One of the earliest titles to hit the SNES, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is also often referred to as one of the top classics of its era. Its difficulty is well documented; in fact, rumors swirled back in the early ’90s that even Chuck Norris had trouble finishing it twice. As Sir Arthur, you must clear eight savage lands ranging from dark haunted graveyards to an icy forest in order to save your main squeeze. Easier said than done, especially back to back!
IN THE BEGINNING…
Ghosts ‘n Goblins originated in the arcades in 1985. It later received a couple home ports, most notably on the 8-bit Nintendo. I remember seeing this game for the first time at my friend’s house in the late ’80s. Being a lover of monsters big and small, the stunning cover art immediately grabbed me by the ghoulies. Just look at those vile creatures! Now there goes a law-abiding group of good Samaritans if I ever saw one. I watched my friend Tommy fumble through the first level. The zombies were relentless. Arthur not exactly being a ballerina didn’t help matters any, either. But there was something compelling about it. I loved the ghoulish atmosphere.
Capcom released a superb sequel, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, in the arcades at the tail end of 1988. A Sega Genesis version was pumped out in 1989 to much critical acclaim. Then in November 1991, Capcom treated brand new SNES owners with an exclusive sequel, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. This franchise has certainly developed a loyal fanbase since the first game hit the scene in 1985. To this very day, fans still love playing through these classics and fans still clamor for a proper return. It’s a shame Sir Arthur’s future is up in the air. But hey, at least we’ll always have these great games to keep us warm.
RAINING GHOULS ‘N GHOSTS
Several months following my SNES rebirth in January of 2006, I decided to reinvest in another old childhood favorite… the Sega Genesis. Those were some fun and reckless days, I tells ya. I was scouring eBay nonstop, checking the forums for people unloading games and surfing Craigslist daily. It was on a crazy rainy Friday afternoon that I met ex-gamer Kevin outside a local grocery store to cut the deal. It was my $20 for his five Genesis games. Among them, of course, was Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Kevin must have felt nostalgic that rainy late afternoon, because before he handed me the game, he looked me dead in the eye and he said, “This is one of the best video games I have ever played.”
I stood outside his red truck holding an umbrella as he sat inside all warm and toasty. A small cute looking beagle stood on the passenger seat, tilting its head as it stared at me. Kevin went on to tell me that these games were all purchased from him back in the day and that they had been resting unused in his attic for a good number of years now. But it was time to let them go to a new home that would play them rather than have them sit on a shelf collecting dust. He cut me a great deal, 20 for all five as I said, and I couldn’t have been a happier camper that rainy Friday afternoon. It was one of my most favorite experiences off Craigslist and a very fond game memory from that crazy year of 2006 — the year where I set out to reclaim bits and pieces of my childhood. As the gray afternoon skies continued raining Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, I drove home on that wet freeway with a grin plastered across my face as wide as the Mississippi River. What a bargain, sure, but it was the human element that made it such a memorable transaction.
I had briefly seen and played Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, coincidentally, once again at Tommy’s place in the late ’80s. It had amazing visuals for its time. Who could ever forget that first gigantic boss who rips his own freakin’ head off? Arthur wasn’t much more athletic here than his NES outing but at least now he could shoot up. And like the NES game before it, Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was damn tough. Let’s see how Sir Arthur fared in his next adventure, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts…
THE STORY GOES…
“Look everyone! Our hero, Sir Arthur, is back! Hip hip hooray!”
“Thank you, Princess Guinevere. I’ve come back to check up on you. While journeying all over the world seeking more knowledge, I had a very strange premonition. So, how are things? Anything peculiar? Sick guards, dying crops, red demons, perhaps?”
“Oh Sir Arthur, I too have felt an uneasy premonition as of late. I feel that someone… or something… is watching me… waiting in the shadows…”
“Not to worry, Princess. I’m here now. I won’t let anything bad happen to you ever again.”
“Thank you, Arthur. Your words comfort me but still, I can’t shake that horrible feeling that we’re being watched as we speak…”
Meanwhile… somewhere in the distance just beyond the castle…
“I sense something wicked watching us now!”
“Relax, Princess! You’re safe with me.”
“Oh you mean just like the last time, huh?”
“Don’t start that with me, woman!”
“SHHH! You hear that?”
*FLAP FLAP FLAP*
You start out with the steel armor. Next upgrade is the Bronze Armor (middle), then finally the Golden Armor (right). The Bronze Armor grants Arthur power to use the Weapons of Enchantment while the Golden Armor allows him to cast magical spells. The shields are also invaluable.
