The system wars of the 16-bit era meant that companies had to allocate their time between the two front runners, but a 50/50 split of content between them was rare. Publishing giant Capcom may have seen fit to deliver some really interesting Disney platformers unique to the Genesis, but the lion’s share of their big games appeared on the Super Nintendo, helping to drive that platform to greater success. That left the Genesis with merely a handful of slightly compromised arcade ports of games like Forgotten Worlds and MERCs. But at least they had the good sense to bring Ghouls ’n Ghosts, one of Capcom’s most ambitious arcade classics, to the console.
Of all of Capcom’s stable of arcade games, the Ghosts ’n Goblins series made the most sense as console games. With sprawling levels and varied environments full of horror-themed enemies and obstacles, Ghosts ’n Goblins felt like the inspiration behind Castlevania.
Ghouls ’n Ghosts, in turn, featured improved graphics that gave the game a more expressive, cartoony look that took full advantage of the latest hardware. And though the Genesis couldn’t quite replicate the full arcade experience entirely—the more detailed graphics of the arcade version become far more pixelated on Genesis, and the music had to be reworked using the Genesis sound chip—it did an admirable job of bringing the core of the Ghouls ’n Ghosts experience home. Even gimped, the game felt like it belonged on the consoles.
But people used to much gentler continue systems were surprised to find a brutal, unforgiving game that can kill the player’s avatar in just two hits. Enemies fly at you from off-screen, and instant death pits dot nearly every level. You get power-ups to replace your armor, but only rarely. But shockingly, most of the game’s horrific difficulty proves fair thanks to learning from your many failures (except for the painful final levels). Almost everything about Ghouls ’n Ghosts may have been palatable to console players’ tastes, but it never lost its arcade difficulty. It always was, at its heart, an arcade game, albeit one with an impressive scope.
In the end, that’s the magic of arcade conversions of ambitious arcade games like Ghouls ’n Ghosts: They open people’s minds to a broader definition of what a game can be. Just as arcade players marveled at the expanded world that Ghouls ’n Ghosts presented, console people who didn’t already thrive on arcade ports discovered a different style of gameplay, one far more punishing than any Castlevania, but yet extremely rewarding.
The Super Nintendo would eventually go on host both a proper Ghouls ’n Ghosts sequel made exclusively for the platform (Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts) and a beautiful spin-off series with unique non-linear progression (Demon’s Crest), both putting the Genesis Ghouls ’n Ghosts to shame in almost every regard. But even if the Genesis continually got the short end of Capcom’s stick, at least players were treated to a game that transcended the arcade/console divide.
Article by Jeremy Signor
GameSpite Journal 12: Ghouls ‘N Ghosts