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Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection review: a lovingly crafted, hard as nails revival

Its art style won't please everyone, but this is a lovingly true to the original remake, filled to the brim with retro delights.

When I was a kid, I watched someone beat the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins. To witness this game driven all the way to the credits was, at that age, tantamount to wizardry. A video game Everest. To go for the terrible cliché, it is the Dark Souls of 2D combat-platformers. Sorry. I'm sorry. I'm trying to delete it. Anyway -- watching GnG mastered was magical, and scarcely believable.

Years later, I’ve had multiple opportunities to master the game myself across various versions and ports, as well as in the first sequel, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, which was the first entry I outright owned. I’ve seen credits roll on both games multiple times, but I’ve never reached the mastery I witnessed twenty-five or so years ago. I’ll always take another opportunity to try to reach that heady goal, however - and so I was thrilled when Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection was announced for Nintendo Switch.

Resurrection is, pretty much, exactly what you’d imagine it to be. It remakes the original title faithfully, mixing in a good degree of nostalgic references to the second game, also. There’s of course additional modern twists here and there. There are some new weapons, and enemies and levels inspired by the second game in the series, for instance. The most significant changes are in the visuals, however. Curiously, this is a side-scrolling platformer with a hand-drawn look that often attempts to evoke dirtied medieval scrolls, and yet it’s powered by the RE Engine, the toolset built primarily to power 4K Resident Evil and the like.

Fans of the original pixel art might not quite like this new look, at least initially. At first glance, I was a little disappointed with it. To me, it just didn’t look right for this game - but the more I played, the more it grew on me, sinking nefarious hooks into me and stroking nostalgia while offering an ambition toward beauty that entirely belongs to this iteration of the classic games. I realize not everybody will turn the corner on these visuals that I did - but I genuinely rather came to love the look of the game.

The triumph of the visual style here is driven home in the variety of the GnG world. There’s always been a mix of dark horror and humor that the new art helps to pop and highlight. I love the way all of the characters move, with visible joints and points of articulation that make them dance about the screen like enchanted dolls. Zombies and reapers shamble about in a particularly pleasing way thanks to this, and monsters look, well, suitably more monstrous thanks to the bump in fidelity - but also when heroic Knight Arthur takes a hit, he’s still stripped down to his patterned underwear, leaving you scrambling for new armor to keep you alive.

It’s bloody difficult to stay alive, too. No matter which levels you choose to progress through or how, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection takes as much gleeful pleasure in the player’s suffering and defeat as the original did. There is no mercy. No matter the difficulty setting you choose, you will constantly see poor Arthur crumble to a stack of bones repeatedly. The game straddles the line surprisingly well, in the sense that sometimes level design notes and difficulty spikes feel a bit like the developers are taking the p**s, cackling at your suffering - but also they ultimately feel fair in the grand scheme of things. The beauty of the game’s ingenious original design and balance is that these deaths feel like avoidable temporary setbacks and learnable mistakes. Rarely do proceedings feel cheap or unfair.

The core game here is over thirty-five years old, but how little has really changed shows a design sensibility that is indeed timeless. For the uninitiated, it’s a platforming title where you’ll have access to a variety of different weapons, working your way through devilish stages while avoiding projectiles and baddies while trying to grab a constant stream of power-ups to stay alive. It’s simple, boot-and-braces stuff, but is no less compelling in 2021 than in 1985. Some of the new weapon additions fall flat - there’s a feeling of ‘if it ain’t broke…’ around adding new mechanics in general, in fact - but everything that made the original game is still present.

Some elements have been more broadly tweaked, of course. Some unclear elements have been clarified, and there is a proper difficulty setting now. Resurrection features a ‘true hardcore’ mode, Legend, and when you click New Game it actually defaults to that. This is the old-school difficulty. But there are three settings beneath this that are successively more forgiving. The easiest one, Page, basically means that each time you die you’ll be revived on the spot every time you die - but you will still die, as Arthur dying repeatedly is an integral part of the experience.

Also new are ‘Umbral Bees’, mysterious new collectibles that float through levels and can be collected simply by touching them. These Bees all unlock skills in a skill tree - a more common modern gaming conceit back-doored into this arcade classic. The powers the Umbral Bees bestow give Arthur powerful new skills that in turn help to make things a little easier still - but you’ll have to collect them first. Anyway, the point is, there’s plenty of scope here for players of all skill levels to make their way through this adventure - but I think it’s fair to say that the game’s top difficulty is still a little too much. This is a challenge that was balanced, of course, with the intention of sapping coins out of pockets as quickly as possible in the arcade. But for those masochists and experts, the challenge is there.

I’m not sure I’m yet at the point where I’ll be able to play Ghosts ‘n Goblins with the proficiency that so wowed me to witness as a child. But playing it always gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling that’s entirely at odds with the fiendishly challenging, unforgiving nature of Knight Arthur’s adventure. It’s an all-time classic, and seeing such a game resurrected so lovingly on new platforms is always welcome.

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