Did you laugh off the flying school missions in San Andreas? Do you snort with derision at Gradius on the "mega bastard" setting? Did you earn your International A license on Gran Turismo without breaking stretching a string-back? Then Ultimate Ghosts n Goblins is for you. Sod it, it's harder than all of those games combined, requiring not only the manual dexterity of a man with a hundred fingers, but an upper lip so stiff you could launch rockets off it. It'll make you curse, it'll make you weep and it'll make you want to hurt your PSP, but ultimately - for the masochistic among you at least - it's as satisfying as old-school platforming gets.
This remake of the ancient 80s arcade game retains the same story - a damsel has been kidnapped by a demon and you, Arthur the knight, have to rescue her from a big scary tower. To do so you have to go through screen after screen of falling platforms, bottomless pits and relentless monsters who follow patterns so difficult to avoid, they make R-Type's laser beams and swirling space Cheerios a walk in a particularly harmless park.
And even if you know the precise movements of every enemy, squeezing Arthur through them with the D-pad like trying to trap a fart because the controls feel imprecise. You can use the analogue stick if you like, but then the game becomes more painful than touching the sun with your scrotum .And the similarities to the arcade original don't end there. As ever, when Arthur takes damage he's stripped of his armour and forced to run around in his iconic love heart boxer shorts. Collecting additional layers of armour increases the amount of hits he can take and their design gets increasingly elaborate. He also has a set of projectile weapons at his disposal which range from lances, spears and boomerangs to (useless) Molotov cocktails and a handy multi-bolt crossbow that fires in all directions. Cleverly, inexperienced players who collect absolutely every pick-up they see will end up battling a boss with a low-range weapon, while pros will select the right one for the job, avoiding pick-ups when necessary. It's a tactical choice that long-time Ghosts 'n Goblins fans will remember from the arcade.
CHANGE IS GOOD
The game's biggest change comes in the form of Arthur's inventory. As you go through the game you unlock special powers and magic attacks that can be selected at any time mid-level. The double jump, for instance, is unlocked by defeating a boss and collecting a pair of magical boots. It's a minor addition and the only time the game strays from its no-frills platforming roots. Visually, though, the game has evolved while still retaining the lo-fi charm of its predecessors; it's 3D but everything is always side-on. Our only woe is that it's darker than a box of Black Magic. In a cave. At midnight. It doesn't feel slick and modern and that's at odds with the shiny hardware. Retro purists will love it, but it'll be a bit gloomy for everyone else.
But even though it's mostly murky, there are some nice graphical flourishes. One level is made up entirely of swaying grass, patches of which rise and fall in real-time, creating yet more problems for the ever-downtrodden Arthur. And some of the enemies are similarly well-designed - our favourites are the one-eyed trolls that, when defeated, explode and send guts flying all over Arthur's lovely boxers. Shame. And many bosses are huge, including a screen-filling spider and a floating manta ray made from pollen that bends and folds as it attacks. True.
But regardless of its old-school charm, it just isn't that much fun and is lightweight compared to other PSP platformers. Compare the game's unyielding side-scrolling to the vast (and fun) world of Daxter and there's no contest - we opt for the ottsel every time. If there's a place for a game as antiquated as this it's PSP, but be wary. Ultimate Ghosts n Goblins is a cold, ruthless arcade game that never gives an inch, and it'll test your patience to shattering point and beyond.
A decent remake of a classic platformer, but its ultimately too hard, too old-fashioned and too short-lived.