Ghosts ‘n Goblins is the most difficult NES game I own. Battletoads is certainly challenging in spots like the Turbo Tunnel, but it doesn’t seem as punishing as Ghosts ‘n Goblins. As a kid, I spent hours (and hours) trying to make my way through this game. It requires repeated grinding through every inch of every stage to learn where to move in order to defeat enemies coming from every direction. Simply finishing the initial graveyard stage feels like a great accomplishment.
The level design has enemies in the worst possible spots. The game mechanics make the Knight very hard to maneuver while the enemies are able to move freely and at high speed. The game also suffers from slowdown if too much is happening on screen at the same time (which seems to happen most of the time). According to the box art, this represented “state-of-the-art” and “high resolution graphics”. One hit causes the Knight to lose his armor and proceed only in his skin and red underwear. A second hit makes you a pile of bones.
Any enjoyment from this intense challenge eventually turned into complete frustration. After spending hard-earned dollars to buy the game, it was disappointing to admit defeat and put the game cartridge away to collect dust.
Many years later, I signed up for the Nintendo Switch Online primarily to play Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda without having to dig out my old NES and some crusty controllers. As I looked through the catalogue of classic NES games, Ghosts ‘n Goblins caught my attention. Maybe it wasn’t as difficult as I remembered. Maybe my skills improved during those intervening years.
No, it is still impossible. At this point, I couldn’t even make it through the first stage. I was about to put the game back on the digital shelf to collect virtual dust.
Instead, I found that all of the classic games in the Nintendo Switch Online library have a “rewind” feature. If the Knight is hit and down to his red underwear, I can rewind the game to any point up to a minute or so earlier. Is it cheating? Perhaps – but it certainly makes the game more enjoyable. I still have to make all of the jumps and get through the enemy hordes, but the ability to rewind removes most of the frustration. I don’t have the hours (and hours) to dedicate to this game as I had as a kid so this feature allows me to continue making progress without starting over after each mistimed jump or the flying attacks from the Red Devil.
With the rewind feature, I was able to make it to the end of the game after so many years…only to discover that you have to play through the whole thing a second time to get to the real ending!