The first new Ghosts ‘n Goblins title in over a decade, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection takes the aesthetics and the brutal, white-knuckle gameplay of the original arcade titles and reimagines them for a modern audience. It’s easy to appreciate the amount of effort that went into making the game feel as polished as it does, and the storybook-style visuals end up looking pretty decent in motion. Unfortunately, the developers tried way too hard to live up to the legendary difficulty of the original games, and the result is a frustrating mess that is frankly not worth slogging through.
On the surface, there aren’t many new ideas in Resurrection. The core gameplay and controls deliberately echo those of the original games, right down to Arthur’s uncontrollable jump arcs and weapon-throwing animations that bring him to a standstill. Most of the enemy designs are taken right out of the originals, and many of the level themes and setpieces can be traced back to those titles as well. Having said that, Resurrection excels at playing with established tropes to make them feel new again. The classic graveyard stage sees floating gravestones and environments that transform with an impressive level of dynamism. The mountainous chasms of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts return with a series of flying stone serpents that Arthur must jump between lest he fall to his doom. The returning bosses in particular impressed me with their ingenuity. The giant cyclops in the graveyard forgoes its simplistic patterns from the original Ghosts ‘n Goblins and forces the player to dodge club swings in a Punch-Out-style reaction test. The dragon that shrinks in length when hit also returns, but now the player has to ride it as it soars through the skies, dealing as much damage to its head as possible before the real fight begins. All of this is propped up by a wonderfully detailed, hand-drawn style and a practically bug-free experience that maintains a constant 60 frames per second.
The framework of a good game is all here, but it is all undercut by Resurrection’s misguided approach to difficulty design. It’s worth noting that I played Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts in preparation for this review, and while that game was incredibly difficult, it mostly felt fair. Enemy placements were controlled and purposeful, and no matter how daunting a segment seemed at first, I could usually overcome it with careful observation and execution. Resurrection takes the considered design of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and throws it right out the window. Many levels feature swarms of enemies that spawn from all sides and angles, oftentimes seemingly at random. Some enemies can spawn right in front of Arthur, others can spawn right below him, and a few others can appear right as the player is about to escape a precarious situation, seemingly checkmating them in the process. Keeping track of a large number of threats isn’t necessarily a problem, but far too often the player has to deal with enemy configurations they could have never foreseen, which almost always results in an unfair death.
As if this wasn’t irritating enough, there are several level-specific gimmicks that seem deliberately designed to frustrate the player. The darkness mechanic in Zone 3, which makes certain enemies visible and invisible depending on the light source, is implemented in the most obnoxious manner possible, with several invisible enemies spawning and approaching the player in ways that are literally impossible to see coming. Dealing with the scrolling mouth in Zone 4 is a similarly painful experience. The way the mouth moves and closes in on the player makes staying safe on the slippery platforms feel incredibly awkward, and that’s in addition to the myriad guillotines and spawning grim reapers. And, of course, there are the various “gotcha” moments sprinkled throughout. These were occasionally present in Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts as well, but these cheap moments feel especially mean-spirited in Resurrection. Once the player knows about the platform at the end of the long bridge that breaks off into an unforeseeable death pit, it’s easy enough to deal with in subsequent reattempts, but the cheap death that results from this moment on an initial playthrough feels like a waste of time at best.
The frustration caused by the game’s design is only exacerbated by the old-school movement controls. Normally, I would commend a game for incorporating a limited movement system if it serves the game well, but the stiff jumps and slow movement speed are simply not a good fit for the sheer number of overlapping threats that the player is expected to avoid. The limited movement mechanics only serve to deprive players of options to deal with any given situation, and they lead to the player getting checkmated all too often. Even the double jump from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts would have gone some way toward alleviating this problem, as players would have some way of reacting to unexpected situations. Resurrection does offer quality-of-life accessibility features, such as multiple difficulty options and several abilities unlocked through a literal skill tree, but these feel like band-aids to the game’s problems rather than full-on cures. It’s true that players can simply choose the Page difficulty option, which makes the player immune to damage, and play through the game that way, but since the difficulty is the major selling point of Resurrection, its severe imbalance only hurts the game overall.
Difficult games can be some of the most rewarding experiences the medium has to offer. Many avid game lovers can attest to the immense feeling of satisfaction that comes with overcoming a challenging level or boss after tens if not hundreds of reattempts. But Resurrection is not rewarding. It’s a monotonous grind of a game that disempowers the player to an excessive degree, and instead of feeling any sense of catharsis, I only felt annoyed relief. In their efforts to recreate the series’ sense of difficulty, the developers forgot to make a fun game, and that is far more ghoulish than any of the monsters seen throughout the campaign.
Score: 4 out of 10
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch