A 1988 arcade video game by Capcom, followed by an assortment of home conversions including one for the Sega Genesis in 1989, Ghouls'N Ghosts is one of the most difficult platform games of all time.

The player is put in control of a knight named Arthur (possibly named for King Arthur?), and must get him safely through a variety of relatively creepy settings like a haunted graveyard. Apparently the programmers at Capcom in the late 80s must have loved to play strip poker, because the penalty for being hit once is that Arthur loses his armor and is stuck running around in his underwear until he can find a new suit of armor. Another hit, of course, will kill him.

Arthur's basic weapon is a lance, although it seems a bit strange to me that this particular lance isn't much bigger than he is, and he can throw it quite effectively, in a straight line. There are other weapons that he'll come across from time to time that you can have him pick up, including a sword that can only attack right next to him but kills things faster than other weapons, some kind of throwing disc, a dagger which does less damage than the lance but can be thrown farther, an axe which is thrown at strange angles but seems quite damaging, and something often referred to as a torch that, on the Genesis anyway, doesn't look much like one, as it and the flame it produces are blue. While the torch sounds like it'd be a real ass-whooper, as it is thrown a short distance and sends a wave of "flame" across the ground on impact, it's probably the worst weapon in the game due to the short range that it can be thrown.

These weapons are usually found in chests, which appear at various points in each level and must be broken open with a few hits from whatever weapon Arthur is carrying at the minute. You might also find a suit of silver armor in the chest if Arthur is without it at the minute, or a suit of golden armor if he's already got the silver. Most of the time, however, the chest will just contain an evil magician who throws a burst of magic energy at Arthur, and if it hits, it turns him into a duck or something equally helpless for a few seconds.

In terms of protection, there is no difference between the silver and gold armor, as one hit will still take it right off and leave Arthur vulnerable. While he's wearing the golden armor, however, a power meter will appear at the bottom of the screen. By holding down the attack button for a few seconds, this meter will be charged up to full, and releasing at this point will cast a powerful magic spell depending on which weapon Arthur is holding. Most of these just send lightning or other energy out all over the screen to kill a lot of enemies at once, but the dagger creates a temporary clone that functions as the "options" in Life Force, following Arthur around and throwing daggers when he does.

The first level of the game finds Arthur running through a haunted graveyard, with skeleton-like creatures popping up all over the place, large birds swooping around, and an occasional plant which spits out three skulls at a time, all in different directions. Fighting through this, eventually Arthur comes to several guillotines that he must run through while the blades are up, and soon after, one large guillotine followed by a bridge. After this bridge, the weather takes a turn for the very bad, and Arthur must run against the wind, jumping over or running under small tornadoes until he comes to a mountain, at which point the weather improves, but now he has to deal with a lot of the plants, plus long tentacles sprouting out of the ground and some very annoying pig creatures. After climbing the mountain, Arthur jumps down the other side to fight the boss for this level, a giant who takes his head off and holds it in his outstretched hand, spitting fireballs. This beast is dispatched by hitting the head a bunch of times, and soon the level is over.

The second stage is even more difficult. It starts out with Arthur running uphill as turtle shells bounce downwards, each at varying heights. He needs to run under these, but while the shells are bouncing, there are still more turtles on the ground for him to fight. After getting through this annoyance, which may take some practice, Arthur reaches several weak bridges over a pit of sand. This isn't too difficult once you've learned where the weak spots in the bridges are, and to jump past them. Once past the bridges, Arthur encounters a rotating wheel with long sticks on it. No problem, except that the end of each stick has fire on it. Whoopee. It's like the castles from Super Mario Bros, only Arthur doesn't run very fast. It's easy enough to get past this, though, and, assuming he doesn't get killed by the demon sitting on top of a large pile of skulls at this point, soon you'll find Arthur in what's apparently a burning village, as long streams of fire come from the floor and ceiling and turn into flaming bats. At the end of this comes a far more difficult boss than the last one, a burning hellhound that jumps over Arthur and rains fire down upon him and can also do a little low-altitude float over the ground that takes some practice to dodge. I'm not sure at what point this creature is vulnerable, but just keep throwing whatever weapon you're carrying at it until it dies. Or until Arthur dies enough times for you to get sick of the game and bounce your controller off the screen in disgust. (This, of course, is not too easy to accomplish on an arcade machine.)

The third level begins with Arthur standing on a floor that keeps rising upward, forcing him through the level a little faster than you'll probably want to go, and after fighting past some kind of batlike creatures and a number of sword-swinging suits of armor attached to the wall, he comes to a pretty cool-looking part of the game where there are a lot of statue heads with extending and retracting tongues that Arthur has to jump on and ride. Being pulled into a statue head's mouth, of course, spells death. Falling down, naturally, also spells death. Large dragonflies attack Arthur during this ordeal, and, like most platform game heroes, he gets knocked back a bit when hit, and this is the first point in the game where this makes much of a difference. If you can get him through this, your next task is to get him past a cloud creature. There's not a lot of strategy to this, just try not to touch it, and throw a lot of lances (or whatever you've got) at the creature until it joins the last two bosses in death.

Having only been to the fourth level once, right before being forced to run out the door and try not to be late to work for the third day in a row, I don't remember it very well. I can tell you, though, that the skeleton creatures from the first level are back with a vengeance, and that it's not easy. I suppose the latter statement applies to the entire game, though.

There are games out there that are spoiled completely by giving unlimited continues to the player, as anyone with too much time on his hands can just push his way through anything. This is not one of those games. Even with a lot of practice, Ghouls'N Ghosts is a true challenge for any gamer.

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