The lights are on
There is only one game I will pledge as my childhood companion, a lifelong friend I can never shake regardless of its deceptions forced upon me. I can still hear the music, sound effects of losing armor, resonances of the weapons, enemy grumbles, and environment gurgles. I’ve come to know Ghouls N’ Ghosts so well, I can breeze through the first portion of the game in a little under a half hour without hardly a thought. I know the secret spots, the worthy weapons’ hiding places, and the perfect place to stand to avoid Small Lucifer’s line of fire. What Zelda and Mario are to many, Ghouls N’ Ghosts is to me.
My father first rented Ghouls N’ Ghosts for Sega Genesis from a local video store in the rural town of Hope, Indiana when I was seven. The golden knight, raising his sword in a crossfire of lightning on the game cover, initially intrigued me, but the Cyclops in the background sealed the deal. We played for hours, single-player, sometimes two-player, but didn’t get too far. Eventually, we broke down and purchased it, completely aware of what we were getting ourselves into. Those hours soon turned into sporadic years and I found myself venturing further in the game. For a while, the fart clouds (that’s what I called Gassuto) held me back with their erratic movements and lightning wheels of doom, and I was plagued with undesirable weapons (like the fire, which was infuriatingly useless). It was not until I came upon my weapon of choice that I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We called it the Flying Saucer. The sea-green disc was a beacon of hope, with its slick delivery and galactic sound. It could almost always be found on the Baron Rankle’s Tower level. When shot at enemies, it snaked along the surfaces it came in contact with and easily destroyed the treacherous Gassuto.
It took me a while to realize the beautiful Flying Saucer wasn’t a fix-all. It’s useless against the final boss in particular. In time, I learned to acquire the flying daggers after watching a YouTube video of the final boss fight. It’s not cheating, I swear.
Upon entering the final stretch, Lucifer’s Castle and Lucifer’s Chamber, with the flying daggers, I could barely stay seated because of my anticipation. I had worked at this game for nearly a decade and here I was, at the brink of finishing it. So many hours of frustration, so many white knuckles and rage quits. All of these years rested on this moment. The mosquito-looking Beelzebub took me a couple of tries to kill, but I did it. I beat him. I beat Ghouls N’ Ghosts. I screamed out in exhilaration. I watched the cut-scene that followed, and my smile dropped.
Merlin popped up and explained that I could not beat Lucifer without the magic power from the village. So what he’s really trying to say is, go back and do it all over again, this time with ten times the frustration. Because this time, enemies and bosses would be more difficult to kill. The Undead took a couple more hits than usual and the bosses’ life spans branched out to astronomical lengths.
Upon finding this out, my chest deflated and I cowered into my bean bag on the ground. The sorrow I felt that day hung around me like a black cloud, and I’m still trying to overcome the second playthrough of Ghouls N’ Ghosts. I have played through the first portion of Ghouls N’ Ghosts multiple times, solidifying it into an instinctive action. Sometimes when I drive my car, I slip deep into thought and I turn inward to focus on these thoughts. All the while, my body is on auto-pilot, controlling the vehicle and successfully getting the car where it needs to go. This is how it is for me when I play Part One of Ghouls N’ Ghosts. I know how to control Arthur in order to get him to do what he needs to succeed. I know how to jump, dodge and shoot to destroy Ohme’s maggot hearts, and I know when each Dragonfly attacks near the Horrible Faced Mountains. After years of playing this game, I have developed a rhythm in gameplay that, if disturbed, throws off the flow of traveling with ease through the game.
It’s been three years since I thought I conquered the beast. I’ve occasionally dabbled in other games in the series in an attempt to replace the old timer, to fill a void Ghouls N’ Ghosts created when it put up a fight. I played Super Ghouls N’ Ghosts for five minutes maximum and threw the controller down, raging that this game could never be my Ghouls N’ Ghosts. A couple years ago, I found Maximo: Ghosts to Glory for PlayStation 2 and purchased it for $8. Maximo was so incredibly hard, I couldn’t even get past the second level.
Just like any great love in the Universe, there can only be one of its kind. Only one great video game love can surpass my expectations while leaving one last mystery. As with any great complicated romance, I can’t help running back to spend moments with Ghouls N’ Ghosts.