Guest blog post by Ben Rai @BenRai
Sometimes you just need an adventure in life. Sometimes this urge for adventure can be fulfilled with a good video game. Graphics are becoming increasingly more life like and the worlds are open and seemingly never ending. The problem is not all of these modern games appeal, and we don't always have the time to explore these gigantic worlds due to the realities of life. This is where retro games come in handy. They provide an escape and can often be experienced in full within anything between 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
Though as much as I do love retro games, sometimes I feel as if I am living in the past, completing the same retro games I am comfortable with over and over. This is a feeling you can easily experience with your personal life too. I wanted to look forward and escape my zone of comfort while simultaneously taking solace in something somewhat nostalgic. The truth is this 'adventure' that I had planned was something more than just simply wanting to play a game I had never played.
Ultimately playing a game is for fun, but the competitive side of me wanted to dedicate time to learning, mastering and conquering something within a month. I wasn't content just playing a game for fun I required a test of fortitude. I pondered what this could be for a short time.
Flicking on my brother's SNES mini while visiting his house I scrolled the games on offer. Contra 3. Finished it on hard mode. Super Mario World. Finished it 100% more times than I could ever count. Super Castlevania IV? Already played it this year. Super Ghouls 'N' Ghosts...never dared to play it. So that is what I decided to do, without any real thought. I wasn't really looking for it, but I had found it. I had a very limited experience with this game. I was just aware that it was notoriously hard and I had witnessed my brother die an unrelenting amount of times on it back in the 90s. A fire in my stomach erupted - I am going to do this.
I opened the options menu to see what the deal was — an otherwise simple black option menu with an obscurely over elaborate and majestic blue winding vine design with red gems adorning the screen's edges. Strangely beautiful for a game which is so willing to chew you up and spit you out even on it's "Normal" difficulty setting. Almost like an alluring treasure which once taken would trigger a hellish trap. The default difficulty setting alone is what gives a majority of people grief.
So to my surprise there was a hard and professional difficulty too. What maniac would ever try that? Isn't the punishing normal difficulty enough? Apparently it wouldn't be for me, and so the journey begins — on normal difficulty anyway.
The game (infamous for sending you right back to the beginning in order to complete it for a second time to get the true ending) begins in the classic Ghouls N Ghosts graveyard stage. You know — the stage 90% of people attempting to play this game give up on.
Despite it being one of the earliest games by Capcom on the SNES the pixel art looks fantastic and the music is absolutely haunting. In fact, it was composed by a female composer called Mari Yamaguchi, she also did the soundtrack for Mickey Mouse's Magical Quest. Strangely, as different as the games may be they share a very distinct sound and I came to the conclusion long ago that the same composer must have been involved. Mari has a way of painting the haunting landscapes of the frozen forests and stormy seas with sweeping mysterious melodies, while conjuring up a sense of dark menacing evil and urgency in the third stage's fire dungeon full of flames and bloodied spikes. There is always a sense of something foreboding or mystical.The soundtrack is one that did not hit me as immediately as other games. However the soundtrack began to really become highlighted during the trials and tribulations of completing the game. Remember, we were going to die a lot of playing this game — so we needed music that would be cast upon our minds in a residual way, as opposed to be a quick fast jingle which could become increasingly annoying with each restart.
To cut a long story shorter — I completed both loops of Ghouls N Ghosts. That means that I finished each of the 7 stages twice back-to-back and killed the final enemy with the coveted "Princess bracelet". The bracelet is an absolute requirement for finishing the game in its truest sense and the main reason you are sent back to the start in order for the weapon to spawn. It will not appear in playthrough one.
I had finally finished this tough game which I previously knew not a lot about. The problem is I had cheated. I had used multiple save states. From start to finish. The vaguest sign of danger I pressed that save state button. I felt not an ounce of accomplishment and had essentially learned nothing about the
inner workings of the game. I needed to go back and this time do it "for real", and do so with a mind of knowledge towards the game.
