Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was an early SNES game featuring brave Sir Arthur venturing forth to rescue Princess Prin Prin from the clutches of Emperor Sardius, the nefarious king of the Demon Realm. Sardius has a Macbethian fear of the one item in the universe destined to destroy him… so he pretty much invites the damn thing to his door. But Sardius’s suicide won’t come easily! Oh no, Sir Arthur has to venture through the entire Demon Realm to reach Sardius, and, because someone left the Goddess Bracelet on her kitchen counter the first time, the quest must be completed a second time if Princess Prin Prin (P3) is to be horsed back home. Not an easy day for anybody.
So, because this game is so damn hard, let’s take a look at just one level. I mean, I could discuss boss recycling in Level 7, or Red Arremer overuse in Level 6, but I’d be addressing the like fourteen people that ever got that far in the game, so let’s examine something we can all experience.
Also, it’s the most perfect level in the franchise, and maybe all of gaming.
First, a little prelude. The opening level of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the federally mandated opening G ‘n G level: Arthur once more through the graveyard. There’s zombies. There’s flaming skulls. There’s the occasional tower of skulls. It’s all mundane items that you’d find in your local graveyard. The level then progresses to a shore of some kind, with crashing waves and wicked clams hurling their eyeballs. From there, the indicators of the shoreline never recede, but gnarled vines and aggressive vegetation attempt to impede Arthur’s progress. The remains of pillars and other traces of a path that has fallen into ruin indicate that this area may have once been part of the cemetery, but time and tide has reclaimed the once mighty mortuary. At the finale, Arthur is beset by a gigantic cockatrice, which you’d be forgiven for mistaking for a massive, mutated vulture. All in all, the first level of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts seems to carry a theme of routine locations “infected” by the encroaching Demon Realm. You’re not in Hell yet, but Hell is finding its way to you.
The G ‘n G games put much more of an emphasis on action than mythology, so we don’t know very much about the Demon Realm. We know the place is filled with demons… but that was kind of obvious from the name. We also know the geography of the place is rather suspect, with gargantuan, pulsing caverns leading to frozen mountains choked with icy vines. And, of course, we know their government is a monarchy led by whoever can generate the largest projectiles. One thing we don’t know, however, is whether or not the Demon Realm ever held any sort of function in human society. They’d almost have to, right? Sure, it’s a place dominated by creatures that seem to settle disagreements with radioactive vomit, but they’re Arthur’s eastern neighbors, and you don’t get to have a society that accomplishes anything if you can’t deal with countries outside your borders. Emperor Sardius is kidnapping rival royalty now, yes, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a trade agreement in place a few years back. Humans have to fill their treasure chests with something.
Princess Prin Prin was kidnapped by a very fast (oddly, never fought) winged demon that was likely half way home before Arthur had time to check if his boxers were still fresh. So Arthur isn’t following P3’s trail, he’s just dashing headlong into enemy strongholds guessing (correctly) at who was responsible. This means that humans (or at least knights) have knowledge of the Demon Realm and its geography. Even more importantly, Arthur knows the exact route out of Prin Prin Kingdom (… sure?) and straight to Sardius’s door. And it’s all right there in Level 2.
Many have written off Level 2 as simply “the water level” or perhaps “pirate stage”, but it is much more than that. Level 2 starts at the docks, and they are docks that are literally crumbling beneath Arthur’s feet. Arthur then leaps across derelict boats, not tiny dinghies, but entire, massive ships that have fallen into disrepair. Ghosts haunt the area. Chests that once contained riches now house only monsters. Under the weight of their first corporeal visitor in years, each ship crashes and sinks into the icy waters.
What happened here? It appears that there once was trade with the Demon Realm, and these ships were your ticket to the land of wings and lava. At some point, trade ceased, possibly due to a race of fire breathing creatures with too many faces stomping around, and the sailors lost their trade. In time, the ships, still dutifully docked awaiting their next cargo, began to degrade, and the sailors themselves, bereft of income and riddled with scurvy, passed into the realm of spirits. In time, the entire shoreline was forgotten and deemed “cursed”, and, perhaps after a skirmish with those damned demon hordes, the surrounding area was zoned into a cemetery. Hey, a ready corpse population was already dying for that real estate.
And all that despair combines with some unpredictable monsters and fun ziplines to make an excellent first half of Level 2.
It’s the second half that realizes the entire guiding principle of the G ‘n G franchise.
