Maximo: Ghosts to Glory
I knew what this game was supposed to be, and the name threw me off. It was to be a sequel, a 3D follow up to Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts—a game which was in turn a superb follow up to the almost-classic Ghouls ‘n Ghosts. Why then, the name Maximo? Why not Ghouls ‘n Ghosts 3D or something similarly derivative and obvious? It’s almost as if Capcom was trying to distance this effort from previous ones, and nothing turns me off more than game makers snidely stepping all over even their own legacies after they’ve learned a few tricks. It’s as if they’re saying “what came before was all nonsense, now look what we can do! You won’t even recognize this current, ALL-NEW instalment!”
And we usually don’t.
Maximo is different. Here’s a game that makes the transition from two dimensions to three in most impressive fashion, giving us a game that feels decidedly old school and instantly playable with much of the scope and replay value we expect from today’s breed of game. I’ve played a handful of good 3D updates lately—Castlevania’s Lament of Innocence was one such solid title—but Maximo outdoes that game and just about any I can think of, at least on one crucial level. Other good 3D follow ups do justice to their predecessors, but Maximo is arguably better than the two 16-bitters to come before it. That’s right, better.
The story hasn’t really evolved much; it’s still a maiden rescuing business at its core, with some clever bits involving Maximo and the Grim Reaper played out with surprisingly talented voice acting at the fore. The two forge a dubious and unlikely alliance, which neatly explains the game’s continue function (a special coin given to the Reaper gives you another shot at life once an unfortunate incident plops you in his realm).
‘G and G’ games have always been dark and cartoony platformers, coloured by foreboding atmosphere and punishing jumps and enemies situated at just the wrong places. As before, our hero’s armour can be upgraded, and taking damage at its lowest level of protection leaves him running about in nothing but his boxers. Another returning series staple (one that we could do without perhaps) is the magician hidden away in some of the treasure chests scattered about the environs. He’s as annoying as ever; his appearance alone when you expected to receive much needed armour is bad enough, but he finds it necessary to fire green blasts that turn you into a foolish shadow of your former self while enemies swarm to get in free shots. True to form, the boxers and the magician’s stunts furnish the proceedings with some level of comic relief in an unforgiving game that is mostly all business.
You’ll begin the action in the graveyard area, which looks pretty good. Coffins and headstones abound, as you might expect, and there’s lots of leaping about and hacking and slashing to be done. Yes, hacking and slashing, and not tossing daggers or lances or blue flames. But don’t despair—Maximo isn’t Chaos Legion—the game still feels authentic by virtue of the plethora of power ups available for your sword. They’ll enable your steel to emit flames, ice, and an all-powerful purple charge as well. Maximo will also learn how to throw his shield at foes, as well as gain items empowering it to rebuke enemies after a parry, or summon out-of-reach coins and jewels.
The game offers you some time to try out your basic moves without penalty from enemy attack at the onset, and you’d do well to practice them, because things get hairy in a hurry. Following in the footsteps of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Maximo has a double-jump ability, which may be more useful here than it was there. While bounding about on terra firma is a joy, it is in the leaping that I find the game’s only major flaw.
It’s not that handling an airborne Maximo is unwieldy, it’s that the camera chronicling his movement is. The system isn’t horrible per se, as it allows players a first person look-around view, as well as a centre-camera function. But the latter is troublesome; you can’t correct the camera as you’re moving. Maximo needs to stand in place while you jab deliberately at the button, and the camera sluggishly swings around behind him, often taking the long way ’round to do so. This is bad enough, but the camera also seems to be pointed too high. The adventure demands some rather precise jumping of you at times, and it’s inordinately difficult to gauge what’s just in front and below you at your feet. You’ll find yourself using the look-around camera far too often to measure the distance of moving platforms directly ahead of you.
Aside from this problem though, Maximo plays like a dream. He’s uncannily responsive in his thrusting, overhead and downward stabbing attacks. His 360 spin will rend zombies and smash through the bones of undead skeletons. These are the two mainstays of the undead army. The skeletons especially, have myriad variations. They’ll come throwing punches at you; they’ll come with swords, lances, and shields. Some will parry your attacks stubbornly, forcing you to come up with a better strategy than “run up and slash”. Most enemies will fall eventually from constant slashing, but you’ll usually be presented with an earlier opportunity to put them away with the leap and downward stab technique, once you’ve downed them temporarily.
Maximo’s environments include the familiar graveyard area, a swampy area replete with crowding vines and surging crocodiles, an ever-present snowy area introducing slippery slopes and lost pirate ships manned by skeleton crews—and so on. Each environment is home to several levels, and all of them must feel your steely wrath before the boss level is unlocked. The end-of-level bad guys are swollen with evil personality, and a neat trick is needed to take out each one. They’ll seem impervious to Maximo’s attacks until the penny drops and it dawns on you what to do in each case. Once a boss is dispatched, it’s on to the next environment. The pacing of the levels is ideal, as challenging segments are spaced out between checkpoints at just the right places. Also, each environment has just the right amount of levels—just as you’re getting tired of the look of the swamp for instance, you’ll find yourself at the boss, and then it’s on to the welcome and frigid air of the ice cold region.
Maximo: Ghosts to Glory feels nearly perfect. Aside from the lazy camera, really, it’s as good as it gets. I’d be remiss not to mention the ambivalent feelings the soundtrack elicited though—it’s really quite funny. Right from the start, I recognized the somewhat subdued, somewhat remixed version of the famous Ghouls ‘n Ghosts theme! I was thrilled. But then it seemed as if this remixed tune was worked into a song for every level, so that I was given the distinct impression that the game had only the one song. And so the thrill was gone. Somewhat luckily, the pale and quiet nature of the score is such that you won’t even notice it after awhile, as it relegates itself to pleasant enough ambient noise.
I’ve heard it said that Maximo’s continue and save functions are a difficult duo to fight with. This isn’t really true; the spirits that you must collect to earn continue coins are in great abundance, and the coins required to buy your saves are even easier to accrue. Surely, had Maximo been equipped with killer soundtrack and quicker, smarter camera, it would have been a classic. As it stands, it improves upon the goodness in games it brings into this next generation with an easy, effortless panache. And that’s more than I could have hoped for.