Is there an older type of mythical monster in the world than a ghost? Well, there is of course God, and Dick Cheney. But you know, I’ve never believed in ghosts. Though that sure as hell doesn’t stop them from abducting me from my bedroom in the dead of night and leaving me in my uncle’s bed without my pants on... The point is, I don’t like ghosts. Throughout my life as a video gamer they’ve been nothing but trouble. More often than not they require special weapons or rituals to be destroyed, and you spend the rest of the time dodging them frightfully. Nevertheless, they’ve been a favored concept for Nintendo game designers to fall back on when they ran out of ideas after banana-slinging ninja pirate bear and bouncing nondescript blue blob wearing stovepipe hat and jaunty moustache. Still, in the spirit of Halloween, I decided to invoke all the poltergeists, floating sheets and disembodied souls I could lay hands on, and warn one and all of their danger. My quest left me a changed man... though, part of that has to do with waking up to find my uncle looming over me with a ball of cotton dripping with chloroform. On to the evil ghosts of the NES!
Among our most notable 8-bit insubstantial adversaries is the aptly named Boo from Super Mario Bros. 3. To my knowledge he was the first ghost in any Super Mario game (not counting Super KKK Bros), and for some sick reason he was frequently summoned again for its many followers, such as Super Mario World and Super Mario 64. I can only conclude that the NES programmers have some dark fetish for spectral partners. Hmm. Then again, a ghost could probably pleasure you in ways no human ever... what was I talking about again? Ah yes, Boo. Remarkably shy, this guy didn’t dare attack you if you were looking at him. I can’t see why, since as with most ghosts, it takes the power of an invincibility star to actually touch him without dying.
Another ghost we all know and loathe is Ghini, the little fiend that stalks the graveyards of Hyrule in the Legend of Zelda. He could be killed without too much trouble, but touching the graves of his neighbors caused multiple, unkillable Ghinis to come out and haunt you to death. The only way to get rid of them was to find the original Ghini and stab him. This must’ve been one of the few games where you could desecrate the tombs of your ancestors. Actually, scratch that, it was fairly standard practice. I remember stalking out in the night as a young lad with my trusty plastic spade to see if there were any old men with Master Swords next to just festering skeletons hiding in our local cemetery. I still can’t get over my initial surprise when pushing over the first tombstone didn’t cause grandma’s restless spirit to emerge and scald me for biting my nails. Bummer. I was hoping for a midnight graveyard blowout the world hadn’t seen since Thriller.
I’m not entirely sure if they were ghosts, but the Double Illusion duplicates that you faced in Double Dragon II were a force to be reckoned with. Next to most of your moves, they could hurl fireballs and possess your very body to beat you up from the inside. Ghosts or not, they could still be beaten to a pulp until they dissolved back into the shadows. Hell, it’s just one of my favorite game showdowns ever.
I missed out on the Castlevania games as a kid, so when I started playing these to look for more ghosts, I wasn’t sure if I was looking at a ghost, a zombie, or an animated skeleton in a robe here. I mean, if I made a mistake here, I could get into huge trouble with SCUTAAD (Skeletal Crossdressers and Undead Transgenders Alliance Against Defamation). On the other hand, come on now, a pink robe? That might work if you’re trying to seduce Mr. Belmont - in which case I have reason to contact RoG about another addition to the Sexual Moments in Videogame History page – but if not, you’re just making a fool out of yourself. Wait – I didn’t notice the purple skincolor. That changes things from a fashion don’t to a fashion do. This metrosexual ghoulie right here knows how to accessorize!
Luckily my ghosthunt in Castlevania was not over yet, because respectively Castlevania 1, 2 and 3 all came with their share of floating, fiery apparitions. If you ask me, the first one kinda looks like someone ripped the head off that human/alien hybrid from Alien 4: Resurrection, set it on fire, and sent if after Simon Belmont. Which sounds exactly like something Dracula would do. With the second one, I can’t help but think of one of those busts of Beethoven rich people put on their pianos to distract company from the fact that they can’t play. The bust also seems to be dripping a little, so I guess that’s not a statue – someone actually chopped Ludwig van Beethoven in half, set him on fire, and gave him arcane levitating magic to assail Simon Belmont. And you know who’d be up to that job? That’s right: whoever keeps greenlighting new movies starring St. Bernards, and Dracula. Finally, the third incarnation of the Castlevania ghost looks again much like the first one, only its skull is significantly more human, and it appears to have gained an arm. Which allows it to play rock-paper-scissors and perform sign language for people with one arm. That may seem like a strange ability to bestow on your minions, but you know who’d disagree with that? People with no arms. And Dracula.
