As the proprietor of GoggleBob.com, I feel that, on occasion, I must take a break from talking about mutant ninjas, fighting games, and whether or not Sonic is good, and talk about the real issues of the day. I have an obligation, nay, a responsibility to tackle the tough stuff, and get some real answers for my loyal followers.
Today, we shall answer one simple question: is gross scary?
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is the pick of the day, so let’s start our research with that apparently forgotten franchise (“Didn’t you just play a game featuring Arthur, like, yesterday?” “Yes. Shut-up.”). Ghosts ‘n Goblins was technically an arcade cabinet that started the franchise, but most people remember that title from its NES port (and also the Commodore 64, assuming you spent a lot of time in your school library, nerd). Despite the fact that no one made it past the second level, most people remember GnG fondly. And it was spooky! There were ghosts and goblins! So the franchise flourished, and we eventually had Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and its follow-up, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Lot of little n’s, and a lot of ghouls later, we never saw the franchise again, and it was probably for the best. For the best.
But for only containing three entries, GnG had a surprising amount of variety. No… wait, that’s wrong. GnG had almost zero variety between entries, and that’s what makes it all so very confusing. All of the GnG titles start in a graveyard with infinitely respawning undead creatures. Every GnG game must be completed twice, and you have to find some lousy weapon to access the final boss. The final boss is always a huge pile of suck. Possibly every boss is a huge pile of suck. Oh, and, give or take the fidelity of your chosen system, you might be fighting the same monsters as last time, but… uh… are they supposed to be the same? That’s Firebrand again, right? Was he always supposed to be wearing armor? Why is he naked again in the next one? Wait… is this supposed to be a prequel or sequel?
And it’s that all important bestiary that can confuse the layman. Look, let’s face it, while you or I know that there is some nuance there, is there really that much of a difference between a large monster man with a head in his chest and a large monster man in armor with a head on his arm? We’re still dealing with the same basic concept (head in unusual place) and the same basic boss pattern (head in unusual place can shoot fireballs). Infinite zombies may as well be infinite grim reapers, and an annoying bird is always an annoying bird regardless of genus. Firebrand is the marquee monster of GnG, and he does set the scene for a number of generic monsters across the series. This isn’t Castlevania, you’re not going to encounter Frankenstein(‘s monster) or a werewolf: GnG is all about the demons of the Demon Realm, so we’re basically looking at an army of wings and teeth and maybe a monster plant. Obviously, Capcom created monsters that are better than the modern 3-D standards of “some wolves” and “some wolves, but a different color”, but even the most ardent GnG fan has to admit that it’s difficult to recall which title had the blue guy with an axe (not to be confused with the blue guy with a scythe).
But Ghouls ‘n Ghosts does have something that separates it from its peers: it’s gross.
The original Ghosts ‘n Goblins had endless hordes of Hell, but they were polite hordes of Hell. When Arthur encountered a tattooed ogre, that monster would purely punch a ball (or something?) at his rival. Zombies merely meandered, and multi-headed creatures had the good sense to spit fire, not icky spit. Ghouls ‘n Ghosts took it all a step further. Now there are pig-demon orcs, and their main method of attack is… barfing. And, no, there is no question here. This isn’t lava or… pig juices? Is that a thing? No, this is definitely brown/green puke, and it’s delivered in a disgusting, nonstop stream. And it doesn’t break with the pigs! There are wriggly demon tongue platforms, realistic bugs bigger than buildings, and the infamous Boss of Level 4. Its name is Ohme, and it is an immobile slug with five beating, exposed hearts and a plethora of parasites of multiple shapes and sizes. It’s disgusting, and the way its flesh (scales?) opens to release more and more… bugs is like something out of Dante’s Inferno.
