Sunday, July 31, 2011

Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins: A case study in difficulty

I've been playing Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins recently, because I hate myself (I believe I state that every time I bring it up). It really is a very hard game. Some of the things about the game that make it difficult are of the frustrating, cheap kind. So what makes the game hard?

You'll die, a lot.
The enemies are hard and they'll continually spawn even if you kill all of the ones on the screen. This is magnified by the fact that Arthur's jumping capabilities are limited in that he can't influence his momentum in mid-air aside from his double jump. He can also only fire his weapons in four directions, but the enemies will attack from all angles.

This is made somewhat easier by the fact that (on standard difficulty) dying does not return you to the beginning of the stage. When you die, you resurrect at the last stable ground that you were on. Furthermore, you start with several lives, and when you run out of them, are only forced to start the stage over from the beginning, as opposed to starting the game over from the beginning.

Furthermore, as you play (and die) you'll learn the enemies patterns well. It's similar to when I played Devil May Cry 3 (on Normal, original American release). Devil May Cry 3 was another, really hard game. However, by dying repeatedly on the same enemies, in the same sections, on the same bosses I learned them. They were engrained in my head. I knew what every subtle movement and every noise generated would precede and could react to it appropriately. It's the kind of hard that you learn how to deal with and overcome.

How do I get to the end boss again?
In order to access the end boss you have to find 22 Rings of Light. The game contains 33 Rings of Light, so it's not the worst thing ever. What's that? You want to know how to find these rings? They're available in many places.

They'll be hidden. Sometimes they'll be in plain sight. Sometimes in plain sight, but hard to reach places. Sometimes they'll be in out of sight and hard to reach places. You'll get them after bosses. Many of them are hidden inside destructible objects. Many of them are inside hidden areas.

Is there a good ending?
Yes, there is. In order to access it you'll have to find all 33 Rings of Light. I'll tell you how to find the best ending at the end of this article.

How do I destroy these objects and get to these hidden areas?
Magic. Particularly, the Gorgon Magic, the Unseal Magic and the Wave Magic. To get the Wave Magic you have to find these other hidden items and give them to a witch. There are 3 witches and a total of 9 hidden items. Each witch gives you a special ability, but to get all three of their rewards you have to fight them all.

Where do I get this magic?
You have to find it.

Where is it?
There are certain, very particular locations that when you move through them, a treasure chest will appear. These locations are very often in places where you would not normally move or think to move.

Is there any way to help you find these hard to find chests?
Yes, there is another magic spell which will show you the location of any chests that are on the screen. This is hidden in a hard to find treasure chest that can only be found if you have the Gorgon Magic, which is in a hard to find treasure chest. So this means that you will spend much time spamming the treasure find spell and running out of mana.

Do you get anything else from these treasure chests?
There are two kinds of treasure chests: red and blue. If you find all the red chests in a stage then you'll get a Ring of Light.

Does that mean that in order to find all the rings I also have to find all of the red chests?

That really sucks.
Yes, it does.

Is there anything else to help me?
Once you get 22 Rings you can beat the first end boss. You'll watch a cut scene which tells you that there is still an evil to kill and that you'll need the other rings. You start back at the beginning of the game with all of the bosses intact, but you'll still have your magic and upgrades. Killing the first boss this second time will give you access to the triple jump. Also, in this mode you'll be given a counter on each stage to let you know how many red chests remain in each stage.

To see the best ending you have to find all 33 Rings of Light without the benefit of the triple jump and the chest counter from the second run through. Also, the best ending is only marginally better than the good ending.

In Conclusion?
There are tons of really hard things about this game, many of which are unfair. They are offset by the Discovery Magic. However, finding the Discovery Magic is difficult and there are still many hidden Rings of Light which cannot be found by the Discovery Magic. Even then, with the Discovery Magic, finding all those treasure chests is VERY hard.

Overall this game is difficult in both fair and unfair ways. Fair difficulty, like that found in Devil May Cry 3 is very rewarding for the player when you finally conquer it, but the unfair difficulty of finding everything that you need to isn't rewarding. Then again, people who buy Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins are buying it specifically because they want a hard game, and that's exactly what they're going to get.

I've beaten the game to the extent that I want to beat it. I've found all 33 Rings of Light, but I did it with the assistance of the second run through and some guides. I don't plan on trying to get the best ending, at least not anytime soon.