As a kid, I played a lot of Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts on Genesis and eventually, Super Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins on SNES. For what my brain remembers as an entire summer, I would sit on the floor at my friend Andy’s house and we’d hot seat our way through the game for hours at a time. When we needed a break, his mom would make us toasted peanut butter sandwiches and ramen noodles. When we finished eating, we’d return to the game.
The game was perfectly tuned for masochist elementary schoolers:
- Difficult as all heck. I don’t know how much of this was the limited options we had, but both of us gravitated towards more difficult games and genres (we also couch co-oped a lot of SHMUPS). The game was so difficult that Andy and I each had our own specialties and we’d swap the controller for different sections of a level. A difficult platforming section with moving platforms? Andy will handle that. That super awkward double-jump that’s easy to miss? That one’s on me.
- Absolutely stupid humor. Your character gets knocked into his underwear when he’s hit, and sometimes gets turned into a duck.
- Badass soundtrack. I’m sure purists have thoughts, but we played mostly on the Genesis, and the Genesis sound chip was wonderful, quirky, and better than anything else out there.
I don’t think it ever bothered us that when you “beat” the game, it trolls you with a false ending and sends you back to the beginning, forcing you to do the entire thing again. Hell, trolling the player was so common in that era, I don’t even remember noticing it did that. We probably just assumed that was the game’s ending.
Next week, the series is coming back with a new game, Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins Resurrection. So, naturally I’m sitting here this morning thinking about nostalgia.
Nostalgia is a powerful thing. It makes us buy things, do things, and for many, defines how see the world. I’ve always tried to actively question my own nostalgia—not in the “is it really a good idea to listen to this stupid Blink 182 album of my youth” way—but in a “am I being sold something I do not want,” kind of way. This makes me insufferable to be around anytime something comes back. I will carry on being insufferable for the rest of this post, so consider this your warning.
Nostalgia marketing and pandering has been going on for ages, but my generation has a particularly acute case of it. After all, we were the first generation that could readily re-live our youth through the portal of the internet throughout our 20s and 30s in a way that no generation before us could. Getting drunk and looking on eBay for old TMNT toys was a rite of passage, and the rise and spread of video game emulation in the ‘00s made it easier than ever to play the video games of our youth. As these things tend to do, this has lead to all sorts of toxicity, like gatekeeping, where (usually white, male) nerds on the internet block others from enjoying the same things they like, or feel the need to one-up everyone else with their absolutely moronic knowledge of some esoteric topic that no one else gives a shit about.
Of course, every generation and person is nostalgic for something. Almost exactly one year ago—the last time I travelled before the pandemic hit—I visited my grandparents in Ohio. My grandma’s been having memory issues, but she remembers her youth very clearly. Her face would light up when she talked about getting a single piece of candy at a local store from the mean clerk. Or playing in the nearby fields. It was the small, private moments that she remembered most clearly.
In contrast, sometimes I feel like everyone my age (myself including) talks about their youth through the brands and properties they loved. We’ve never been able to let the dead stuff of our youth go because it’s never gone away.
Ahem. Sorry, had a case of old man yells at sky with a side of back in my day.
Look, I’m not here to yuck anyone’s yum, art has whatever value we want to assign to it, and everyone gets to do that on their own. Saying there are no new ideas in media isn’t a new idea, and ignores the original art that comes out every single day. But that can be true while also acknowledging that brands will milk our nostalgia until we’re totally dried out, our pockets empty and our brains permanently tinted rose. I suppose what bums me out most is how much money is involved in all of it.
In any case, I’m sitting here, foot firmly planted in mouth, looking back at my childhood playing Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts—likely misremembering all sorts of details—and looking forward to Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins Resurrection. I plan on getting myself a (toasted) peanut butter sandwich, and dying over and over and over again.
Currently reading: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón and What Doesn’t Kill You by Tessa Miller
Currently watching: Behind Her Eyes
Recently watched: I Care a Lot (⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️)
Currently listening: Radiohead The King of Limbs