Once upon a time when arcades were vibrant and 2D platform games were all the rage, Capcom struck gold with the original Ghosts 'N Goblins. The legendary tale of Sir Arthur and his quest to save Princess Prin Prin from demons was a huge success, but also notoriously difficult. Super tough from the off, in a further sadistic twist it must be completed twice over to reach the true ending. The series then continued with the faster and tougher sequel, Ghouls 'N Ghosts - following the same formula, the slicker and (at the time) cutting edge title was exactly what Sega needed to bolster the line-up of its latest console, pulling off a close-enough arcade perfect conversion for Mega Drive, and to critical acclaim.
Two years later and Capcom, now more closely aligned with Nintendo following conversions of Final Fight and Street Fighter II, released Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts exclusively for the SNES. Not to be confused as simply a 'super' version of Ghouls 'N Ghosts, this third game in the series features brand new levels and the addition of a double jump for Arthur. There's a review of the SNES version here.
Now the GBA version of Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts joins its big brother on Wii U Virtual Console. Having originally arrived ten years after the SNES version, it contains many noteworthy differences for those considering which version to download. Most jarringly are the changes to display size; being on a handheld console, Capcom took the decision to zoom in closer to the action. This makes gameplay even tougher as you have less real estate to play in and less room to manoeuvre away from those pesky monsters. The close up viewpoint also renders the sprites and backgrounds noticeably more pixelated - on the tiny screen of the GBA this made sense, but when viewed on a TV the graphics appear rougher than the SNES version.
The music and sound effects also suffer, as the GBA can't quite match the SNES for fidelity. The soundtrack isn't as rich or orchestral, even though the actual compositions are the same; equally, sound effects are quieter with less 'oomph' and rather rasping in comparison.
However, it's not all bad. Rather than just a straight conversion, Capcom was kind enough to add in a new 'arrange mode'. Initially exactly the same as original mode, the addition of two further unlockable route choices at the end of each stage provides the differential. Having a powered-up Arthur upon defeating the stage boss dictates whether you are able to access the top, bottom, or middle routes. For example, finish the first stage with Golden Armour to access the top route – a more difficult version of the default next stage, this is the choice for players with something to prove. If Arthur is wearing Bronze Armour or higher, you can select the middle route.
This is where things get interesting, as it contains new remixed stages selected from previous games in the series. Exclusive to GBA, these nostalgia trips serve up tiny twists for die-hard fans, such as the fire bridge stage from Ghosts 'N Goblins falling apart in places where it never used to, or brand new boss encounters. Unfortunately Capcom failed to coax the poor GBA into effectively handling these additional stages; there's some horrific slow down, most strangely at times when there's hardly any action displayed on-screen. Some of the additional new backgrounds are also a little rough around the edges and the overall stage design isn't quite on par with the originals. Ultimately, they are a nice to have rather than a reason to purchase.
A welcome change is the ability to pick up the Ultimate Weapon (required to access and defeat the final boss) during the first play through in arrange mode. In basic terms, this means you don't need to complete the game twice to reach the true ending, a first for the series and much needed relief for those wanting to reach the conclusion.
Being a handheld title, Capcom also saw sense to include a save option. This made the game much more user friendly when playing in ten minute chunks on the bus, but it can't be seen as a plus point on Wii U as all Virtual Console games allow for save states.
If you're looking to pick up an incredibly tough but supremely playable and (still) beautiful looking 2D platformer from the 16-bit golden age, you would be recommended to go with the superior SNES version. Not only is it cheaper (in the UK, at least) at the time of this review, it's also much better suited to the Wii U. Somewhat ironically the SNES version is also easier on the eye when playing on the GamePad. The GBA version admittedly does have its own unique additional content, but the added stages are hardly essential and the negatives far outweigh the positives. What was once a great handheld game becomes irrelevant in its new home, and arguably would have been far better suited to the Nintendo 3DS - that, however, is a whole other topic.