Maximo vs Army of Zin
Maximo returns, offering players a glimpse of the sort of difficulty that was commonplace in the burgeoning years of the industry.
By Kikizo Staff
Unforgiving game design has been a hallmark of the Ghosts 'n Goblins series since its inception some nineteen years ago and as a result, many players have over the years fostered a love-hate relationship with the venerable franchise. A trend continued with the 2001 release of Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, a title that, like its forebears, offered a markedly greater challenge than many of its contemporaries. With Maximo vs Army of Zin, the second such release, Capcom has refined many aspects of the design, the result of which is a more action-oriented, and moderately easier title. While not as challenging as those that have come before it, the concessions made in Maximo vs Army of Zin have significantly reduced the level of frustration; a fair comprise, one would think.
Eight months have passed since the events that transpired in Maximo: Ghosts to Glory and though Achille is purportedly no more, Maximo now searches in vain for his beloved Sophia. The interim has also seen the once tenuous relationship between himself and Grim (that's The Grim Reaper to your average soul) strengthen, with the two now having forged a much closer bond. So much so that Grim now plays a significant role within the title, one beyond that of the perfunctory duties he held in the original. On their travels, the duo encounter, and destroy, a mechanized entity that they soon discover is but one unit in the Army of Zin, a fearsome race of automated monstrosities believed to have long since been sealed within the Great Vault of Castle Hawkmoor. And so, it falls to Maximo (and Grim) to single-handedly turn the tide against a legion of soul-powered automatons.
Although it should remain instantly familiar to those who played the first title, the gameplay has been tweaked in a multitude of ways, most notable of which is the increased emphasis on combat. Players will often find themselves in confrontations in which they are vastly outnumbered, though being acutely more adept at such situations than in his previous adventure, Maximo is able to easily deal with such odds using vertical and horizontal slashes, 360 spins, shield attacks and the like. When attacking the enemy, a Devil May Cry-esque combo counter appears on-screen that tracks the number of blows dealt, and the higher the number, the greater the monetary reward offered when the enemies are finally dispatched. And should he find himself in too precarious a situation, Maximo can call on Grim, whom players then control for a limited period of time. Indeed, while Maximo is considerably better prepared to defend himself this time around, he must also look after the innocents encountered on his travels. Guided by screams of terror or pleas for help, players will have to defend civilians (or aid other combatants) from attack by the Zin footsoldiers. If rescued, survivors will reward Maximo for his troubles with items such as money, a key or even a tankard (health). Rescuing a traveling salesman or wizened old soldier will allow players to use their accrued Koin to purchase new moves, abilities, power-ups and other assorted boons to assist them in their quest.
Speaking of which, the power-up system is far more streamlined than that of its predecessor. Whereas in that title, players only retained a select few abilities upon death -- thus, players constantly had to juggle which power-ups they wanted to keep and which they were prepared to forfeit should they die -- in this iteration, players need only purchase a move or power-up in order to have access to it for the duration of the adventure. Additionally, players no longer need to purchase saves in order to record their progress, this can simply be done between levels. In lieu of the hub-based system employed previously, Maximo vs Army of Zin is entirely linear, forcing players to progress through each stage in the correct order. Old-school fans will no doubt appreciate the fact that the map that now charts Maximo's progress is reminiscent of those seen in past titles. Each level concludes with a short summary of your prowess, while presenting players with a completion percentage based upon the number of enemies defeated, treasure found, secrets discovered and innocents rescued. Total mastery of each category will signify mastery of that particular stage, which in turn unlocks art resources that may be viewed in the title's gallery.
Susumu Matsushita is once more responsible for the creatures that inhabit the world of Maximo, entities that are at once both menacing and yet comical in appearance. The Zin, in fact, almost steal the show, what with their unique design and limited, but endearing animations. From the awkward gait of the large, hulking monstrosities to the mosquito-like aerial units, all are wonderfully realized; a fact that makes it all the more satisfying to destroy them. A sense of light-heartedness pervades much of the title, and little touches such as seemingly innocuous rabbits that suddenly turn well... er, rabid when you strike them, make for a humorous romp. The engine behind Maximo's latest adventure remains partially unchanged from that of his first. Though it sports noticeable improvements, such as an increased number of on-screen enemies, and more detailed environments, it has not made the sort of strides seen by other titles over the past few years. Whether due in part to the more frenzied nature of the gameplay or not, it also lacks some of the atmosphere found in the original.
What is noticeably improved upon the original, is the score. A series of emphatic, forceful tracks that complement the harried gameplay nicely. Particularly memorable is the track featured in one level, Road to Hawkmoor; a powerful, stirring piece. The sound effects, many of which seem pulled from the first title, are also nicely done, though are in this iteration complemented by the wonderful metallic sounds of the Zin. As a brief aside, the pre-rendered cutscenes, unlike the previous game, now synch up much better with the voices. The voice-acting is largely inoffensive, and while it is not exceptional, few would find much fault with it.
Though Maximo's adventures seem to be deviating more and more from those of Arthur, his purported ancestor, they are a great deal of fun in their own right. Perhaps in time, the two will share little more than passing ties to one another, but then, when a game is this much fun, does it really matter? Though it originally used the Ghosts 'n Goblins series as a blueprint for its design, Maximo is now forging its own path, and it is one we would certainly be willing to travel again.