Some things are just better left undead.
Raising the video game dead is a common way of cashing in on nostalgia for classic games, and companies like Capcom have already done their fair share of digital necromancy with the Resident Evil series, for instance. While those remakes have generally been well received, it’s hard to say the same for the latest in their infamously-challenging Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. While there’s no denying it’s brutal difficulty and boss fights, main character Arthur feels sluggish to control and trial and error is too frequently the only path forward through each of the stages. Charming storybook visuals aren’t enough to make this entry worth exhuming from the cold ground.
Like previous Ghosts ‘n Goblins titles, the story begins with the princess being abducted by a demon and Arthur charging off to save her. The world map is presented a little differently, though, with players given the choice of two stages initially and then once more before the remainder are laid out in a linear fashion. After completing a stage, you can return to previous ones to improve your high score, uncover treasure chests, or collect Umbral Bees, which can unlock spells or perks to assist Arthur on his way. Some of the spells are taken right out of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, such as the screen-clearing lightning bolts of Thunderstorm. The stage selection screen shows how many Bees and chests can be found in each stage and displays your progress towards each goal.
The basic gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a Ghosts ‘n Goblins or Mega Man game: jump and shoot, or in this case throw lances, daggers, arrows, and more at the scores of demons and undead that stand in your way. Even on the lower difficulty settings, enemies pose a constant threat, whether that’s through projectiles they launch in the air, their ability to tank multiple shots, or their sheer speed and number. It doesn’t help that Arthur moves like molasses and his jump never seems to be long or high enough to see you safely over a gap or a particular monster. On the other hand, the shooting part of Arthur’s kit feels great, and as a result the boss fights are always quite satisfying, even if still quite punishing.
With regularity, you need to rely on trial and error to safely eliminate the hordes of enemies bent on your destruction and navigate the treacherous paths that carve out every stage. Unless you have lightning-fast reflexes, segments involving steep drops and quick transitions from air or water back to solid ground will surely lead Arthur to his demise. Checkpoints of two types do make the adventure somewhat playable, but I constantly found myself laughing at just how asinine certain parts were. For instance, even the first stage features tombstones you can stand on, but zombies are just tall enough to clip your leg and cause damage when you stand on them. When dumb luck and repetition are so often the cause of your success rather than skilled play, the whole experience starts to become something of a joke. And it’s a shame, too, since Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection does add some neat mechanics and a very fresh coat of paint.
The presentation aspects of Capcom’s latest horror-themed offering are a clear strength, the visuals in particular. While the watercolor, storybook look of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection may appear cartoonish on the surface, seeing it in action is quite impressive. The sights and sounds of zombies and killer plants falling to Arthur’s weapons never ceases to satisfy, and some of the later bosses are jaw-droppingly gorgeous, as much so as they are deadly. The menus are easy to navigate with a polished and clean appearance.
I’m not sure how I would have completed my first playthrough without the use of the bow and arrow. However, as fans might expect, a single run through a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game is never enough. Earning the true ending requires revisiting a Shadow version of every stage that ups the difficulty with new enemies and obstacles. New treasure chests and Umbral Bees are up for grabs in the Shadow versions as well, and you’ll probably need every spell you can unlock to make your way through these revamped and even more diabolical levels. If you just want to see the ending of the game, the lowest difficulty setting, Page, grants immortality but seems to gate off some of the content. The higher three settings range from the rage-inducing Knight to the somewhat manageable Squire, which allows you to take a few more hits before Arthur’s standing in his briefs awaiting the sweet kiss of death.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is much more frustrating than fun, and it’s unfortunate because the look of the game, and the amount of replayability is quite high, with 31 in-game challenges to shoot for. A second player can even join in to assist Arthur in a few different ways. Even if it’s not impossible to finish Arthur’s quest, the way the game asks you to do so completely sucks the joy of it. Countless times I would meet a grisly end through no real fault of my own; I simply didn’t know what was coming or had essentially no time to react to oncoming danger. Compounding these necessary errors is a character that runs at a snail’s pace and jumps with the grace of a beached whale. The new and remixed soundtrack is nice but maybe not as memorable as the original’s, while the overall game performance is solid in Portable and TV mode. That said, I still find it hard to recommend Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection to anyone but the most devoted Ghosts ‘n Goblins fans; for most Switch players, I suspect the design and gameplay will be too much to overcome. This feels a little like one of those “could” versus “should” scenarios. Maybe just let sleeping ghouls and ghosts lie.