Greedy, thieving Scrooge McDuck didn’t care what restless spirits he stirred up in Duck Tales, as long as it got him more precious gold. Not unlike Link in the Legend of Zelda, Scrooge could smack gravestones with his trusty cane to see what would pop out – a precious gem, or an unkillable ghost. I suppose you could call it determination, but lunatic greed seems to fit the (duck)bill better. Particularly because these were the kind of ghosts that you couldn’t kill – at best, you could hope for an invincibility power-up so you could walk through them. Scrooge McDuck, you foul fowl. Your obsession with wealth will be the death of us all.
Adventures in the Magical Kingdom was a bad Disney-themed game that three people accidentally bought and only I played through. The compelling premise of this game is that Goofy left the key to the gate of Disneyworld inside the great castle, which in turn needs six keys to be opened. The big parade has to start, and for that they need the key! Mickey, Goofy and Donald enlist your aid to save them from having to reimburse ticket prices. Why they don’t find the keys themselves becomes clear soon enough, because every park ride is trying its best to kill you, and all you have to defend yourself is candles.
One of the rides you have to ‘beat’ to gain a key is the Haunted Mansion. As Mickey puts it:
Thanks, mouseman. It’s nice to know that me risking my fucking soul is no reason for you stop smiling. Well, 999 might be a bit of an exaggerated count, but the mansion sure has its share of annoying ectoplasmatics.
Even ghosts need their fun sometimes, as proven by these spirits pairing off and twirling about across a room filled with self-playing pianos. And in the true style of a tango ballroom dancing mosh pit, they repeatedly try to smash into you.
This ghostie assaults you while you’re crossing the floor-less library on flying chairs, and tries to knock you to your death with perfectly timed swoops. Which suggests that this particular ghost may have been a bird in his former life.
Finally the ‘head ghost’ chases you around a room filled with candles and talking busts. You have to hit him about fifty times, while dodging him once he’s cornered you requires the expert timing of a mighty gamepad ninja filled to the brim with adrenalin and more hatred for ghosts than Walter Peck has for Ghostbusters. On a sidenote, contrary to most NES ghosts, the ones in this game can actually be killed with your conventional weapon. However, since your conventional and only weapon is tossing candles, I say they count. And by God, be sure that next time you stop by Disneyworld, you bring enough candles to set that damned place on FIRE.
Of course, when you’re looking for ghost-themed games, you’re going to think of Ghostbusters. A great movie, and what would be easier to translate into a game than a movie about guys shooting at ghosts? Activision had a different idea, however, and created this:
Just for reference: you’re the Ghostbusters logo. The ugly tan-colored ghosts are invading buildings or something, I couldn’t really tell. See, Activision apparently saw a different movie than we did, and made the game mostly about driving around nondescript roads to earn money, get gas, and buy equipment. There’s some element of ghost catching in there somewhere, but I couldn’t be assed to actually find it – after being told several times by the bottom of the screen “You need a beam!!!" and “You need a trap!!!" I decided there were better ways to insult my taste, such as eating what’s stuck to the bottom of my shoe, or eating what’s stuck to the bottom of my shoe while watching Friends.
Look. All the glory of driving Ecto-1 around New York’s uncrowded streets and roads to reach the next gas station, at your fingertips. Reportedly the 4-DVD set release of Ghostbusters the movie in 2005 will feature a whopping 50 minutes of re-added footage of the Ghostbusters tanking gas. And look at that fucking shop. You have to buy a GHOST VACCUUM or a HYPER BEAM or goddamn GHOST FOOD OR... fuck, let’s just leave it at that ghostbusting in this game is as satisfying as losing a game of chess.
