoroughly challenging title that blended together an artistic value with an audio production that perfectly suited the experience. Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on the Super Nintendo was that game, though it did have chinks in its armor.
The two things that held Super GnG back from becoming a legendary title revolved around its controls, as well as the focal point of the gameplay — its balls-to-the-wall difficulty. With the controls, while the on foot portion was seamless enough, jumping lead to some problematic situations. As with the early Castlevania titles, you cannot change directions while in the middle of a jump, outside the double jump. After you perform the double jump, you are left in the same predicament that you were in during the first jump. Part of the challenge to Super GnG comes with the mastery of the jumping mechanic, which isn’t an easy thing to master. While it doesn’t come anywhere close to crippling the gameplay, you will get hung up every so often, thanks to the inability to fully command your jumping.
The overall difficulty, even if you were able to better control your jumps, can be overbearing at times. The with amount of schmuck dodging you’ll have to do at some points, between projectiles coming at you from every direction, to peculiar monster AI routines, you’ll be both on your toes constantly and dying often trying to get accustomed to the situations at hand. You only have two hits until you lose a life as well, one that breaks your armor off and throws you into your boxers, and another that just degrades you into a pile of bones. Although you can find a suit of armor to jump right back into, as well as upgrade the armor to strengthen your weaponry, one more hit will send the armor flying off once more, and it’s a massive challenge not to get hit.
The stage layouts add to the difficulty more so than the massive schmuck dodging and enemy AI routines, however this is more of a benefit than a detraction. Each stage has been thoughtfully crafted and laid out, with a couple of different within each stage, offering a change of pace that not only alleviates stagnation, but forces you to think about how you should approach each situation. Stage two for instance, has you jumping around a giant ghost ship in the beginning, then throws you onto a raft, floating across a treacherous stretch of sea, where you’ll have to quickly master the double jump mechanic in order for you to have any sort of reliable means to get through the stage. The layouts and environmental changes from stage to stage further strengthen the enjoyment you can get out of Super GnG, so long as you have the patience to coincide with the gameplay challenges.
Each of the stages you’ll play through are visual marvels, with detail overflowing from corner to corner. In some ways, Super GnG presents some of the most impressive visuals in the 16 bit generation of games, a feat that’s further eye opening due to the fact that this was an early Super Nintendo release. Animations are adequate, enemies are gorgeous and backgrounds, while often repeated throughout each stage, further augment the visual journey. All of the detail comes at a price though, as Arthur will encounter frequent bouts of slowdown, which will adversely affect the game at some points, throwing your timing off. It’s not a significant handicap, but it’s another additive to the often overwhelming difficulty.
One cannot discuss Super GnG without going into how powerful the musical composition is. While the sound effects are adequate, the music far and away some of the most fitting and immersing pieces in gaming. Listening to it years later, one can’t help but to realize how complicated each track is. It really feels like the kind of music that would play during a movie based off of the Arthur universe.
Although the difficulty can be a bit much at times, as well as the jumping mechanics having its quirks, Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is an impressive title, especially considering how early into the Super Nintendo’s life-cycle that it was released. The brilliant stage layouts, with the vibrant look to them as well as the musical presentation really leaves a longstanding impression. Though you’ll have to play through the game twice in order to truly beat the game, and playing through it once is a massive undertaking in its self, just the attempt at completing Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is a worthwhile investment of your time and money.