At this point I no longer had access to the SNES mini, so I had to download an emulator for my laptop which is far from a gaming laptop.In fact I had never played single game on it before. I had to borrow a faulty Xbox 360 controller from a friend in order to be able to play, as there was no chance I'd attempt this using keyboard controls. I was dedicated to this gaming experience and the game was on. My first step was to watch a couple of speed runs of the game to hear any potential commentary tips to provide assistance in understanding how this game actually worked mechanics wise. Nail the mechanics and you will nail the game. I studied how to get various treasure chests to spawn. Some chests require the player, the grey armour clad knight Arthur, to jump into some precarious locations in order to make them appear. A concept I had no idea about.
The chests are vital to your success and there is a specific cycle of which weapons, armour and traps spawn from them. I found this to be a large part of the battle and once you had this concept under wraps the game became a lot more manageable. Arthur can acquire two armour power ups. The first being the bronze green armour which will upgrade your current weapons firepower. The second is the golden armour which allow you to hold the button in order to charge your weapon, unleashing a unique special
ability per weapon. With that said here is a tip for you all, the dagger with the golden armour is the absolute best weapon in the game and the speed runners imperative choice.
Charging it up will unleash a flying dragon of pure blue fire which will scour the screen. Lining up the screen so that the enemy is on the right will mean that they are in line of the dragon's path, killing them quickly. You also gain valuable invincibility frames briefly during casting the spell, so exploiting this charge up feature is fantastic for survival.
The second weapon of use is the crossbow upgraded to at least the green armour, which is ideal for any casual player just wanting to achieve victory. When in gold armour the charge up function for this weapon will make any hidden treasure chests on the screen appear. The rest of the weapons are essentially garbage.
The jumping in this game is also a mechanic that needs some practice. Once you commit to a jump your character is locked going in that direction for the duration of it. Thankfully, Arthur has access to a double jump. Pressing another direction as you perform this will allow you to manoeuvre elsewhere, though you will also be committed to this jump too. Here is a secret for you. If you press the attack button at the peak of your double jump you will actually fire out a slightly stronger projectile. Useful for boss killing. So lots of quick double jumps and dagger/crossbow spamming is ideal
Now that the table is set on how the game mechanics work, I dived back in on normal mode and decided I would complete the game but only allow myself to save state at the start of each level. I completed both loops of the game using this method as a practice. Still, no sense of achievement, but a wave of confidence had been born. I no longer felt the need to save between each stage. I was finally prepared to play this the real way. With my newfound knowledge of the treasure chest spawns and confidence it was time to complete the game on normal mode with no save states. So off I went again, collecting as many money bags as I could along the way, as they provide you with a extra continue should you collect enough. Oh yes. Continues are limited!
The giant flying beaked monster of the first stage went down without a fight. I endured the 4-minute side scrolling perils of the second stage's stormy haunted ship graveyard as my raft wavered over the thundering rotten seas. I hesitantly made my way through the callous and menacing jumps across lava pits on to spindly platforms only to be greeted by the Mongolian Death Worm's 3rd cousin at the end of stage 3. I survived the slime covered convulsing, winding and rotating mode-7 guts of a giant beast in stage 4.
Then I hiked a majestic avalanche filled frozen forest full of pulsating purple fruits. All that, before arriving at the final castle and entering its most inner sanctum. Then of course I had to do it all over again to reach the ultimate final boss. After having conquered this final boss, I had finally completed the game as it was intended, with no save stating along the way. It was a challenge and there was indeed a learning curve. However with all this acquired skill, I felt at a loss yet again. "Isn't there a professional mode?", I reminded myself. I had a passion with this new ability to complete the game the real way, and now I wanted to test myself to the maximum.
As a side note, despite the whole game being quite taxing, I would like to shine a special spotlight on to stage 4, "The Ghoul's Stomach". Standing on a sidescrolling platform as obnoxious geysers of ghoul stomach gases try to knock you off to your death down a bottomless pit can be brutal. In fact I'd say this is the most daunting stage. The 3rd stage 'The Crucible of Flame',which begins in the fire dungeon is a close runner up. The frozen forest, stage 5, while not without its trials, is almost like a lovely treat and a walk in the park compared to the stage 4. The game can be finished by a skilled casual player within a hour or two. Speedrunners can finish both playthroughs within 45 minutes.