By the time Ghostbusters 2 was out, I guess Activision realized nobody liked their previous game, because they actually inserted some ghostbusting into the sequel. They still didn’t actually watch the movie, but at least they had someone who had seen it relay a summary to them, over the phone, in a different language. Still no powerful protonpacks, now you have a wimpy little blaster that spits globs of snot at the ghosts. Maybe they were trying to emulate those slime cannons the Ghostbusters use at the end of the movie, but it’s still a little pathetic. The ghosts don’t seem to get hurt much either. It’s kind of extra sad because the Ghostbusters even did a little product placement for Nintendo – to control the Statue of Liberty, they used a NES Advantage! Ah well, at least they remembered to put in Slimer...
The driving is back, but it’s a little more fun now. The whole concept of driving is saved though, by this little guy. My God, look at that cute little bastard. Sure, he’s your enemy, and I know I said I didn’t like ghosts, but... <3 That little floating pillowcase can steal my trousers any day of the week. OMG! Look at those teeny red eyes!
But it’s not all fun and games. Cute ghosts or no, you need a foe to intimidate you. And what better ghost to take that part than the scourge of Carpathia, the sorrow of Moldavia...
Vigo! Way to scowl there, old buddy. I’m scared, ooh, you’re frightening me. Now you’re an angry tiger. Rrr! You’re a tiger on the prowl! Rawr! Now vogue for me, baby!
Speaking of movies turned into videogames, Nightmare on Elm Street had you traversing a town full of evil animals in an attempt to either escape or destroy Freddy Krueger. I wouldn’t know, I didn’t beat it yet. If you lingered for too long, though, the screen would darken and the otherwise wholesome venomous spiders and bloodsucking bats would turn into creepy heads on legs and winged skulls. I assume this meant you’d fallen asleep (fighting poisonous predators gets pretty old after a while - believe me, I know) and landed in Freddy’s nightmare world. Adorable killer bees turned into their nightmare equivalents – flailing little ghosts. Actually, they were sort of cute too. And they popped to just a single punch. But you couldn’t blame them, they were some of the weakest minions of the real threat...
...and you’d meet him if you waited a while longer in the nightmare world. There’s just one thing I don’t recall seeing in any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies:
The way I remember it, murdered kids usually turned into either splashes of guts on the wall or explosive blood fountains, not sweet little angels. Hell, it kinda looks like Freddy’s battling Chubby Cherub or Kid Icarus here. Oh well, on to the next title.
Talk about false advertisement. While looking for NES titles with ghosts in them, I checked out that old naked knight classic Ghosts ‘N Goblins. Nothing can describe the sense of betrayal I felt when I realized there weren’t any ghosts in this title. Come to think of it, I don’t think I found any goblins either! So if you happened to buy this game twenty years ago – go back to the store NOW and ask for a refund. You can’t let them get away with this.
Now it is the beginning of a fantastic story!Bubble Bobble told you right before it sucked you in and destroyed your mind. Bubble-blowing your way through endless levels, you had to keep moving, because if you took your sweet time, Baron von Blubba would pop in to kill you with his bare hands. Er... fringes. He looked like a ghost, though taking his name into account, I’m thinking he was probably more slimy than insubstantial. And he exploded just as soon as you touched him or any of the remaining enemies. I’m not saying he was a weakling, though. For one thing, you couldn’t do anything to get rid of him other than die, and for another, I’m sure that if he wanted to, he could send me straight to the Cave of Monsters where I’d be forced to learn the true magic of life, love, friendship and happiness. Brrrr.
Monster in my Pocket was quite a good game, but you could tell that just by watching the intro. A tiny Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster are sitting in front of a TV – that’s turned off, by the way – when it suddenly springs on and some guy named Warlock appears on the screen, telling them:
"Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!!...... I sent out my henchmen while you were watching TV! They will defeat you."
A criminal genius, that Warlock. Fortunately, Drac and Frank aren’t pussies either, as they reply:
Dracula: "Come on, Warlock!! We will beat you!!"
Chin up, Frank! You don’t sound too excited to kick some crazy monster ass! The game was based on the rubber-figure collecting fad of the same name, similar to Battle Beasts and M.U.S.C.L.E. I easily got sucked into this one, since I was (and still sort of am) obsessed with mythical monsters, and they came with descriptions on what country their legend originated from and what they supposedly did. The ghost’s origin was a little more generic than that of such exotic monsters as the Cockatrice, Jotun Troll, or Man-Island, and I remember having three or four of these little spooks:
“The spirit of a dead person who died too soon, they scare the living as revenge."