Here’s the Flaming Lance in action. Not only does it leave a nice trail but it’s twice as effective as the normal Lance shot.
Whether you’re using the regular weapons or their powered-up versions, you can release a stronger shot at the peak of your double jump. A successful attempt is highlighted via a red-ish glow. It’s a neat technique that adds a bit more strategy to the game, particularly during those boss battles.
Here’s the Magic Dagger in action. Discover the rest for yourself!
WELCOME TO THE MAGIC SHOW
Check out the Thunder Magic — this is when you’re wielding the Flaming Lance and rocking the Golden Armor.
Have the Magic Dagger on ya while wearing the Golden Armor? Then you have the power to call forth some Fire Dragon Magic! The weapon you’re currently in possession of determines what kind of magic you can unleash. They range in terms of effectiveness so it’s fun to figure out which ones work best when and where. One magic power doesn’t harm enemies; rather, it searches for hidden treasure troves! Acquiring AND maintaining the Golden Armor is key to success.
Trek through eight deadly worlds to save the blasted Princess. Er, actually 16 but uh, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet…
LEVEL 1: THE DEAD PLACE
Ah, such a classic first stage — take a ghoulish romp through a haunted graveyard! From this forgotten cemetery, zombies arise to attack the living. Only the bravest and strongest will survive a journey through this cursed land.
Occasionally, treasure chests will pop up out of the ground. Inside lies a random item. Perhaps a different weapon choice or even precious armor…
Thank goodness it’s only temporary. You can also be turned into a little girl or even a bee. Capcom sure had fun making this one…
Pillars provide safe harbor from the crashing waves, which will carry you ruthlessly away to an early, murky grave.
(Double) jump at random points — you never know when doing so may trigger a hidden treasure chest to reveal itself from its hiding place. It’s fun to find them and feels a bit like an Easter egg hunt at times. It’s all a bit weird and cool at the same time.
You just found the Bronze (even though it’s green) Armor! With this bad boy you can now employ the almighty Weapons of Enchantment. Unfortunately, one hit strips Arthur straight to his boxers rather than back down to his regular steel armor. That’s a bit of a bitch but it sums up the toughness of this game. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts separates the men from the boys.
Now equipped with the Bronze Armor, the crossbow becomes a homing weapon of destruction! Too bad though you can only fire one triple shot at a time. Should one shot linger searching for a target, you are left defenseless and are forced to wait until that last shot dissipates. This, as you can imagine, can prove costly in the heat of battle.
Be sure to look back for a nifty surprise!
Congrats, it’s the almighty Golden Armor. So now not only do you have the powerful Weapons of Enchantment at your disposal but also magic! Charge up Arthur to unleash these magic powers.
Remember how I said make sure you look over your shoulder after leaping over these fiery skeleton carts? Here’s why…
The Cockatrice, like all the bosses in this game, is easy to beat. In addition to laying its eggs, it’ll stretch that horrible long neck out in hopes of pecking you to a bloody death. This is a great example of a simple but effective boss design. Large, menacing and all-around badass. Few did it better than Capcom back in the early ’90s.
LEVEL 2: THE ROTTING SEA
This level is quite atmospheric. For starters, Arthur leaves this decrepit dock. No sooner then does it crumble into the sea, and you have the makings of yet another memorable level to come.
You find yourself trapped on the Graveyard of Ships. Long ago, this thriving harbor was home to hundreds of sea-faring men. But now the entire port is laid to waste, and only the restless and wicked ghouls remain.
LEVEL 3: VERMILION HORROR
Brave adventurers must first make it through the Crucible of Flame. Deep within the earth, the flames of evil burns brightly. Its glow drips with despair and darkness to all who venture forth.
Visually, this level is pretty stunning. I love all the fire pits and how they turn different shades of red and orange. Nice. And you know what those demon head fire-spewing statues remind me of?
I just love this guy. He’s like the Andore of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. He’s bigger than most other normal bad guys and takes several shots before tapping out. I have a thing for regular enemies who are extra tough and a little bigger than the rest of the non-boss cast.
Capcom was so damn good at adding in these little details to make their levels even more interesting than they already were. Gotta appreciate the craftsmanship.
The pillars move up and down. Be patient but don’t take your sweet ass time, either! Used properly, the double jump comes in extra handy here. Sometimes you need to head back to the drawing board so save that precious second jump for any last second change. It could determine the difference between winning and losing, yes sir.
