Title  : Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Platforms  : Nintendo 64
Publisher  : Konami
Game Rating  : 8.6
Review by  : Ken Gagne

One of the earliest games for the Super Nintendo was Legend of the Mystical Ninja, a title heralded as a unique and enjoyable platform game. Only Japanese gamers have been granted three sequels since then. Konami has finally decided to give its American audience a return of its quirky hero in Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, for Nintendo 64. 

This is the fifth entry in the Japanese series known as Goemon. When the original Goemon was released here several years ago, much of the humor and subtlety of that game was lost in the translation. This time, Konami has left a distinct Japanese feel to Goemon's world, while bringing it to the 3D level, similar to Super Mario 64, Gex, and countless other clones. 

Players will guide the ninja Goemon and his three friends through the Japanese countryside as they try to take down the Peach Mountain Shoguns. The characters are weird, the creatures strange, and jokes poor. But together they form a most unusual and surprising environments in which to adventure. There are a few side games and some first-person perspective "mech" battles, but not as many diversions exist as in earlier Goemon games. Also lacking is the two-player mode. 

Controlling the quartet of available heroes is not extremely difficult. Each character performs identically, save for the weapons they have at their disposal. There are buttons each to switch between the personages and their artillery, as well as perform the rare magic feat, and display an on-screen map. So many functions leaves little for camera adjustment, and so two buttons must be used simultaneously to adjust the view, which proves uncommon but not problematic. 

The only control problems that may arise are due to the graphics. Most games of this 3D nature have trouble with camera views; Goemon is no exception. Some buildings have narrow corridors or low ceilings. Running into these locations can create a mess of glitches and rampant polygons, where determining what's what becomes a puzzle that should not exist. The camera also changes the direction in which the heroes respond to the analog stick, so what's left one moment may be elsewhere in a second. This is especially true when leaving a building and the game loads the next scenario: there is no default view from which to expect to see first. 

When the camera is not bouncing helter-skelter, the graphics are enjoyable. The world scrolls smoothly, be it through bamboo forests or into a setting sun. The monsters are just plain strange — there's no other way to describe them — and the town citizens are living caricatures of emotions. 

The music contributes to the Japanese reality, its whistles and drums creating an authentic atmosphere. Lively tunes introduce both friend and foe. Colorful sound effects indicate an exploding robot or building, or the moaning of a hidden ghost. 

Goemon is a fun game, but not particularly difficult. The standard enemies are sword fodder and fall easily. Most attacks come from the surroundings, in the form of caltrops or swinging pillars of flame. The bosses have apparent weaknesses but peculiar personalities and behavior patterns, making them a joy to demolish. 

The ninja's world is a big one, and getting lost occurs often. All people and places have retained their original Japanese appellations, which may confuse some players. But maps and travel items make it easy to backtrack, and a visit to the local shaman will often produce a helpful clue. Game progress can be saved only with a controller pack. 

Goemon has been absent from the American gaming scene for a long time, but his return is a welcome addition to the Nintendo 64's library. The combination of Japanese and fantasy makes what might otherwise be a 3D platform clone an enjoyable experience for any gamer.


This article is copyright (c) 1998, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 28-Apr-98