Maximo: Ghosts to Glory Review
After a long absence from the video game world, Capcom's Ghouls N' Ghosts franchise has returned -- well sort of. Presenting Maximo, an action/adventure title that largely gets its influence from previous games in the Ghouls' series, as well as taking pointers from today's platform ‘must-haves' -- creating an excellent blend between the two genres. Though being remade with the older generation in mind, Maximo still has a broad appeal, that can be equally as satisfying to the newer generation.
Spanning across three huge consoles as well as the arcade (Ghosts ‘N Goblins (NES and arcade), Ghouls ‘N Ghosts (Genesis) and Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts (SNES)) the series was quite popular back in the so called golden age of videogaming. The story in Maximo takes you on a trip down memory lane, bringing back, basically, the same overall plot. However, Maximo's lucid story will also be interesting to new comers, in spite of its simple plot. The intrepid Maximo had left his castle to embark in a war, and upon returning, discovers that his love, Princess Sophia, is being held captive by the evil King Achille -- once his friendly advisor. Not only has Achille enslaved Sophia, but he also seeks to take her hand in marriage. Equally as devastating, the four sorceresses have been imprisoned in each of the four worlds. With Maximo's kingdom in shambles, and his love being subdued to this evil King, Maximo should dutifully whip his tail; but he knows that if he wages war against him, he will also have to fight an entire army of minions that Achille has at compiled. Before Maximo can react to the sudden and devastating events, Achille shoots him with his magical rod sending him to the deep, sullied pits of the underworld. Shortly thereafter, the seemingly hapless Maximo is standing face to face with death himself, the cadaverous Grim Reaper. In most cases, Maximo would now meet his fate, but the Reaper needs a favor from him, so he spares his life. Achille's bevy of soldiers were those stolen from the grisly Reaper. He doesn't like this at all, so he strikes a deal with Maximo. In hopes that he destroys Achille, the Grim then gives him a deathcoin (continue token) and says that as long as he has it, he will spare his life.
The series has never looked better. Sure, you can say, well the last game in the series was on the SNES. But regardless, Maximo does look quite good. The graphics engine is a reminiscent to Jak & Daxter's, but built around a more archaic time-frame. Even though Jak & Daxter's textures are a bit smoother, Maximo has a lot going for it. Straying away from the comparison of the two, Maximo holds a very simplistic overall look, much like the textures seen in a Zelda or Dark Cloud. However, the lush levels hold so much color that it's hard to notice some of the background's lack of texture detail, especially in midst of all the action. On a good note, the levels don't feature any draw-in whatsoever, so you can almost always see a whole portion of a level just standing in one spot, unless the level's atmosphere is a bit muggy or foggy, which in that case, is from the certain theme. The backgrounds which are unable to be reached are the biggest flaw in the game, because they look so flat and just stand out next to the great looking levels. Though, the most impressive thing about Maximo's visuals is the particle effects depicting incredible environmental sights that are basically identical to the ones in real life. Things such as your sword being trapped in flames or frozen in ice, and the mist created from the snow that floats about above the icy grounds is a marvel to look at.
Furthermore, the pirate levels have snow flakes falling all over the place. But what's just short of amazing is the fact that the flakes fall like real snow, instead of coming down in patterned. Another key area to the graphics are the highly detailed character models. The different main characters all possess a lot of detail--resulting in an very alluring appearance. The Grim Reaper is fantastically detailed as is Maximo, who is easily in the running with Dante for coolest hero. What's really cool is that when Maximo picks up a red key, which is critical to the gameplay, it will actually show it become hooked to his belt. Moreover, not only does it show it, but you can also see how many keys are on his belt according to how many he actually has. He also wears an assortment of armor and clothes all rendered in different layers. It should be noted that each bar of life that Maximo loses, he then loses part of his armor, which will eventually expose him as a heart-wearing boxer freak, which is more than enough to make anyone chuckle.
The amazingly real environmental effects may take the cake as far as in-game visuals go, but the CGs are just hard to explain. In ways, they don't really look like something that would normally come from a video game, and still to this day, don't look like video game material. That's how unique they are, which is a good thing by all means giving us a refreshing look as well as showcasing what the PS2 is really made of. However, it's just too bad that the CG's are few and far between, because they are one of the most impressive visual products coming for a PS2 title thus far.