Well, great. It looks more like they died from the migraine to end all migraines, and now spend eternity tearing their heads off and screaming in agony. Maybe Dracula should’ve just offered them some asparin instead of punching them. Oh well, whatever works.
Ghoul School was a profoundly strange little game that probably would’ve been more popular if it hadn’t been such a complex labyrinth of rooms and tough enemies. You were a punker named Spike, whose school, “Cool School High,” had been taken over by monsters. The monsters also kidnapped your cheerleader girlfriend, Samantha Pom-Pom. Yeah, with a name like that your career choices are pretty much limited between cheerleader and teletubby. Anyway, a lot of the enemies were raw animated tissue supporting huge eyeballs (see above, in adorable chef hat), but there were some more ethereal foes as well.
The object of the game was mostly to get to the top of the building and from there on reach the school’s boiler room, where the boss waited for you. To get there, you had to pass through the (man-sized) air ducts first. Your progress was stymied by these gray spectres, who had the nasty habit of being invincible. You could hit them with your bat (which, in truth, looked more like a little white ruler), but they’d just become translucent and attack you anyway. Fiends! Wait a second, they remind me of something...
Aha! And for the record, it wasn’t that bad a movie, you wieners.
At one point you got to live out the American high school student dream: kill your principal. According to my info (since the game doesn’t give you any), the principal of Cool School High got turned into the Grim Reaper here. And instead of staying out of her way till you can undo the curse looming over Ghoul School, you get to destroy her so you can steal her little cute little sickle, which does some major damage against creatures. Apparently she wasn’t quite (un)dead enough yet anyway, because when you defeat her, she floats up as a Grim Reaper-ghost. Which means... uh... that even skeletons have souls. I guess. So... think about that.
Monster Party will always be one of the craziest games of all times, rivaled perhaps only by Zombie Nation. Somehow overprotective parents and Nintendo itself completely overlooked the bloody skeletons kneeling in a sea of blood on the screen in between levels, or the way the smiling and winking faces in the background (^_^) all became crushed piles of gory gristle once you passed the giant cactus in the first level. Next to overwhelming gore, however, the game had the weirdest enemies and bosses, and the latter all came with a crazy intro line. For instance, a legless punkrocker told you “Face the music!" while a walking samurai harness said “I...... am a slowpoke." What any of the enemies were was really up to creative interpretation, but I think Pumpkin Head here was probably a ghost. Hence the white robe. Besides, what’s more Halloweeny than a pumpkin? Though he begged me not to pick on him, he turned out to be able to fend for himself quite nicely, as his head started spinning and he bombarded me with tiny pumpkins that I had to bat back at him. I failed and died, but I don’t blame myself. I blame the fact that my ‘hero’ is just a dorky little kid with shiny hair who cries whenever he sees a beautiful star.
Am I forgetting anything important? Ah yes...
Was there ever a more classic ghost hunt than Pacman? Hell, I used to own a big Atari-knockoff keyboard contraption that you hooked up to your TV, then you inserted tiny cassette tapes into it to play the games. Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this. One of the games was a Pacman ripoff, actually called Ghost Hunter. Isn’t that the most? Another game on it was a lame, but in concept pretty fucked up, text-based Russian Roulette game. Ah, I’ll get to that in my next article, “Classic Digital Suicides." Back to Pacman. There was never a more classic struggle. While the ghosts pursued you through the maze to kill you with their googly eyes, eating a power pellet would turn the tables on those suckers. Suddenly the huntee became the hunter! A philosophical experience that paralleled my own life. I hope you don’t think I’m reading too much into this. After all, we’re talking about the game that drove this website’s master insane.
That concludes my exposition on ghosts, super-nature’s transparent fiends. Of course that’s not all of them that have haunted the NES, but one can only delve so deep into their territory before one is lost... forever. Have a happy Halloween, but let me tell you – don’t go around pushing tombstones looking for treasure or magic swords. It doesn’t work, and the family of whoever’s buried there usually has a huge stick up their ass about that shit.