As was mentioned, G ‘n G came from the era of video games that didn’t give a wet fireball about story or cohesion or if it’s really realistic that one knight could beat back an entire world of demons. No, G ‘n G, and, arguably, everything about it, from graphics to level design, is all about the game. This is a franchise that sacrifices everything at the altar of action, but not an “empowering” action like Mario or Mega Man, where you can hope to one day have a fire flower and starman to wreck your enemies, or a collection of robot master weapons that would put Doc Robot to shame. No, this is a game where the best you can hope for is slightly shinier armor, and you take one hit, and you’re back to your skivvies, seconds away from losing your skin with the next blow. G ‘n G is about you, alone, with one simple weapon and one lousy jump, and nothing more to help you than the pleas of your lover and her complete inability to wear jewelry consistently. It’s you against the world, literally, and it’s a world of demons.
This is never more evident than during Level 2-B. Arthur is completely alone, adrift on a raft barely large enough to contain him. Seconds after obtaining the raft, it’s sucked beneath the waves by a raging whirlpool, and Arthur must deftly bound across the ocean to eventually obtain a new raft that will last for a few moments more. Once Arthur is settled into this fresh, floating deathtrap, the demons begin their assault. Piranha literally fly from the seas on the offensive. Tentacled weeds fire deadly stars as fast as bullets. Mermen wait and watch from far-off waves, studying their prey before pouncing for the kill. Arthur is beset on all sides as even the weather seems to repel him with a vicious thunderstorm. When Storm Cesaris, a gigantic, barnacled creature perpetually riding its own personal tornado, attacks at the level’s close, it’s almost a relief, as maybe Mother Nature wasn’t actively trying to harm Arthur this whole time, maybe this hulking ogre was responsible all the while. Then again, small comfort, as Arthur now has to battle the fiend to the death with a mere lance, knife, or other meager pointy object.
In a way, Level 2-B features an Arthur who is no more screwed than usual. It’s always like this for the poor knight, just a lance, his wits, and the hope that his next jump will clear those spikes. But here it’s in the spotlight, with a current that shoves you eternally toward greater challenges. Beyond Storm Cesaris is the Demon Realm proper, with its foundries and ramparts to greet the proud knight, and monstrous caverns (in more ways than one) and sub-zero peaks beyond. Emperor Sardius waits far off in his throne room, safe and dry while Arthur clings to a few strips of wood, eager to weather the latest storm that soaks through his armor.
Who needs to worry about rescuing the princess? Arthur will be glad to just make it back to solid ground. He can warm himself by the lava. Take that hit, lose that armor, it’s alright. Stupid tin can was starting to smell anyway.
FGC #56 Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
- System: Super Nintendo, though there’s also a version for Gameboy Advance.
- Number of Players: One, but you can get some mileage out of the player two controller when inputting the level select code.
- Version Differences: The Gameboy Advance version really missed the boat by simply calling itself Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts again. Given you can progress through the Demon Realm and only play the same first, fifth, and sixth levels as the original SNES incarnation, the GBA version really is like an entirely new game. There are a few “borrowed” stages from the Sega Genesis Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, but the stage that remixes the original Ghouls ‘n Ghosts opening stage is sublime. Also, you can fight the most Firebrand-y Red Arremer.
- Favorite Weapon: Bronze Armor + Bow 4 Life. Aiming is for other people.
- Least Favorite Weapon: I understand it’s integral to breaking the game or speed runs or whatever, but I could just never get the hang of the torch. This is a game where the greatest threats are constantly hovering just out of reach, so why go for the ground-based weapon? This ain’t holy water.
- So, did you beat it? Yes, but not before save states. Actually, yes, I did beat it as a child, but I had to abuse that level select code, so, to be precise, I did not beat the game with the Goddess Bracelet until I was an adult. Heck, I’m not sure I ever made it past Level 5 without some kind of cheating.
- Did you know? The ending provides Princess Prin Prin’s measurements as part of the credits.
(Bust, Waist, Hips, in centimeters)
The same data appears during the ending of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, but the numbers are smaller (B83 W50 H89). I’m not certain what the intended implication of that is, but it’s moderately disturbing all around.
- Would I play again? Yes, and maybe then I’ll be able to make it to Level 3!
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks for the PS2. Oh boy! Let’s play the fighting game that isn’t a fighting game! Please look forward to it!