I think people have forgotten how hard games used to be.
Yes, games like Dark Souls, Super Meat Boy, Hollow Knight, and god knows how many others are certainly challenging. But they’re not truly impossible. When you play those games, you always have a sense of growth and progress, even when you’re stuck on one particularly brutal segment for way too long. You know that, eventually, you will overcome. Because the game is meant to be overcome.
Older games were not designed this way. Back then, games were extremely limited and even more expensive. An average full-price NES game was, in all actuality, only about thirty minutes long. So, how did developers give players all the bang for their buck?
They made the games nigh fucking impossible to beat.
Be honest with me: how many NES games can you actually beat without cheating? No cheat codes, no save states, no mods or hacks. If you were to sit down and play an NES game on an actual NES, how many games would you be able to beat? Unless you are a hardcore speedrunner, the chances are: not many. Hell, maybe none at all.
I’m not dissing your skills as a gamer. In my whole life, I’ve only beaten about five NES games, and I never did it without cheating. No, it’s not because of a lack of skill. But simply because these games are designed to murder you. Fairly? Unfairly? It doesn’t matter. Whatever it takes to increase play time.
This has spawned some of the most infamous video games of all time. Battletoads. Ninja Gaiden. Contra. Punch Out (Mike Tyson will forever haunt my nightmares). Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
And king of them all: Ghosts ‘N Goblins. Or Ghosts ‘N Ghouls, if you’re lame.
I first discovered Ghosts ‘N Goblins through its sequel, Super Ghosts ‘N Goblins on the SNES. My dad had hacked our original Xbox something fierce, so not only could we play original Xbox games ripped off of disks rented from Blockbuster, but we could also play ROMs of pretty much any NES/SNES game you can think of. Me and my brothers used to go through each game on there, one by one, finding the ones that a) actually worked and b) were fun enough to finish.
Never once were we defeated. When we set out to finish a game, at least one of us would. If we needed to cheat, if we needed to break the damn game, then so be it.
Super Ghosts ‘N Goblins would not yield. We could not beat it. We tried everything. Save states, trial and error, even straight-up cheat codes. Even with infinite lives, even with save states, even with the best weapons, we couldn’t do it. Over and over again, we would die. Eventually, we gave in and moved on to other, more beatable games.
But that game always stood out in my mind. The one that managed to beat us. The challenge we could never overcome. For years, it bothered me. And for years, I tried to overcome it. Even after I found out about that asshole ending that makes you play the entire fucking game again, I persevered. Alas, eventually, I gave up. Defeated, I moved on and never thought about it again.
Until this shit happened.
Capcom has been firing on almost all cylinders lately. Their new Resident Evil games have brought the horror back to the game series that defined the genre. Mega Man came back in another classic brutal platformer. Devil May Cry 5 became the hottest action game released in a long ass time. Hell, even Street Fighter 5 has been doing better, with their addition of some solid fan favorites.
Then, out of nowhere, those monsters at Capcom decided that it was time to resurrect Ghosts ‘N Goblins of all things! And they did not pull their punches!
You’d think that they’d make the game more manageable. That it would take cues from modern games to make a game that people could actually, you know, beat. And to an extent, they did. The checkpoint system is more lenient, you’ve got an upgrade tree that gives you different abilities and powerups, and there are four selectable difficulties.
But make no mistake. This is still Ghosts ‘N Goblins. As you can see by the fact that the hardest difficulty is the default. So, naturally, that’s the one everyone chooses.
And that’s the one that teaches you that Dark Souls is, in fact, not as hard as you think.
So, here I go again. An old flame has been ignited within me. This time, I’m not gonna lose. Finally, at long last, I’m gonna finish a Ghosts ‘N Goblins game!
Except probably not because no man alive can beat these fucking things.