Gaming History 101

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Talking Ports: Ghouls’N Ghosts on the Master System

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I really wanted to write a article on this port but rather than doing an actual review I thought it may be more interesting just to discuss what this game does differently from the arcade version it is based on.

Several ports of Ghouls’N Ghosts came out from the microcomputers like the ZX Spectrum all the way to the consoles like the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis). For the time it was practically released on everything except Nintendo consoles – yep, look it up, this particular game has never graced a Nintendo console. One port that certainly deserved recognition is the attempt made on the Sega Master System.

gng_smsWhen you boot up the Master System version of Ghouls’N Ghosts you are greeted to the familiar soundtrack from the original version in cute Master System form. Pretty much any soundtrack that is successfully converted on the Master System brings a smile to my face.  This port really is one you have to try not judge by its cover. The box art for Master System version looks like some young persons fan art doodled on the typical Master System grid paper background, saying it it is still better than any box art I could come up with. Put this next to the far superior Mega Drive box art and you would be forgiven for choosing the later to take home. Saying that I do have a lot of nostalgia for the awful Master System box art, its so bad its brilliant.

Just like most ports of the game this does include all 5 levels from the arcade version. All the boss fights are also included. The graphics take a massive 8 – bit hit to them and character animations are not as smooth. Unlike the Arcade each level is split into two sections and the boss fights are also fought in a separate room as well to accommodate for the Master Systems limited processing power. There are less enemies on screen which you would think would make the game easier but you’ll find your constantly dealing with enemy threats as you venture through each level. Sure it looks pretty poor (like the box art) compared to other versions but its very impressive that the developers managed to cram the entire game into this little cartridge.

Ghouls'N Ghosts on Sega Master System

Ghouls’N Ghosts on Sega Master System

Ghouls'N Ghosts on Arcade

Ghouls’N Ghosts on Arcade

This particular port truly feels unique and different from any other version of the game. The main draw here is you can permanently upgrade Arthur’s abilities. When you open a chest during gameplay you will often get the evil magician guy who turns you into a duck or a old man. However, once in a blue moon you will get a door instead, entering the room will present you with three upgrade options (though there are actually four abilities to upgrade). You only get one choice each time the door appears but the effects are permanent even if you have to continue to game after loosing all your lives. Upgrading your Helmet will give you a new magic spell which can then be selected in the pause menu. Of Course this being the Master System your expected to get off your backside and walk over to the console to press the pause button. You start with lightening and fire spells but soon unlock shield which is probably the most helpful spell in the game as it makes Arthur temporarily invincible (this feels similar to the game Psychic World also on Master System).

gng_sms_shopUpgrading your shoes makes Arthur walk quicker and jump further which seems essential in the second level of this game when you need to jump across very distance platforms. When I started playing the game Arthur’s movement and jump are so slow I thought there was something wrong with the port. Once you start upgrading the guy zips around a lot more smoothly, probably on par with the arcade port. Upgrading the Armour upgrades your hit points and changes the colour of Arthurs armour it goes Silver, Red, Green then of course Gold. Upgrading to Gold will give you 4 additional health points making the game significantly easier,. You don’t get stripped down to your undies after one hit like other ports of the game. You can upgrade your weapon which essentially cycles through the weapons available in the arcade version like the dagger and the axe. This upgrade can actually be a bad thing as weapons like the axe throw in a arc making some enemies harder to hit when compared to the far more useful javelin. Once you upgrade your weapon you can not go backwards. Fortunately the final weapon upgrade which is the spell required to defeat the final boss is very useful and works just like the javelin.

gng_2Just like the arcade you still have to finish the game twice through to get to the final boss. Unlike the other games this is where the Master System has a glaring problem. You are expected to fully upgrade all your armour and weapons and then get the final weapon. Upgrading is very rare in the game and it is not uncommon to finish a entire level without upgrading anything, when you have to upgrade each ability three times each this can be quite a chore. If you reach the final level on your second playthrough and still haven’t upgraded everything you will literally repeat the final level over and over again until you do. I literally played the last level about six times before I finally got every upgrade making for a ridiculously tedious experience. I probably would have found it more enjoyable just to play through the entire game again a third time with the new upgrades. What I found hilarious is once you finally make it to the final boss encounter, Arthur is so overly powerful the boss is a complete white wash. He is literally easier than the boss in the first level and stands no chance.  The Master System port is by no means perfect but it is a ton of fun to play especially if your a fan of the system. The ports legacy did inspire some design choices in the SNES game Super Ghouls’N Ghosts where a shield can give you more than one hit point.

At the end of the day the question remains: is the Master System port worth playing?
Answer: Absolutely, yes the game has graphical flaws and works with hardware limitations. But this is a great example of developers using such hardware restrictions and building on the game creating a unique experience that stands proudly on its own.

Did you know we did an entire episode dedicated to the Ghouls’N Ghost franchise?  You can find it here.

Written by jamalais

December 22, 2014 at 11:22 am

Posted in Blog, Master System

Tagged with ,

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