Like a zombie emerging from a graveyard, Capcom’s classic Ghosts ‘n Goblins series has come back to life and shuffled its way onto the Nintendo Switch in the form of Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection. But this storybook-styled semi-sequel is anything but braindead, reimagining and remixing the best elements of the ‘80s Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and offering a raft of flexible difficulty options to make it far and away the most approachable entry in the action platformer series to date. Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still as hard as coffin nails if you want it to be.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection has come a long way from the simple sprites of the early games – and from the slightly lumpy 3D look of Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins on the PSP, for that matter. Everything from the armour-clad Sir Arthur to series stalwarts like the pigmen and cyclops have been hand drawn and brought to life with the quirky movements of murderous shadow puppets, and staged inside fantastical reinterpretations of classic series levels like the Graveyard and the Crystal Forest (now the Crystalline City). As a result, Resurrection is the most visually striking and personality-packed Ghosts ‘n Goblins game by quite some margin.To be honest I still viewed the bulk of its beauty through a red mist because despite its fairy tale appearance, Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection is anything but child’s play. Hordes of demonic enemies continuously respawn in each area to keep you perpetually under attack from all angles, which can be agonising to endure but exhilarating to overcome. It’s also constantly messing with you: you can never be sure if the hidden treasure chest you discovered houses a power-boosting suit of gold plated armour or a magician waiting to transmogrify you into an aggravatingly defenseless frog.
Meanwhile, there’s very little story to dig into during Arthur’s quest to rescue his damsel in distress from a diabolical demon lord, which does seem like a missed opportunity to reboot the lore into something that matches the art style’s charm. Instead, the only words uttered between ‘Once upon a time’ and ‘Happily ever after’ was the roughly five hour-long string of profanities supplied by me as I battled my way to Resurrection’s climax.
Five hours isn’t exactly an epic length, but each of Resurrection’s seven levels introduces a series of unique gameplay twists that prevents the action from ever becoming stale and kept me from ever relaxing into a rhythm. In one stretch you might ride a series of stone dragons through the air while dodging giant electrified squids, which feels just as bracing and brutal as a rollercoaster ride through a hailstorm. In another, you must simultaneously stave off both hordes of zombies and an intensifying sense of claustrophobia as a gaping maw closes in from all four edges of the screen, threatening you with rows of spindly teeth should you misstime a jump by millimeters.
Its playtime is extended a fair bit by the fact that after you complete Resurrection the first time around you gain access to Shadow versions of each stage, which rearrange enemy types and placements and add environmental effects like fog to make platforming even more fraught with danger. I welcomed the challenge of playing through Resurrection a second time since it reframed each stage as an entirely new obstacle course, although I was slightly disappointed that the end-level boss fights in the regular stages and their corresponding Shadow forms remain the same.
Passing the Torch
There are eight different weapons for Arthur to get his hands on, the bulk of which have their own clear strengths and weaknesses – from the classic lance that can be lobbed long distances but only deals a medium amount of damage, to the hammer which delivers a more devastating shockwave but requires you to get uncomfortably close to enemies in order to be effective. Some weapons are also better suited to certain environments than others, such as the bladed discus that can be skimmed along undulating terrain towards their target, or the spiked ball that can be hurled like Donkey Kong’s barrels down cascading platform sections in order to skittle enemies below.
Initially, you can only pick up one weapon at a time which means that yes, for significant stretches of Resurrection you’ll likely find yourself saddled with that perennially useless bastard of a flaming torch. However, by collecting ‘umbral bees’ hidden in each stage you can upgrade Arthur with skills and magical abilities, and early on I made an umbral beeline for the Kitted Out enhancement that enabled me to carry two or even three weapons in its fully upgraded form. Carrying a small arsenal made me better equipped to counter the varying attack patterns of each boss fight, which made my eventual victories feel like they were earned through my strategic smarts rather than just blind luck.Arthur’s loadout of magic powers can be configured in between levels, and I regularly relied on them to save my bacon by throwing up walls of fire to block swarms of darting death birds or briefly turning Arthur into a stone boulder to crunch through overwhelming zombie hordes. The use of these abilities is unlimited, but there is still plenty of risk involved in performing them since charging them up by holding the attack button leaves Arthur momentarily exposed. So their use needs to be timed smartly rather than merely relied upon as a last-second win button.
Yet given the option I’d probably trade almost all of these special attacks for the ability to double-jump or fire weapons on a diagonal axis, because even with these extra upgrades Arthur is still as stiff as rigor mortis as far as his fixed-arc jumping and four-way shooting is concerned (with the exception of the crossbow, which shoots two bolts diagonally but can’t be fired in a straight line horizontally or vertically). I realise that Arthur’s rigid move set is by design and true to the arcade originals, but there were times in the more pressurised later levels where I couldn’t be completely sure if Resurrection’s unwavering adherence to Arthur’s long established limitations was scratching a nostalgic itch or gleefully picking at old wounds.
Giving Up the Ghost
Arthur’s movements may be as stubborn as ever, but Resurrection’s difficulty options are surprisingly flexible. I opted to play through on the second hardest setting, ‘Knight’, and although I didn’t regret it it did make me sweat. Fortunately, while you can’t permanently reduce the overall difficulty once your quest has begun, Resurrection still offers you a small amount of mercy if and when you need it: Die a few too many times within one checkpointed area, and you’ll be asked if you want to drop the difficulty down for the remainder of that level, thinning the enemy herds and reducing the amount of damage required to take down the boss. If Ghosts ‘n Goblins Resurrection can be considered as a form of side-scrolling sadomasochism, then these optional mid-level difficulty drops serve as its safe word. Your overall points bonus for completing the level are penalised, but it’s a small price to pay to prevent your progression from stalling for too long, and I’m not too proud to admit that I gladly took these lifelines on a handful of the more desperate occasions over the course of my two playthroughs.
The two lower difficulty settings are even more accommodating. ‘Squire’ allows Arthur to withstand more hits before he collapses into a pile of bones, and even lets you slow enemy movements to half-speed if you’re still struggling to avoid their attacks. Meanwhile ‘Page’ is effectively god mode, granting you the ability to respawn on the spot with unlimited lives rather than boot your armoured arse back to a checkpoint. I wouldn’t say that this would be the ideal way that someone should experience Resurrection, since a Ghosts ‘n Goblins game that’s completely removed of friction is likely to have a running time as brief as Arthur’s boxer shorts, but there’s certainly no harm in Capcom including it for the younger set. And before you die hard fans protest, there’s still the extremely punishing ‘Legend’ mode if you’d prefer to play Resurrection with your teeth gritted and the well-being of your controller under constant threat.
There’s also the ability to play Resurrection in two-player co-op, which is a first for the series. However, since it’s local multiplayer only I haven’t been able to test it as part of this review process, as the only potential co-op partners I have available to me are my kids and they’re far too young to be exposed to the full extent of their father’s swear word vocabulary. Still, the inclusion of this feature, which allows a second player to act as a guardian angel by shielding the first from attacks or carrying them safely over more perilous stretches of terrain, is at the very least just another example of how inclusive to all players Resurrection aims to be.