“Ghosts ‘n Goblins” Review (ZX Spectrum / Arcade Conversion)

Ghosts n Goblins arcade

Ghost (‘n Goblin) in the Machine


SQUIRE: Sire, I bring news of of a weary traveller at the castle gates; a nobleman who has travelled from the great lands of Zantiach, across the raging seas of Asaroth, traversed the bountiful paradise of Hartlepool, clad only in a pair of soggy underpantacles.

KING: Soggy underpantacles?

SQUIRE: Yes lord, soggy underpantacles. He requests counsel with the great King. Shall I grant him entry?

KING: A knight in soggy underpantacles? HAHAHAHAHAHAA How delicious! Bring this wretched pervert before me at once.


KNIGHT: Thank you great Lord for granting me access to your resplendent castle. Oh, how merciful is our great King, how charitable of person, how generous of….

KING: Yes, yes, yes, enough of your sycophantic prattle, where is your bloody armour? Are you not a knight of this realm?

KNIGHT: Um, yes Sire, um…

ghosts n goblins underwearKING: Well, what is it? Spit it out at once you wretched nymph!

KNIGHT: I touched someone on the the way here and my armour just fell off leaving me in my underpantacles. Not sure what happened really, I just kind of bumped into them by accident.

KING: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA You sorry fool! Did you not realise it is forbidden to touch or make contact with another being in this realm, a crime punishable by the ejection of ones clothing into the air around you? HAHAHAHAHA! (Wipes tears away) Very funny, yes. Well, I am said to be a just King, and since you have brought me great amusement on this morning I will grant you one desire. What will it be?

KNIGHT: A jumper would be nice.


Year of release 1986, Publisher Elite Systems Ltd (UK), Author(s) Keith Burkhill, Nigel Alderton

Ghosts n Goblins arcade screenshot

Is this the Arcade screenshot or the ZX Spectrum screenshot..? I’ll let you decide.

Sometime back in the eighties, I found myself on holiday at one of Scarborough’s signature caravan parks. Like many families at the time, we made this pilgrimage every year to enjoy the traditional British seaside, to escape the oppression of North East England, and allow my parents to drink heavily at the site clubhouse. If you are too young to have experienced this staple of 80s life, then kudos to you! Instead, let your latte-powered-juice-blending-occupy-broadband-powered mind consider this: SCARBOROUGH ARCADES RULED!!!

Now on this particular holiday one year, I remember two cabs specifically grabbing my attention; Pengo and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Pengo I found insanely difficult, but Ghosts ‘n Goblins seemed to flow a little better for me and I was able to last significantly longer (probably about 30 seconds) and thus represented a better investment of my gruellingly begged-for capital.

Fast forward a year or so, to the point at which I became a Spectrum devotee, and imagine the glee I felt as I saw Ghosts ‘n Goblins escape the shackles of the arcade and somehow materialise onto the home format before me.

ghosts n goblins zx spectrum

It was definitely the Arcade screenshot. Yes, definitely.

Playing as the knight Sir Arthur, you must rescue a fair maiden from the grasp of Satan (Satan?) in a nonsensical Arthurian-Christian jamboree of jumping and hurling your lance at waves of undead nasties, seeking to do harm by walking towards you in a slow and leisurely manner. Following a short cut-scene in which we see the the red nasty one bugger off with the missus, we immediately appear in a graveyard full of smelly zombie types. These are easily dispatched with your handy lance which can be upgraded by collecting random urns littered throughout the game. There are mutant birds to contend with, and also inexplicable venus flytrap plants who shoot blobs at you in a most inconvenient way.

This probably all sounds pretty dangerous and you’d be right. With only nine lives at the start of the game you could wager that Sir Arthur only has about as much chance as the domestic cat. But fear not! Each time you are hit by the enemy you are granted a second chance. That’s right, in some bizarre twist of the video game psyche, on taking your first damage, the poor Knight’s armour fly’s off Buckaroo-style to reveal his spartan undergarments. Now poor Arthur must traverse the rest of the level in the nip, and those graveyards seem pretty cold to me! Hey Arthur is that a joust in your pocket, or should I just call you Sir Lancelot?

ghosts 'n goblins zx spectrum

(Ignore the mouse pointer, it didn’t have one.)

Every now and again we are confronted by various jumpy end of level bosses who are begging for an impaling, and whom award you a key on defeat with the cryptic message: ‘Take a key for coming in’ What does that really mean? Am I getting a key as a reward for coming in? How did I get in without the key? Its a metaphysical mindfunk. (Should have said Knightmare really)

Gameplay wise, Ghosts ‘n Goblins is a relatively slick affair with all the mechanics seeming very consistent with the arcade release. The first couple of levels have the same enemy spawn points, and the overall routine is very familiar. Pretty soon however, things begin to go a little sideways, and you start to notice stuff is missing; where are the flying sleeping bag thingy’s from the forest level? Where did all the backgrounds go? Why is the game seven minutes long? Why is the only sound effect a weird farty plop? Well, its easy to judge nowadays with our fancy nuclear powered iPlods and weird esoteric digital currencies, but I wager it was no tea party shoe-horning the average arcade adventure into the tiny 48k mind of the ZX Spectrum. It’s no wonder the HUD is as fancy as an ASDA till receipt, and it takes longer to rewind the tape than complete the game. At least there are little splashes of colour here and there, and the ogres are satisfactorily ogre-y in a Mr Potato head way.

While poor Sir Arthur has rightfully earned his place as a true Capcom legend, I think Sir Clive in this instance was caught with his pants down.