After a brief break the urge to complete professional mode became too much. Arthur once again pulled his armour on over his boxer shorts, giving me those 2 vital hit points on my health bar, and so the quest began again. I went directly to professional mode, thus skipping "hard" mode. The bosses take more damage and some of the enemies walk a bit faster...and honestly.that was about it. With either the crossbow or dagger in hand I conquered the first loop on pro mode. It honestly was not bad at all. I think the truest challenge exists on pro mode at the end of the 7th stage on the second loop/playthrough. You must get through the stage and reach the final boss, of which there are 2, with the gold armour and goddess bracelet. Though powerful, the bracelet is only of use if you are in possession of it while suited up in gold as it maximizes its range. This one aspect, range, is what is going to decide if you will get through the final 2 boss fights before being given access to the final true boss -demon emperor Sardius.
During loop 2, if you lose the gold armour at any point during stage 7 before the two bosses are killed you may as well sacrifice yourself and begin the stage again. The game consumed an uncountable amount of lives from me, as well as sapped my continues slowly. Though through dedication and patience I finally thwarted the enemies while adorned in the gold armour. I felt great, and let out a huge sigh of relief.Probably punched the air too. Even though I still had one final boss on stage 8 to defeat, I had no fear. The final boss is excruciatingly easy even on pro, possibly a reward for all the sweat and blood it takes to get there. As Arthur and the princess
trotted off on the horse together during the end credits, my quest to master this game also came to a close.
I had finished a game that so many other people give up on, even if they feel fondness towards it. It had been a great month of putting myself through something "new", and now I could say that Super Ghouls N Ghosts was one of my favourite SNES games, as opposed to just being "That hard SNES game that's good but I've never really played". Now this game is up there for me along with Castlevania IV and Contra 3.
To me this was more than just finishing a game, it was an additional little exercise in perseverance and motivation. The thrill of slowly but surely progressing and applying what I had learned from studying of the game's mechanics and then putting the brain power to physical dexterity with my hands was something I thoroughly enjoyed. The sense of accomplishment was amazing. I genuinely believe that overall this game is not as hard as people claim, they just need to spend more time with it and face the fear of it. I am highly convinced I could coach a moderate gamer through this game at least on default difficulty at this point. Something I could certainly offer no information or advice about at the start of the year.
There is actually a Gameboy Advance port of this game with 4 additional stages added. I have not played this, but the extra stages which I saw via Youtube videos actually fit the atmosphere of this game pretty well, and the visuals look vibrant and glorious. I might try playing this in future, but for now I am content with completing this version. It is time to move forward and look for something new.
You can try Super Ghouls 'N' Ghosts yourself on Nintendo Switch's subscription service. I highly encourage you to finally sit down, concentrate and stop letting the ghouls and ghosts scaring you away. My advice to anyone interesting in taking this game on, in brief.
Set your lives to 7 in the options menu. Use the dagger or the crossbow. Learn the chest locations/use the crossbow with gold armour to discover their locations..Collect the money bags to gain continues, but don't go for risky ones. Play through the game first time using save states as you progress. Reload sections to learn them.Once you are better at the game then play the game from start to finish without save states. if you do not have time to sit and do 2 playthroughs back to back for the real ending then save state at the start of loop 2. I consider this only being like pausing the game and returning to it later. This way it just saves on the electricity bill. Or perhaps you are just content completing one cycle - well, the same advice applies.
In addition, I wanted to get a tattoo for a long time but I could never decide what of. As a result of this little journey I decided to get a Super Ghouls 'n' Ghosts inspired tattoo. If you'd have told me in 2019 I'd cast aside modern games for a good portion of the year and focus on this game and complete it on the hardest mode AND get a tattoo about this game I'd not have believed you. It just goes to sometimes show things can just pop up when you least expect it and entertain you. From this experience I unearthed something old and crafted something new. While I was sitting getting the tattoo done, the artist actually said that it looked like something from a retro game. "It is, from Ghouls and Ghosts" I replied. "I used to play that!" he said.
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