Capcom has resurrected its Ghosts 'n Goblins franchise on the PSP. "GnG" is one of the series that put Capcom on the map all those years ago. They took the core experience of the 2D sidescroller and tweaked it for the powerful handheld to bring into the new millennium with Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins. This is a series I have been waiting to see updated for a while now, as have many fans I am sure. Ghosts 'n Goblins remind us of time of pure gaming. A time when there were so many games to love. That is why when a game like Ghosts 'n Goblins stands out like it has, it really means something. That doesn't mean that Capcom would have an easy time of it this time around. If anything, I expect more than I would from a new side-scrolling franchise.
So, Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins puts a pretty, new face on and has a lot of neat new character designs. The story hasn't really been updated. That's OK. You are a Knight and there is a Princess that needs saving. Nuff said. It all makes for a nice little package. Unfortunately, it isn't wrapped around much. The gameplay needed updating just as much as the graphics and that didn't happen. The way Arthur, the main character, jumps is just as irritating as it was on the NES. I was constantly jumping into things without meaning to, or finding it nearly impossible to jump to specific spots. I'd say that this should have been updated and tweaked before they even bothered with graphics. Still, UGnG's biggest problem is that it is just too darn hard.
With these, old school, nostalgia-based offerings it seems that developers have a hard time balancing the challenge. I do note that insane difficulty is a part of the classic Ghosts 'n Goblins games and I understand wanting to pay service to that. But what is the point of having a difficulty setting, of which there are three, if all of them are disgustingly hard? As if the outdated controls didn't make it hard enough, the enemies' respawn rate is wicked. (Not in a good way.) The enemies just keep coming. It is one thing to challenge gamers, but frustrating them doesn't seem very smart. In the end, we do play these games to have fun.
Another shortcoming in UGnG is its length. You can play through the entire game in about 6 hours. Granted, to get the "true ending" you have to play through a couple of more times. For me this isn't a bonus. It's a cheat. There are certain levels I wouldn't mind going through more than once, by my choice, but being forced to rehash them in order to complete the game makes me mad. Repetition is generally not a valued game design concept.
As for replayability, it is pretty minimal. UGnG doesn't really hold up as a remake the way that Ninja Gaiden or Metroid Prime does. So it really only plays on the nostalgia level. As most people who have bought He-Man or GI-Joe DVDs in recent years can attest, nostalgia only gets you so far. With the intense difficulty many players won't go all the way through the game and those that do will probably be done with it. Only the completists will fight their way to the true ending and I can't imagine them playing it much more after that.
Other than the new graphics, Capcom did add some new moves to assist Arthur on his quest to save the princess. Most of these things are new to the franchise, but are expected in this day of gaming. I'm not sure that I need to give them props for adding the ability for Arthur to grab onto ledges anymore than I should praise them for having UGnG in color. Although I did appreciate the ability to use a shield this time around. With the frenzy of enemies that constantly assault poor Arthur, it literally was a life saver.
Frankly, I was awfully disappointed with this game. A lot of people will be happy with the way that it so closely mirrors its predecessor, and I am a fan of the original GnG games, but I was hoping for a little bit more of a rethinking of the game. Not necessarily a re-imagining, like the aforementioned Metroid Prime, but thought given to how to make the game more relevant today. As is, they could have done just as well packaging up all the classic games. Look at the Mario franchise. For over two decades they have managed to produce quality Mario games that keep up with the expectations of the times but never betray the core concepts of the series. Fans of the franchise may be mad that I have thrashed on Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins, but I say this beloved franchise deserves the same quality level of treatment.
Hopefully this won't be the end of Ghosts 'n Goblins. I still think that there is a real Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins out there. Maybe they figured the PSP was the wrong platform to re-launch the franchise and we will see something better on one of the new consoles. The maniac pace would certainly make for a good upper-body workout on the Wii. But until Capcom decides to step up and give Ghosts 'n Goblins the treatment it deserves, this fan will just have to keep waiting.