Actually, let’s talk about Le Inferno for a moment. Aside from being Facebook for an era that barely had moveable type (Pope Boniface VIII doesn’t like this post) it also had its share of… fart jokes. Or… something like that. Yes, we’ve all heard of Satan eternally devouring the betrayers while stuck in the coldest of ice blocks, but your English teacher may have skipped over the part where flatterers are cursed to endlessly muck about in a pile of crap. That’s it! Eternity wading through poop. It’s not Shakespeare (note: also full of shit), but it doesn’t exactly sound like a fun time. And Dante knew that! Dante knew that something we’re intimately familiar with on a daily basis (again, to be clear, I am talking about pooping. Everybody got that? Poop) is still considered inordinately gross. It’s a perfectly natural thing! That has created entire industries! Look, there is no other reason in the universe that air freshener exists other than for yo’ stinky ass (and, yes, I am just talking about you. Eat more fiber).
And it is simultaneously ridiculous and completely justified. Poop is gross. Pee is gross. I want to have a man (or pig man) puke on me about as much as I want to jab out my own eyeballs with a rusty pipe. I’m sorry, did that simile disturb you? Yes, blood and guts are gross too, even though many of us eat fresh animal flesh on a daily basis. All of these “natural” secretions are sickening because they’re familiar. Everyone reading this article knows the appearance, texture, and odor of crap, so the idea of splashing through it is wildly unpleasant. In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s a lot more relatable than the average afterlife punishment of eternal fire. You’d get used to the heat after a while, right? But poop? Not so much.
And maybe that’s why gross is scary. A demon is abstract, worms slinking over your flesh are not. Try as I might, I do not believe there is any circumstance in my life that could ever lead to me facing a fire breathing monster. But having someone puke on me? That could happen. It’s a lot less likely past my college days, but the very thought of such a thing, to feel the chunky, sticky slop of someone’s digestive track on my own skin? I might have to shower for a solid week at just the thought of such an encounter. And, while it’s a little unusual that such puke would melt Sir Arthur’s flesh to the bone, I’m not quite sure it’s a fun experience for Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ protagonist, either. Can you imagine picking pig vomit out of your beard? Ugh.
So I suppose Ghouls ‘n Ghosts did separate itself from its GnG brethren. Low-fi ghosts and goblins haunted the first adventure, and, while Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts seems like the better game, it did return to the sterility of the first adventure. Give or take a bloody conveyer belt and monster belly in SGnG, the series forsook gross for the multi-headed dragons and fire breathing wolf-bears of traditional fantasy. And, while we don’t exactly need Firebrand literally pissing all over Arthur (we have Deviantart for that), it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the franchise to return to its “gross” experimental phase. We’ve got the mature rating for a reason, after all, and maybe we can have it applied to a game for something other than blood and tits. Gross is scary. Now maybe we can see some frights beyond jump scares.
FGC #345 Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
- System: Sega Genesis for the review, but also available in arcade cabinets and Amiga… did that thing have discs? Cartridges? I have no idea. And before you say it, let’s suppose that “gross” had nothing to do with not appearing on a Nintendo console…
- Number of players: Two player alternating, which is basically one player for people that can’t share.
- Favorite Weapon: I love the sword. I love the idea of having a powerful, short range weapon in a game that is meant for projectile weapons. I love Zero. Though I don’t love that the sword makes one of the bosses literally impossible. That’s not so great.
- So, did you beat it: Yes! And, because this game seems more manageable than the other GnG games, it might have been the first I actually “for real” beat (as in, didn’t use a stage select code). Oh, also, the ending is completely incomprehensible.
I’m pretty sure the actual writers never beat the game. Or at least the proofers.
- The Devil Made Me Do It: Firebrand first appears in this title above a pile of skulls. Like, a giant pile of skulls. A pyramid of skulls. I assume this is meant to represent every death-by-Firebrand that happened in the previous title.
- Did you know? Color palettes for monsters are determined by area. Watch the reaper.
- Would I play again: Maybe, when the moon is full and the witching hour is upon us, I might give it another go. I prefer Super (mainly for laser daggers), but this ain’t bad. And it’s a bit more manageable than its less gross predecessor, so that’s a point in its favor.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Taito Legends for the Playstation 2! Hey, remember when you used to be able to buy like sixty “retro games” for twenty bucks? Taito does! Please look forward to it!