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Wednesday 19 July 2006
Fear has long been regarded as the series' lifeblood, but thanks to a ballsy shift in the balance of player abilities versus intensity (by which we mean the player has sharper claws while the game remains malicious), Ultimate Ghosts 'n' Goblins finally offers a chance to be intrepid rather than scared.
You can still wage that traditional war of attrition if you want, stumbling through a thousand continues before collapsing over the finish line. But given that the timing of every swirling axe and gob of acidic bile has now been tweaked to encourage almost suicidal play, you'd make a poor Arthur if you did.
And he, more than ever, is the character that Fujiwara and friends want you to become. His absurd heroism isn't a comic illustration any more, but a code of conduct, the game baiting you into squaring your jaw, hurdling into the mouth of death and thinking nothing of the times when only your dignity remains armoured.
Each enemy encounter hides a unique pattern of balls-to-the-wall leaps, timely dodges and opportune strikes that will get you through unscathed, and the prospect of finding and exploiting every one leaves few doubts over the game's long-term appeal.
Though its overriding theme is death - a glorious tombola of death - Ultimate itself wants to live. It wants to be played, replayed, charted, confronted, defied... and only then defeated.