16-Bit Boy: Ghosts ‘n Goblins – My Shame
16-Bit Boy Michael Sterrett faces some old demons with brutally tough NES game Ghosts ‘n Goblins…
Life is tough, eh, brother? Just when you manage to face down some indefinable obstacle that’s been lodged in your psyche since you were a bairn, something else pops in and takes its place like a big bully stealing your seat on the bus.
Personally, I haven’t been able to mentally calculate ratios, fractions or anything of that kind since an incident involving a crazy substitute teacher when I was nine. Taking bewildering offence at my inability to solve some fractions in a textbook she informed the class that, if I still couldn’t solve them after lunch, I would be forced to finish the rest of the school day sat on her knee.
How my brain would suddenly be able to function at a higher level after eating a Tracker Bar and a horrible sandwich, I don’t know. But, being a crafty little bugger, I feigned a knee injury while playing football and got sent home. Take that, you old bag! Yet despite my victory over the obviously mentally unstable substitute, I still feel scared and inferior when faced with a maths problem. And it is with some embarrassment that I must admit a similar mental deficiency when it comes to a classic videogame from my youth.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins has haunted me since the late ’80s, taunting me ceaselessly and popping into my head at my lowest moments of personal failure. The reason? I never got past the first level, despite owning it for over ten years.
RHINO IN RED
For the life in me I simply could not get past the big white rhino-demon thing in a red waistcoat. First he would take my armour, leaving me running about in a little pair of pants. Then, with grim inevitability, he would proceed to finish me off with one his fire balls. It was like banging my head against a brick wall, only without the promise of sweet unconsciousness to follow.
And so we danced an infernal waltz that refused to die, until one merciful day when my right-on, lefty parents shipped off my NES to some other kids who would apparently enjoy it more. I never got to have another bash at Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Until now.
By way of a NES emulator on my laptop, I was plunged once more into the schlock and 8-bit grandeur so ingrained in my subconscious that I half expected some repressed abuse memory to pop onto the screen and leer at me menacingly until my brain imploded. Surely, after all this time, I would finally be able to slay this figurative dragon, putting behind me all those years of shame, failure and degradation. I began to picture the new improved me: three stone lighter, taller, happier, chatting casually to some beautiful and talented people in a bar, sipping a mojito and cracking up the gathered throng with a witty and self-deprecating anecdote about the last time I had lunch with Stephen Fry.
It was all so clear. But would fate allow it? Would it heck. And it’s that menace in the red waistcoat that is responsible.
As I write this, I am still none the wiser as to what lies behind the big wooden door he guards so jealously. To be frank, I doubt I will ever know, just as I will never be able to get my head around what five eighths are. But there is one slightly optimistic caveat to my journey of pain. I realise now that my inability to master Ghosts ‘n Goblins wasn’t because I was an idiot child, my tiny mind warped by too many episodes of Press Gang and E-numbers. It was simply a real bastard of a game. And, in some small way, that helps.