Sunday, January 17, 2010

Videogame Classics - Ghouls 'N Ghosts

The winner and champine...Ghouls 'N Ghosts on the humble Genesis. I remember when the young EGM heavily promoted this game with its fourth issue. Steve Harris, the founder, boasted in no small way that this was the greatest home videogame, like, ever. Ever! Okay, he was prone to the hyperbole in those days. But he and his writers had their fingers on the pulse of gaming. They knew their stuff.

If I remember correctly, this was the game I bought a Genesis for. Or, more precisely, this was the first genuinely great game I played on it. Does Altered Beast really have to count? Ugh. It shouldn't. Start with this one instead.

Sega had established a unique partnership with Capcom early on, and it resulted in some of the best of the early Genesis games. Capcom would license their arcade hits, the ones that were not available on the NES, and Sega would develop and produce. From this partnership, we got Forgotton Worlds, Strider, Mercs, and Ghouls 'N Ghosts.

Younger gamers need to understand something very important. When Nintendo ruled the roost, they ran the place like tyrants. They called all the shots, bullied everyone into submission. Basically acted like jerks. For third-party developers, their demands were simple: no games on the NES could appear on any rival console, and companies could only release so many titles per year.

Sega learned from the Master System era, and entered the 16-bit age more aggressively. And Capcom was no doubt looking to expand their horizons. Perhaps they even knew that Nintendo's reign was bound to end, that the videogame market was expanding too rapidly to be contained by one player. Whatever the reason, Capcom's arcade titles started to appear on the Sega Genesis in 1989.

When Ghoulss 'N Ghosts appeared, it gave Sega a crucial advantage in the console race, as well as one hell of a game. Poor Turbografx was crippled by Nintendo's policies, and its chief patron was Hudson; they were a quality player, but they were not on gaming's A-list, and they had little to no presence at the arcades. The Genesis quickly became the place to turn for your arcade thrills.

Good lord, how I miss the arcades. This business is so much poorer without them, it's uncanny.

Anyway, that's the history lesson. What does this mean for you in the new century? It means you get a classic home version of a classic video arcade game. You get one hell of a challenging platformer, one that will shake your confidence and test your reflexes like nothing you've seen before. This game will knock your teeth out; and when you've thought you had reached the end, you'll be asked to complete the whole thing all over again, a second time. Those brave souls able to carry the distance will be rewarded with one of the greatest final boss fights of all time.

This remains my favorite entry in Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins series, mainly because it's the only time you can throw your weapons up and down, but also because of its brilliant level design that remains varied and challenging without ever becoming kitschy or dull. That's a tough needle to thread. But this was Capcom at the peak of their arcade skills, and the days when they had the entire platform genre mastered. Good heavens, they were only at Mega Man 2. The horrible sequel curse hadn't struck them yet.

Pretty much a no-brainer for an addition to your library. Good luck nursing those blisters.

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