Safely past the Crucible of Flame, it’s on to the Towers of Molten Steel. The mere sight of the twin towers strikes terror into the hearts of men. Within these demented walls, the ghouls of the Phantom Zone practice their darkest and most unspeakable acts of evil.
Slightly reminiscent of Nebulus (Commodore 64), this is a rather impressive bit. The twisting and turning of the tower while those gargoyle statues slowly reveal themselves is splendid stuff, especially by 1991 standards.
Talk about a monstrosity! He’s easier than he looks, though. I find it best to stay right there where Arthur is positioned in the pic and fire away.
LEVEL 4: THE GHOUL’S STOMACH
To enter the frozen lands of the Emperor of Evil, you must first pass through the foul Ghoul’s Stomach. It won’t be easy, and it sure as hell won’t smell pleasant, either. Those axe-wielding goblins are annoying bastards. Deal with them quickly — you don’t want a pack of them coming after you.
Every so often the landscape changes from bad to worse and players must hotfoot it to safety via these platforms, or else.
LEVEL 5: THE DEEP CHILL
First up is the Ice Forest. The blizzards constantly blow in this frozen world of ice and snow. Many have tried to conquer this land over the years but none have yet to return. Hope you don’t run across their decayed remains…
Beyond the Ice Forest lies the Ice Wall. A wall of sheer ice surrounds the palace. If the freezing cold doesn’t kill you, surely the savage wolves will.
At the end of this icy prison you come face to face with this terrible ice demon — the one they call Freon. He looks quite tough but he’s really not. The design isn’t bad but I would prefer if he was whole and not broken before you could lay a finger on him. Would have been much more satisfying if you could damage him bit by bit until nothing remained but his frozen head. But perhaps that’s just my sadistic side speaking. Also, it would have been more dramatic if he came bursting out of those frozen prison bars, but now I’m just nit-picking!
LEVEL 6: THE CASTLE OF THE EMPEROR
At the beginning of this level, you’re once again greeted by the double tough Red Arremer, Firebrand.
A version of the Cockatrice stuck within the castle walls?! What kind of foul play is this?! It’s all twisted and PLAIN WRONG like a nightmare come to life.
It’s the mighty demon, Astaroth! Love the design. He’s the right-hand monster to Sardius (AKA Demon Emperor Samael). Astaroth sports two faces so hideous not even a mother could love. The bottom one looks like an evil tree.
LEVEL 7: HALLWAY OF GHOULS
Once more you must duel with Astaroth. He spews fire from his bottom mouth and fires lasers up top. Be patient and don’t double jump unless absolutely necessary; otherwise, his laser beam might slice you in half.
After defeating Astaroth, you face a superior demon in the form of one, Nebiroth. Watch out for his laser shot which cuts a huge swath. He’s a tough cookie but you should be fine if you play it smart.
LEVEL 8: THE THRONE ROOM
Welcome to the Throne Room, home to the one and only Sardius! Talk about a menacing and imposing final boss. Towering over Arthur with his golden armor, it sure looks like a tall task ahead. To set the mood proper, lightning strikes the dark night sky, sending waves of white blinding flashes across the throne room. It’s a modern day David and Goliath. On paper at least. But in reality Sardius is pretty easy. You can kill him without even getting hit.
A set of laser beams fly out of his mouth. Position yourself roughly around here. His right or left leg works fine. Oddly enough, just for your convenience, Sardius also sends out two icy platforms. Double jump on to one of them but not when he sends the lasers late, which he does a time or two.
The platform takes you up to his head level. You’ll be able to land a couple shots in before the ice gives way.
Regrettably, he’s all bark and no bite. Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a challenging game but that comes mostly in the levels themselves. The bosses are surprisingly easy to dispatch. It’s too bad too, because they’re wonderful designs and you expect them to put up more of a tough fight.
Speaking of challenging, you must beat this game TWICE but more on that later. For now, let us enjoy our victory and bask in the glow of a job well done.
OH C’MON YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING!
You must beat the game twice and kill Sardius with the Bracelet to get the true ending. The Bracelet isn’t exactly the best weapon, either. The difficulty of the game also rises in the second round. To find the Bracelet, you must have the final power-up item, the Sun Shield. The next treasure chest you uncover will contain the weapon required to properly kill Sardius. Don’t lose the Bracelet either or you’re screwed. Talk about tough love.
SUPER CODES ‘N CHEATS
How nice of Capcom to even let you to pick the area in the stage you want to go to! With no save or password option, this cheat does well to increase the game’s longevity. Level select code is my favorite type of cheat, especially when the game is lacking a password or save option.
