Tokuro Fujiwara is back in town, and his mission is murder. The Ghosts ’n Goblins foreman has been summoned by his former employer, Capcom, to impart pain and suffering upon the gaming masses, and he’s come at it with gusto. To put a fine point on the conjecture surrounding Resurrection, it is indeed anvil-through-the-skull hard; an assembly of barbaric, indiscriminate violence designed to harvest your soul and sell it into satanic slavery.
It’s harder from the outset on its default difficulty setting, Legend, and the next down, Knight, than pretty much everything in the series prior. Legend is an atrocity that spits in your face and laughs, out to break you like Ivan Drago. Here, Skeleton Murderers don’t just come at you in droves within the first twenty seconds, they run like the wind from both left and right. Stages are vast, heaving with pitfalls and traps, and the landscape shifts constantly, often requiring quick reflexes to access out-of-reach sections. If you can run up a toppling monument before it hits the ground in an early section of the Graveyard, you’re rewarded with a hidden chest at its peak; while other secrets, such as purple vortexes leading to a series of increasingly difficult survival challenges, are better concealed.
Thankfully – and despite his classically limited jumping range – Arthur’s controls have been fine-tuned to deal with every situation. You’re restricted to four directions of fire with no diagonal range, but unlike earlier entries in the series, you can now turn and fire instantly from a ducking position, which helps fend off rampaging hordes. The gold armour upgrade makes a return, strengthening speed and attacks while affording an extra layer of protection, but the double-jump introduced in Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts is gone. While it’s a nice touch to have the screen pan out to show a wider view of the area, it does give the illusion of marginally reducing Arthur’s speed and jump range, and requires a moment of adjustment.
Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection’s stages are a veritable torture garden of familiar terrors sandwiched between a host of new ones. Assembled with ever-inspired invention, you roam across lakes with giant man-eating plants, up trees with retracting branches, and through fire-breathing pits plagued by falling corpses. And that’s right at the beginning. The Red Arremer, Ghouls ’n Ghosts infamous winged demon, is also back in town; an arcane evil of programming that might lead you to gnaw your fingers off. If you’re planning to make any headway, you need to look for the tells, keep your distance, and make sure you’re ready to either leap or fire the instant he tears at you.
Split into five zones, you initially have a choice of two stages at each juncture until Zone Three, after which it reverts to a linear single-stage structure until the game’s end. Clear the initial campaign on the higher difficulty options and you will unlock a nightmare second loop in the shadow realm, where stages feature new mix-ups, enemies and hazards to contend with.
On Legend mode, checkpoints only appear once in the stage’s middle and again before the boss, leading to many an agonising restart. At the same time, this penalty is absolutely required for learning the stage by rote, and while you need monk-like resolve and no small amount of mental fortitude to see your way to victory, it can be achieved. This series has always been about slow, measured memorisation: knowing your routes, methods and weapon specifics, and how to avoid chests containing disability-spelling magicians.
While Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection is utterly infuriating by Zone Three onward and it won’t be long before you’re kneeling at the television and screaming point-blank into the screen, the engineering remains unarguably sound. While occasionally the hit-box parameters between Arthur and enemies is a tad unclear, the controls are sharp as a tack, and, while we briefly experienced frame dropping at the beginning of the Fire Hamlet stage, it seems to run at a smooth 60 FPS everywhere else.
Before you cry “No thanks, I’d rather flay myself with barbed wire!”, it's worth noting that Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection has an olive branch for you. Gone are limited lives and continues. Instead, the game auto-saves after stage completion and at checkpoints, allowing you to quit and return to your last position at any time. For purists, this might be disappointing, since the personal challenge of a one-credit clear is abolished, and the best you can shoot for is a one-life clear, which will require supernatural determination. But, in light of Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection’s ferocity, ticking off each stage like a series of mini-challenges is a reasonable compromise to starting over from the title screen.
The big game-changer here is backtracking to seek out Umbral Bees: little glowing firefly things that often appear annoyingly out of reach. Once you have a Bee in the bag, it’s there forever, even if you die – and on many an occasion, it’s actually worth leaping to your death to grab one, because, let’s face it, you’re going to die anyway.
