In my life, the NES version original Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins has the dubious honor in my life of revealing to my parents that I knew profanity. Yes, after a good session of GnG, I would sound like something straight out of an episode of Deadwood. I toned somewhat down for the Genesis version of Ghouls “N’ Ghosts, and never got around to playing the third SNES title until the Capcom compilation hit Playstation 2 last year, but other than a cameo in Marvel Vs. Capcom, ol’ Arthur’s been quiet, and I’ve learned to swear at other games.

But after all these years, the original game can still pull the language out which will send my girlfriend into hiding.

Seriously, if it wasn’t the clunky jumps, it was being knocked off a cliff, or into those nigh-useless fireballs. You had a small window to get through areas, and if you didn’t take it, you were swarmed by enemies or missed your chance altogether. By all accounts, I shouldn’t like this game, but I keep crawling back to it like a wounded dog to its master. It’s kind of sick, when I think about it.

The PSP has pulled out the fourth installment of the series, and it’s quite simply, beautiful. After such a long hiatus, don’t think Capcom has grown merciful or age has tempered this series, because it hasn’t. It’s still hard as everything, and I’ve already pounded the couch a few times. To their credit, they have added a lot of useful upgrades and abilities, not to mention (Thank the Maker) a save function. The Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins was notorious for making you go through this gauntlet twice with no passwords or save feature. That’s right…. A pure marathon to invest into, with no turning back.

Now that the series doesn’t have to tap into its arcade roots, Ultimate Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins becomes more an adventure. It hasn’t evolved to the epic path that Castlevania has grown into over the last decade, but it does celebrate exploration more. Coupled with the ability to grab ledges, the save feature and exploration finally leaves me in a place where I merely get pissed off.

It is a good evolution for the series. It’s the game you remember from 20 years ago, but newer and better. It’s just familiar, and it’s a breath of fresh air for the PSP which truly needed a new and original title that isn’t just a port. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my PSP, but the trickle of games has been less impressive than the number of accessible genres on the Nintendo DS.

It’s funny that three of the games that have impressed me the most have been taking the old and making another sequel. Those three titles are New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, and Mega Man: Powered Up, and Ultimate Ghouls ‘N’ Ghosts for the PSP.

For the late 20-something/early 30-somethings, this is a new path down a familiar road. These three titles draw upon gameplay from probably one of the best times to be a gamer, where gameplay meant challenge and skill, but now with a much prettier coat of paint. It’s gaming in its purest form, not bogged down by stat managements or options menus, or long-winded tutorials. You run, kill an endless amount of enemies, and save somebody at the end. That’s pretty much it. Games today hold your hand and walk you through. Games back then would tear you to pieces, and then pour rubbing alcohol in your wounds. And you’d keep coming back. It wasn’t about mind-numbing graphics. It was about gameplay, and utilizing every step of the way to be an experience that kept you on your toes. I was growing fearful that perhaps platformers have seen the end of their days. The handheld systems are keeping them alive.

I may be starting to sound like an old coot who yells at kids to stay off his lawn and owns two dozen cats, and remembers penny candies and when movies cost a nickel (which was way before my time, before you even ask). But the point is, that these games remind you of what good design and gameplay are, without all the expensive cut-scenes and mega-bucks licenses. I do think some of that has been getting lost as the game industry becomes more like the movie industry. I’d just rather have a game that slaps me around for 10-20 hours than have that time used for tutorials and cut-scenes, and then you’re left with 15 minutes of game time. I think a lot of companies are starting to lose focus of that.

Perhaps that’s why we’ve been getting so many “classic” game compilations and remakes of late….

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