Ghosts ‘n Goblins (魔界村; Makaimura; “Demon World Village“) is a 1985 side-scrolling platforming game developed by Tokuro Fujiwara at Capcom, initially for video arcades and has since been released on several other platforms for the home market. It is the first game in what eventually became an entire franchise.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a platform game where the player controls a knight, named Sir Arthur – that’s where the suggestion of any link to Arthurian legend ends. Arthur must defeat zombies, ogres, demons, cyclops, bats, dragons and other monsters in order to rescue Princess Prin Prin, who has been kidnapped by Satan, king of Demon World. Along the way the player can pick up new weapons, bonuses and extra suits of armour that can help in this task.
The game is often considered very difficult by arcade standards and is commonly regarded as one of the most difficult games ever released. A unique aspect of the game is the knight’s vulnerability – he sets off on his quest wearing a full suit of armour but one touch from one of the enemies along the way relieves him of this, leaving him to continue clad only in his underwear. If Arthur is hit once more, the player must return right to the start of the level, regardless of any progress made. Armour can be replaced by picking up bonus suits, though these are few and far between. Furthermore, each life can only last a certain length of time (generally around three minutes), the clock being reset at the start of a level. If the clock does run out, the player instantly loses that life.
After defeating the final boss, but only with the cross weapon (if the player does not have the cross weapon, they will be prompted that it is needed to defeat the boss and restart at the beginning of level 5 and must repeat round 5 and 6 again regardless if the weapon is obtained immediately or not) for the first time the player is informed that the battle was “a trap devised by Satan”. The player must then replay the entire game on a higher difficulty level to reach the genuine final battle. It is likely the player will already have reached homicide levels of frustration by this stage.
Only a year after launching in arcades, the game found itself in many a household worldwide, having transferred to various consoles, most famously the Commodore 64 but also the ZX Spectrum, Amiga, NES, Atari ST and Nintendo Gameboy. The gameplay was changed somewhat, partially to make victory more achievable (though not in this reviewer’s case) and also to shrink down the expanse of the gameplay area to function on machines with little capacity. Other elements were also tweaked – Princess Prin Prin was often renamed, Guinevere, depending on the territory of release, whilst her kidnapper changed from Satan to Astaroth.
So successful was the port to home consoles that further games followed:
Ghosts ‘n Goblins (1985) (Arcade, Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, IBM PC compatibles, Commodore 16, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, NES, Xbox, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, iOS, Virtual Console)
Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1988) (Arcade, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Sharp X68000, Sega Saturn, Xbox, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, SuperGrafx, Master System, Genesis, Virtual Console, ZX Spectrum)
Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991) (SNES, Sega Saturn, PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, PlayStation Portable, Virtual Console, Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network)
Choumakaimura R (2002) (Game Boy Advance) – An enhanced re-mixed version of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
Makaimura for WonderSwan (1999) (WonderSwan)
Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins (2006) (PlayStation Portable)
Gokumakaimura Kai (2007) (PlayStation Portable) – An enhanced re-mixed version of Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins
Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Gold Knights (2009) (iOS)
Ghosts ‘n Goblins: Gold Knights II (2010) (iOS)
The universe was now well-known enough for specific characters to break out and have their own game ranges, including Maximo and Gargoyle’s Quest. Some aspects of the game, from the knight’s iconic appearance (both armoured and undressed) to the score by Ayako Mori can be found in other gaming franchises, such as Dead Rising 2 and Marvel Vs. Capcom. The full cast can be seen below:
Grimm: The grim reaper who frees Maximo from limbo and aids him on his journey in exchange for killing Achille.
Firebrand: Known as The Red Arremer in Japan, Firebrand is the primary protagonist of the Gargoyle’s Quest series. He belongs to a race of gargoyle demons known as the Red Arremer Tribe, considered the elite warriors of the demon king Astaroth. He is considered a hero among his peers, and as such he has been nicknamed Red Blaze due to his bright red skin and prowess with fiery magic. The Red Arremer tribe appear as standard enemies in the main Ghosts ‘n Goblins series, while a fiery blue silhouette of a Red Arremer serves as the series’ logo.
Breager: A king of the demon realm that serves as a primary antagonist in the Gargoyle’s Quest series.
Astaroth: A demon king and the primary antagonist of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. When near death he transforms into the undead demon king Nebiroth, a separate entity and personality than Astaroth.
Arthur: A knight in the service of princess Prin-Prin. Arthur is the primary protagonist of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series.
Lancelot: One of Arthur’s knights with a unique jump attack. He is kidnapped and brainwashed to fight Arthur.
Lucifer: Translated as Rushifell in Gargoyle’s Quest and Gargoyle’s Quest II, and alternatively referred to as Loki (Ghouls ‘n Ghosts), Hades (Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins), and Satan. Lucifer is an extremely powerful noble in the demon realm and serves as the end-game boss in many of the games in the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. In the Gargoyle’s Quest series he functions as both a rival and assist character, testing and then aiding Firebrand in reaching his full potential. Lucifer despises Astaroth (who he frequently overthrows to rule the demon realm) though, ironically, is an ally with Nebiroth.
Maximo: The primary protagonist of the Maximo series. Maximo is a king who is slain by his adviser Achille. He strikes a deal with Grimm, the grim reaper, in order to rescue his betrothed, Sophia.
Perceval: One of Arthur’s knights and a powerful short range fighter with a unique dash attack.
Prin-Prin: Princess Prin-Prin is the ruler of the human realm—Ghouls ‘n Ghosts specifies the Kingdom of Hus—and the last human with royal blood. She serves as the primary foil of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins series. Astaroth kidnaps her in order to use her royal blood to invade the human realm. Although always referred to as Prin-Prin in Japan, she has been called both Prin-Prin and Guinevere in the various American and UK releases.
Sardius: The primary demon antagonist and end-boss from Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts.
Sophia: The primary foil of the Maximo series. Sophia is Maximo’s betrothed, kidnapped at the beginning of Maximo: Ghosts to Glory.
Across all the home console formats, sales have exceeded 4.4 million copies and the franchise shows no signs of having run its course just yet.