Umbral Bees can be exchanged for magic upgrades at the Umbral Tree via the map screen. The more magic you unlock, the more options appear on the tree. Early magic attacks require just one Bee to obtain, while the most powerful spell – one that can regenerate Arthur’s armour – requires thirty. The best part is that you can hold multiple magic attacks in Arthur’s waistband at any one time, and you can trade back magic you no longer want to retrieve the bees and put them toward something greater. The aim, then, is to keep racking up bees even before you master a stage.
Magic attacks in your waistband are cycled with the shoulder button and, although most have a brief cool-down period before they can be used again, you can button-charge to unleash them in any state, from armour to boxers. This, coupled with the ability to save your checkpoint progress, eases the struggle somewhat. Magic usage requires strategy and certainly won’t nullify a stage’s difficulty, but turning enemies into frogs and being able to hold three weapons simultaneously certainly improves your chances.
While Legend mode is designed to serve Ghouls ’n Ghosts diehards – fans who need something to test their limits – Knight, Squire and Page difficulties (the latter essentially offering immortality) have something for everyone else. Knight difficulty is still utterly brutal, but Arthur gains three hit points and faces fewer, marginally slower enemies. For the casual retro gamer looking for a solid challenge, Squire difficulty, affording Arthur four hits and arguably too many checkpoints, is probably a good place to start. It drops the difficulty to something akin to Super Ghouls ’n Ghosts, and although bosses like those of stage two’s Fire Hamlet – three inferno cats with overlapping attack patterns – will still drive you to ingest your Joy-Cons, it’s altogether less punishing from the outset.
The game’s two-player co-operative mode is an interesting addition, allowing a second player to cycle between the spirits of three fallen adventurers. These apparitions can float freely about the screen to aid Arthur with unique abilities. Each has fairly slow, limited projectile fire, but their secondary skills can carry Arthur across gaps, build bridges, or, critically, create a brief but impervious bubble shield around him. Both novel and fun, the co-op opens up a new world of strategic approach and a new dimension to the game.
And it’s time to stop worrying about the art style. Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection is a dark, detailed, stunning-looking affair throughout, featuring superb weather effects and distant, haunting backgrounds that beautifully evoke the series horror theme park styling. After ten-minutes with the opening stages, any unease about the aesthetic melts away. The Crystalline City’s freezing constructs and splitting buildings are something to behold; and The Caverns of the Occult – a hellish catacomb where giant candles are constantly snuffed out, plunging you into a shroud of darkness – is cleverly rendered and smartly-paced, culminating in a spectacular stone dragon ride over a wonderfully moody landscape. The music too, featuring new renditions of series favourites and a set of Elfman-esque compositions, quickly eases you into the scythe-like swing of things.
If you can’t stand the thought of tackling a game through an arduous process of restarts, walk away now. There are points in the campaign where Fujiwara comes close to overstepping the mark, and you do wonder why sections like the disappearing platforms of Zone Five need to be quite so drawn out, or why the hell he threw a Red Arremer into the mix at the start of Zone Four when you’re already being assaulted from every direction. But we’re here to criticise the game’s architectural makeup and not necessarily its palatability to a broader audience. Although its difficulty isn’t going to be for everyone, it remains solidly coordinated, upholding the series ethos of practice-based progression via old disciplines and new processes.
Ghosts 'n Goblins Resurrection is Tokuro Fujiwara’s love letter to a thirty-five-year-old series that’s famous for burying mortal men, and it’s a job done exceptionally well. By ignoring it, we risk having to wait another thirty-five years for a new entry, and, in a world where so many games have become cinematic, one-button-does-all 3D picture books, that’s an unacceptable prospect. If challenge is what you live for, toughen up, don that mental armour, and take up the mantle like a lance. If you put in the time and effort, Ghosts ’n Goblins Resurrection will see you reap the most valuable of gaming accomplishments: the prestige of victory.