I don’t envy those at Nintendo when they come out with something nostalgically fun for gamers. Generally speaking, we’re often purists and difficult to please when it comes to recreating our own childhoods and that rush of youth. Take the new Nintendo Classic, for example. For a good number of us, the thrill of its announcement earlier in the year wore off within minutes and we got right to the hyper-analysis: Will there be more retro NES collections? Why’s the cord so short? Every NAMCO plug’n’play has PacMan and Galaga, so why add those in? Why Super C but no Contra? Where’s KungFu? Why’s the cord so short? Where’s Metal Gear and Bionic Commando? No Dragon Warrior? Is the NES Classic gluten-free? Will games be able to be added later on? Why is the cord so damn short?! Etc. Etc.

When first looking through the Classic’s list, I liked the roster for the most part, but then I read it – and a shiver went up my spine – “Ghosts ‘n Goblins.” Not unlike a horrible ex you split up with on poor terms who keeps coming in and out of your life, there it was, a game that’s done nothing but drag me through the mud more than any other NES entry. I was gifted a used copy from my cousin back in 1990, and now that I think about it, he may have just wanted it out of his house. I’d find that even with a Game Genie I still sucked and had retired it more times than Miyazaki has retired from anime. But not unlike the aforementioned, there was no staying away. I know that once I finally track down a NES Classic, it will be there, always waiting, always sitting by the TV making itself available. At some point I will have to give in and try (in vain) to beat it for old times sake and it will play the role of Lucy with the football, and I, the pathetic Charlie Brown.

This torment had its origin back over 30 years ago when sadist game designer Tokuro Fujiwara got his start in the gaming industry. He was studying at Osaka Design College back in 1982 when a scout offered him a job at Konami. One year later, he was off to Capcom to work on classics like Commando, Bionic Commando, and Mega Man 2 over time. In an article translated by, he stated that he found the creation of the one of his most infamous projects – Ghost ‘n Goblins, to be both fun and exhausting.


I really just wanted to hurt people on a deep psychological level.

(no, he didn’t actually say this but you can imagine)

The initial phases of enhancing the difficulty in Ghosts ‘n Goblins stemmed from Fujiwara’s location testing. He would observe gamers in arcades and see where they got through areas more easily than others. Using that information, he would then go back and tweak the game numerous times into the unforgiving state we have to this day. It’s also important to note that this mastermind of such a popular franchise was also a forefather in survival horror. Sweet Home, a terrific game based on the Japanese film of the same name, would be another big project for Fujiwara, and serve as a basis for yet another big series of his, Resident Evil, some years later.

Ghosts ‘n Goblins started out strong in its port on the NES, sold 1.64 million units in its lifetime, was voted 129th best game by Nintendo Power’s 200 best games list, and of course provided a near-legendary level of difficulty. The basic plot of a knight setting out to rescue a Princess from the clutches of evil may be a bit cliche’, but it worked.

By now, you probably know the gist: Arthur and the Princess are having an unusual picnic or.. something in the middle of a graveyard at night or.. something…  so, Satan appears, grabs the Princess and vanishes. Arthur then ventures forth to die more times than Michael Bay has disappointed audiences. One hit knocks Arthur right out of his armor, and as if constantly dying weren’t tough enough on the ego, he gets to run around in nothing but his boxers while fighting evil. That is, until he inevitably gets a second whack and dies. Yep, two hits and you’re done for – no saves either, by the way. Top it off with a time limit and it’s easy to see why this game is on a majority of lists of most difficult classic NES titles.

In truth, you’ll feel the same as Arthur when playing

But wait, there’s more!: Beat the whole game (only possible if you get the special Shield weapon) and you get to do it all again! From the very beginning! At a more difficult setting! And all for the “good” ending which is mostly comprised of hilarious mistranslations.

Masochists Gamers over the years still love the gameplay, brutal challenge, and pure entertainment offered by this franchise though. Numerous sequels/re-imaginings and ports have been made through Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, The Gold Knight games, and the Maximo series. Even the grating red devil, later knows as Firebrand (and inspired by Capcom’s Toshio Arima), got his own spin-off franchise in the Gargoyle’s Quest/Demon’s Crest Series.

So here’s to another 30 years of frustrating, near-psychological abuse. Tip your glass, buckle yourself in tight, and relive this icon of what it means to be “Nintendo hard!”

… And good freakin’ luck.


Michael A. Jones

Facebook: Nerds in the Burbs

Twitter: MikeAJones@NerdsintheBurbs