As the game begins, you are placed into the first level, which is fabricated upon an eerie setting. The first few levels are filled with tons creepy elements that help to better depict the haunted mansion type atmosphere. Staying true to that pattern, each hub level (like the rooms in Mario 64) has a certain theme, being constructed around a certain look such as the icy pirates setting, and the smoggy swamp theme. Each hub level also consists of 4 levels, which follow the hub level's theme, and can be entered and completed by choice. In addition to being able to enter the number of levels, the hub levels are also filled with an array of goons scattered throughout it. The last thing that is found in each hub level is a save point--arguably the biggest detriment of the game. Not only will it take quite some time to find, but once it is found, you will then be charged a hefty price to save your progression (and all following saves). Though being innovative, this facet of the game would have been better left out. Coins are vastly dispersed throughout the levels, however, which is a bit more comforting. Same as the coins, a multitude of enemies are placed through the levels, and while adding a nice sense of appeal, the small number of enemy models becomes a bit verbose at times. Enemies aside, the levels add a nice sense of exploration, breaking the rules of linear paths, by sometimes having the option to take multiple paths to the end, as well as tons of little cave and secrets. Just about the only bit of replay is the fact that after you beat a level you then go back to it in hopes to entirely complete the level by 100%ing it. Once you get a certain percentage, you then keep that percentage regardless of any future performances in the level.
Staying true to most platformers is the wide assortment of power-ups and items found in the levels. Some of the most important ones are the coins, which are used towards buying items and also saving your game. Then there's the fairy like creatures found by destroying the items that contain them. After you collect fifty of these blue fairies, you then receive a deathcoin, which can later be exchanged for a continue. While this may seem rather easy initially, it will get a lot more difficult. After every other visit to the Grim Reaper, he will increase the price. So, for example, if you use 4 continues, you will then end up having to pay him 3 deathcoins once when you run out of lives, instead of 1. Another important item to pick up are the red keys. These keys open new locations and locked treasure chests. Lastly, there are the gold keys, which open new portions of a level.
Capcom has also done a tremendous job incorporating the beloved gameplay we all loved years ago into a 3D world. Simply put, Ghosts ‘N Ghouls has made a spectacular transition from a 2D side-scroller to a 3D platformer, while still holding the rigorous challenges it had years ago. The control setting has a very simple design, which can be mastered within 15 minutes. Your different ways of attack are very basic and commonly found in platformers alike. There's a vertical swipe, horizontal swipe, double-jump slash (activates checkpoints), and an abundance of other, more flashy attacks, that you can find throughout the levels, which are used with the different sword upgrades. Another attack is to throw your shield; however, your shield will lose energy and eventually be destroyed leaving you with no means of defense. The sword upgrades help make the basic attacks less monotonous, by giving you an even broader arsenal of abilities. These augmentations let you perform deadly moves such as thrusting forward with a jolting sword stab (a'la Devil May Cry), doing a 360 degree spin attack, and being able to shoot fireballs from your sword (if your sword has the necessary powerup). You can also gain elemental effects on your sword such as the Frostbiter, which freezes enemies on contact; the Flame Tongue, which engulfs your sword in flames; and a golden sword called the Pure Blade, which inflicts the most damage.
Regardless of the huge selection of attacks, the game is still quite challenging, especially as you progress further and further. The bosses are fairly easy and can be beaten without any effort if you know the correct pattern. However, while most of the enemies at the beginning pose no challenge whatsoever, a lot of the enemies, as you get further into the game, have more energy, inflict more damage and also require a certain attack or pattern of attacks beaten. The numerous jump sequences which require both skill and timing, also make you thank Capcom for so generously adding checkpoints in each of the levels. Another aspect of the game that can make the enemies even more dangerous is the fidgety camera that often stops rotating with Maximo's front view. Most notably, after entering or exiting a cave or secreted area. This gives you quite the blindside which enables enemies to get a few cheap shots. Another detriment of the camera view is that you can't center it on the run. This makes it even worse, making you have to come to a complete stop -- which can also allow for cheap shots-- before you can deal with fixing the view.
The whole audio presentation was incorporated perfectly without any serious miss-queues. The sound effects were adequately done, using traditional sword slashes and swipes. However, what really gleams is the voice acting. Not only was it perfectly presented, it is believable. An example is the great presence of the "baddest" guy around, the Grim Reaper, who's really not too bad of a guy -- quite witty actually. The other characters are also represented with great voice-overs. Moreover, the music fits in perfectly -- coinciding with the in-game atmosphere right down to the button. The haunted levels, for example, offer up a more spooky sounding tune while the pirate motif levels are accompanied by a more medieval tune, very similar to Warcraft's music. Maximo shows no blemishes in this category and just makes the game all the more better.
In the end, Capcom does an excellent job of melding together old school gameplay with next generation 3D environments, offering up 12-15 hours of sword wielding action. Notwithstanding the bad save feature and the relatively redundant hack and slash play, Capcom's endeavor to reconstruct this beloved franchise, which has captivated many, results in a very intriguing product.
2/17/2002 Joseph Comunale