HOW FIREBRAND GOT HIS OWN GAME
Demon’s Crest, released in November of 1994, continued the high quality Capcom tradition on the SNES with gnarly visuals, amazing sound, addicting gameplay (Super Metroid fans will instantly eat it up), huge bosses and a totally badass protagonist. What’s not to love? It’s actually my favorite Capcom SNES game not named Street Fighter. Sorry, Mega Man X, but I give the slight edge to Demon’s Crest.
Firebrand is so fun to control. Who knew back in the mid ’80s when we first faced the red demon that he’d get his line of awesome video games? Be sure to also check out Gargoyle’s Quest on Game Boy (1990) and the 8-bit NES sequel, Gargoyle’s Quest II (1992).
“Hey Arthur… remember that time long ago where I failed miserably to kill you by dropping you high from the sky?”
“Sure… kinda hard to forget stuff like that, you know?”
“Well I just want to thank you for making me see the light. I turned the other cheek and got my own Super Nintendo game, and it’s even better than yours.”
“WHOA! Slow your role, playa. Jeez, some things never change, I guess.”
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was well received by critics and fans alike. It’s universally considered as a classic Super Nintendo game, and its inclusion in the upcoming SNES Classic Edition speaks to that. Super Play rated it 85% and EGM ranked it #22 in their Top 100 Games List in issuer #100 (November 1997). Below is an excerpt from RETRO GAMER Magazine.
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is simply a classic. I’ve had a lot of fun playing through this one and discovering all the little nuances, from perfecting the double jump to finding out the secret locations of hidden treasure chests. This game kicked my ass, too. But never in a cheap way. Not because of faulty controls or anything like that. The level design is brutal, especially the first 20 times through. Some video games are frustrating in a cheap way but this isn’t one of them. It’s tough in a “Oooh, I’ll get you next time!” sort of manner, reeling you back in for another go and before you know it, an hour’s flown by. And if you’re good, maybe the level too. I never found myself blaming my losses on account of the game. It always came back to human error. And there’s something compelling and addictive about Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts that pushes me to say, “Alright Capcom, one more try…”
The game has a great atmosphere and truly lives up to the name of the title. Rotting zombies litter the Haunted Cemetery, the swirling mist in the Graveyard of Ships soon turns itself into ghastly apparitions, and what can you say about those vile monstrous bosses? Their incredible size and grand detail is awe-inspiring. From the sight of the very first boss, the abominable Cockatrice, you knew you were in for one hell of a ride. The monsters steal the show. Arthur is nothing special to look at, but his enemies sure are. The levels have a great deal of detail to them and though there are two areas per level, they’re actually fairly short. I was expecting the game to be a bit longer than what it is, but no matter, it’s a blast to work your way through them bit by bit. From undertaking tumultuous raft rides of death to scaling demon-infested towers, Arthur has plenty to do in his quest to save the day.
Not only are the visuals and sound right on the money and exactly what you’d expect from Capcom of that era, but the game is simply a sheer joy to play. From its varied locales to tricky predicaments, multiple tools of destruction and even magical spells, it’s got the lot, this one. Capcom was also nice enough to give us four difficulty options. On Beginner, it is actually very manageable. So is the default Normal difficulty in my humble opinion. Personally, I don’t think this game is as hard as many tend to say. With grit, patience and the right equipment, that is. But don’t get me wrong, it IS a very challenging game, especially on the second loop where it automatically gets more difficult. I don’t consider myself an expert player by any stretch of the imagination, but even I was able to get through the game on Beginner and Normal (the first loop, anyhow). As I said, the key is having a good deal of persistence and the having the right weapon in tow. It’s too bad you can only carry one weapon at a time (I hope you don’t get stuck accidentally with the torch) and it’s even worse that Arthur can only withstand two hits — regardless of whether you have the highest armor or lowest. But it’s a fun challenge. And that’s the big fundamental difference between games like this and games that are flat out impossible. The fun keeps you plugging away until at long last you break through, and it’s a great high when you finally do.
The more I played Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts the more I came to appreciate it in all facets. Initially, I didn’t really like Arthur’s “stiffness” but it slowly grew on me. Mastering the double jump is crucial. Arthur can no longer shoot up but oddly, it somehow works for this game. This is thanks, of course, to the level design. Yeah, there is some slowdown during the more hectic parts, but does it adversely affect the gameplay? Not really. Bottom line, this game delivers in all the areas where it counts. There’s a reason why Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is considered as one of the many “essential must-have” games on the Super Nintendo. No truly great SNES collection is complete without a copy of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts.