These days, it's in vogue to bemoan Mega Man's absence from the gaming scene. Mega Man, however, is not the only franchise Capcom has forgotten; one of its more egregious crimes is leaving the mighty Knight Arthur himself by the wayside. Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is a classic SNES title and one of the hardest games on the platform.
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts was one of the first SNES titles, launching just two months after the console's 1991 release. The story begins with the kidnapping of Princess Guinevere at the hands of the evil Emperor Sardius, which promptly sets Sir Arthur on his quest to rescue her from all manner of, well, ghouls and ghosts.
All of the game's mechanics are made apparent in the first level. Arthur is capable of jumping, double-jumping and throwing weapons horizontally, which is something the borderline evil level designers at Capcom take full advantage of. Every level is fraught with traps and cleverly placed enemies to keep you on your toes. Arthur can't change direction in mid-air, so if you need to back track on a jump you'll need to make use of Arthur's double-jump to change your trajectory. It'll often be necessary as you'll find a zombie bursting from the ground right where you're about to land, or a bird swooping in from above on a collision course.
You'll begin your adventure equipped with armour and an infinite number of throwable lances with which to dispatch your supernatural foes. Throughout your quest you'll find both armour and weapon upgrades in treasure chests. Armour upgrades come in Bronze and Gold varieties, the former giving your weapon a power boost, while the latter gives you a powerful charge move which can serve to clear the field for you in a pinch. If you manage to survive long enough in the Gold armour to find yet another upgrade chest, you can get your hands on the Moon shield which will absorb one hit for you, provided you're standing still at the moment of impact. Beyond that there's a Sun shield, which works the same way but absorbs three hits. Take a hit without that shield, and you're back to your skivvies regardless of the type of armour you were wearing at the time.
Speaking of which, it would be remiss of us not to mention the elephant in the room: Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is hard. In fact, calling a game like this "hard" is an understatement by today's standards. It's hard by 8- and 16-bit era standards, which is a whole other world of difficulty. Every jump, every weapon throw and every step demands precision. If that weren't enough, there's a time limit on each level, so taking your time isn't an option.
As difficult as it is, deaths in Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts never feel unfair. Instead, we found ourselves wondering what we could do to keep our hero alive. A better timed double-jump or a different weapon could help things, but it never feels as though there isn't a solution to the problem at hand. The end result is a game that is supremely challenging, but equally rewarding.
Getting to Emperor Sardius is an achievement all its own, even with the New 3DS' ability to create save states, a feature the original obviously lacks. In fact, the original demands you make it through on a maximum of nine lives, though you can gain more through raising your score. Not only that, but once you reach the end you are sent back to the beginning to conquer all the levels again, gaining a weapon that can damage the final boss along the way.
Finally defeating Sardius and rescuing Guinevere is as satisfying an achievement in 2016 as it was in 1991. The last 25 years have been kind to Arthur and company, as the mechanics and challenge have stood the test of time.
Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is an essential game for fans of the 16-bit era. It's a throwback to Capcom's greatest years and one of the hardest games on Nintendo's most popular platform. The Virtual Console's save state feature is great for newcomers that might not be used to how hard games like this can be. Tricky level design and smart enemy placement that toes the line between challenging and frustrating will keep you pushing yourself to do better each time you pick up your New 3DS.