Capcom aims squarely for whatever bundle of nerves it is that governs one's nostalgia for days gone by with Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins, and it's a pretty good shot. The formula of leaping around in either a suit of armor or your skivvies as you fight the undead remains intact, and it is expanded upon in a few meaningful ways. The presentation does an even-handed job of retaining the spirit of the original 2D Ghosts 'n Goblins while rendering the action with lots of colorful polygonal detail, and it's hard not to let yourself get worked up when you hear the lush renditions of the classic 8-bit music. It's mostly a sound 2D platformer, but some of the old-school gameplay holdovers hurt more than they help, and the game relies too heavily on repeatedly playing through the same levels to pad out its length.
The game sets things up with a couple of paragraphs of backstory, though it would've been as effective if it just said "fight evil, save the princess." There's no kind of plot development beyond the game's opening, and there doesn't need to be. As Arthur, you must fight through six unique levels built around lots of perilous platforming, each staffed with a wide variety of the undead, the demonic, and the just plain evil. Each level has a strikingly unique look to it, though they all have a certain haunted-house vibe. There's an undead-infested graveyard, a gothic castle with lots of stained glass, and several levels that don't give such a specific sense of place, but ooze and slither around you as though they were alive. Some of the level designs can be clever, and you'll be caught by surprise with disappearing platforms, crumbling staircases, and suddenly rising levels of unspeakable fluids, and each discrete area is punctuated with a respectably large, if predictable, boss fight. It's all put together skillfully, but the level designs don't color outside the lines established by previous platformers, and they're rarely as inventive as the 16-bit Ghouls 'n Ghosts games that precede it.
As is Ghosts 'n Goblins tradition, when you're initially dropped into this nightmarish ordeal, you're equipped with a suit of armor, the ability to jump, and an unlimited number of pointy lances to chuck at your enemies. Bumping into an enemy or getting hit by one of their projectiles will knock the armor clean off of Arthur's bony little frame, leaving him to leap about in nothing but his boxers, and receiving another bump in this state will reduce him to a pile of clattering bones. By the end of the first level, though, you'll find that there are multiple levels of armor to be had, making it possible to take more than just two hits before you go all skeletal. You'll also pick up a pair of boots that give you the ability to double-jump, a maneuver so indispensable you'll wish you had it from the get-go. There are also nearly a dozen different weapons to be picked up over the course of the game, including series standards like lances and daggers, as well as all-new weapons like whips and boomerang scythes. Each, of course, has its own set of pros and cons.
Ultimate Ghosts 'n Goblins introduces some new ideas for the series, such as shields, which you can use to block attacks by pressing down on the D pad. Some shields have ancillary effects as well, ranging from the ability to fly for short bursts to replenishing your stores of magical energy whenever you successfully block an attack. That magical energy comes into play when you pick up trinkets that are hidden throughout the game, each of which can grant you specific magical powers, such as the ability to slow down time, produce a massive wave of fire, or simply destroy any enemies that are too close for comfort. Arthur can also cling to and pull himself up onto ledges that he can't quite make a clean jump to, and all of these new abilities go a ways in injecting something fresh into what is otherwise a very familiar game.