|Title||:||Maximo: Ghosts to Glory|
|Platforms||:||Sony PlayStation 2|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Tom Wolfe told us we can't go home again. I defer to Capcom on the matter; few companies have pioneered as many genres, then returned to beat them to death, as Capcom.
Yet their reinvention of the classic and nearly-forgotten Ghosts 'n Goblins series is surprisingly fresh and entertaining. This PlayStation 2 incarnation goes by the name Maximo: Ghosts to Glory.
The wicked fiend Achille has seized the power of the Underworld, and with it, good Sir Maximo's kingdom. Players must guide our hero through more than two dozen levels to vanquish the tyrant and rescue the lovely Sophia.
Having transitioned from 2D to 3D action platformer, this series has taken on some elements of exploration. As players battle ghouls, ghosts, and goblins, they often must seek out keys to unlock treasure chests and gates, or armor to provide better protection than Maximo's boxer shorts.
The controls are easy to learn. Maximo has two unique sword attacks, with some simple but effective combinations. Players have little control over the camera, and none when backed into a corner — precisely when such control would be most needed.
This hindrance is all the more unfortunate, as Maximo is a jumping-intensive game. There are plenty of platforms and pitfalls our loincloth-clad conqueror must navigate; only a slight misstep will cost him a precious life. Without full camera control, judging the distance from one precarious perch to the next can be a fatal business. Such situations aren't simply the product of a devious game designer; they're completely frustrating moments that tempt players to hurl their joysticks against the wall in a fit of rage. You'll wish the hero was Mario, not Maximo.
Fortunately, Maximo offers gameplay that balances these dark urges. The collection of gold, armor, and weaponry is enticing, and though the common foes don't vary much, the situations in which they're encountered present new and frequent challenges. Some enemies will require further attacks once downed, or will leave with a parting shot, proving that you can't keep a ghoul man down. The bosses are a bit too comical to belong in the Ghosts 'n Goblins lineage, and require only marginal thought to deduce their weakness. Again, it's the frequent platform jumping that presents the greatest threat to Maximo's wellbeing.
The gameplay's violence does not warrant the game's "Teen" rating. There's plenty of undead rising from fresh graves, but brutality against them produces neither blood nor guts. The game also isn't the comedy Capcom suggests, despite the variety of boxerwear in which Maximo can invest his coinage.
In Maximo, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch. Lives, continues, even the opportunity to save to a memory card all must be earned or purchased. The gamers who most need such succor will, by virtue, be those least likely to get it. Yet this system is vastly superior to offering finite lives, thwarting players who have expended their allotment; or infinite lives, which can obliterate a game's challenge.
Maximo isn't cartoonish, but he's certainly animated. Whether he's accoutered with steel armor, or been assaulted down to his unmentionables, he's still a lethal fighting engine. But not only does Maximo leave no footprints — why bother having a snow level? — he also has one of the most pixelated shadows I've ever seen. These gaffes are noticeable only because there's so much other fine detail in the game, such as a missed swing planting Maximo's sword in a nearby tree. The enemies and the worlds they inhabit — from graveyard to jungle, frozen tundra and beyond — are fantastic works of PlayStation 2 graphics. The perspective on these vistas is often skewed, as though to imply a bad B-movie.
The music consists of modern remixes on classic Ghosts 'n Goblins themes, with a few Tim Burton-esque tunes for good measure. Players may not notice the familiar songs until they find themselves humming them later. Sound effects enliven the environment, as approaching enemies can be heard and anticipated. Not only do enemies make noises (not-so-scary groans and cries), but Maximo's audio includes fine minutia; for example, a flaming sword and an ice sword sound distinctly different.
Maximo is an effective 3D interpretation of a classic game series. It embellishes frustrating aspects of classic gameplay that its predecessors avoided, while offering new challenges. Take the good with the bad. Remember: no guts, no glory.
This article is copyright (c) 2002, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 18-Feb-02