With Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Sharon Dawson and her brother achieved the near-impossible – to such a degree her own husband doesn’t believe her.
My husband thinks I’m a liar. I tell him I’ve completed the notorious Ghouls ‘n Ghosts and he doesn’t believe me. We’ve gone through it via emulators and even the Mega Drive Mini, but I’ve not proved it in front of him. I’ve come damn close. Still, to be fair, I’m out of practice.
Back in 199-something, my parents, in an attempt to get my younger brother Steven and me to get along, chose our Christmas presents carefully. I was given an Alba TV, while my brother received a Mega Drive. I could still watch the four channels available – without my cooperation, he had nothing.
As a treat on Christmas Day, my dad set both presents up in the living room, on the coffee table opposite the family TV, so we could all play. We didn’t even touch the joypad for more than five minutes until Boxing Day, as my dad’s idea of taking turns on Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was not a great parental example of presents being bought for sharing.
Once Christmas was over, the full set-up made its way into my bedroom, when I had to grudgingly accept that my little brother was allowed into my personal space. It wasn’t all bad. We played Sonic 2 to completion before getting more hedgehog action by buying its predecessor, before deciding there must be more to platforming than via ring-obsessed, nocturnal mammals.
Seven months later, it was the start of the greatest time of a young person’s life: the six-week summer holiday. Apart from the Sonics, nothing else we’d bought had really impressed us – but after being on good behaviour for most of the previous few months, we’d generated enough goodwill that we were owed a new game.
As with all of our game purchases, we were taken to the “gaming booth” in Castleford Market by our frugal mum. For once, instead of plumping for £2 or £3 bootleg ZX Spectrum tapes, she allowed us to buy an actual, authentic Mega Drive cartridge.
The artwork of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts caught our eyes immediately – it was one of those rare occasions when we both agreed on something without compromise. Because the game had been out for a while, it was well within budget. As a result, we unknowingly said goodbye to fresh air for the next six weeks.
When we started Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, we loved the horror theme of zombies and werewolves, but the difficulty level was noticeably higher than our blue spiky friend’s adventures. What’s more, our parents’ initial idea of making us a sibling team was taken to the extreme by how we decided to play the game together.
There was one simple rule: each person had one life, after which they’d have to pass over the controller. How well you did in Ghouls ‘n Ghosts was constantly being judged by the non-player. We progressed through the increasingly taxing stages as a team, eventually becoming a well-oiled unit with specialist areas we’d rely on each other to complete, though we’d always try our best not to waste those precious credits.
We’d soon get to the point where it was a breeze for each of us to complete the first boss with full lives, a decent weapon, and the coveted gold armour that allowed for an extra hit to be taken before the hero, Arthur, was reduced to fighting the undead in just his underpants.
With it being summer and all, my mum would set herself up on the sunbed and shout up to us a couple of times every day to come out and enjoy the good weather, before resigning herself to accepting that we would once again stay in my room and spend every moment perfecting our skills. We’d get further and further, having to learn new sections and, more importantly, new boss tactics, but were never going to finish the game in a mere 42 days.
Sadly, the six-week holiday finished – school was back in session. Homework, however, was not. We had more important things to do, and our revision was: which was better to use during Ghouls ‘n Ghosts’ sand dune levels – the discus or the javelin? Every night, as soon as we got in, we’d once again commit to our one-life-a-turn rule, honing our skills with breaks for family meals in front of the one other TV in the house.
Eventually, we beat every section and the final boss, started the game again, got the secret key on the first world, beat every boss one after another, and reached the final, proper ending. Unbeknownst to our young minds, we had achieved greatness.
Once the initial jubilation of completing the game subsided, we still didn’t move on. We completed the game over and over again. Hundreds of “well done!” messages graced that tiny Alba screen, which made my recent returns to the game so much more frustrating.
Trouble and strife
As I disappointingly explained, my husband still doesn’t believe I’ve completed the game – not even once. He hasn’t done it and, despite my dominance during our bouts in Marvel vs Capcom 3, he believes himself to be the superior gamer. In his mind, if he can’t do it, there’s no way I can.
To prove my past successes, he got hold of an emulator and set it up with a PlayStation controller. I made it to the final boss on the first playthrough but got no further. My husband soon followed and had a go himself, refusing to listen to my advice. For example, during the section with the floating bear heads, I told him he needed the axe. “The axe is rubbish,” he said, before losing all his lives flailing helplessly with the fast, repeating dagger weapon he’d equipped. He really should have realised I knew what I was doing, and was no replacement for my younger bro.
We then went on to get the Mega Drive Mini, which had the original-feel, three-button controller; it allowed more muscle memory to return to me. However, even then, I still only got halfway through the second playthrough after beating the “final boss” at the first opportunity.
My brother has maintained his gaming prowess, most notably ranking in the top 20 in the world for Battlefield 3, but without me, he wouldn’t’ve finished Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, not least because he’s just not very good at the giant maggot boss – despite me thinking he was a massive maggot during our mid-teens.
Knowing I wanted to write about our shared Ghouls ‘n Ghosts experience made me call him the other day. I asked him if he remembered the months we spent playing that game, instead of schooling ourselves. “Yeah, it was mint,” he said, which is as eloquent as you’ll get without a proper education due to excessive gaming during your youth.
- A true sense of achievement
- Sibling co-operation
- Lack of a formal education
- My husband doesn’t believe one of my greatest achievements
Like an aging boxer throwing slow, sloppy jabs, returning to Ghouls ‘n Ghosts gave me mixed emotions as I was reminded of the elite gamer I once was, breezing through one of the most notoriously difficult games of all times, night after night, and just thinking that was normal.