Who's the real Recycling King now?
The mystical ninja is at it again! The Oedo region (or just plain "Edo", depending on whether you're enjoying an English translation or not) is an extremely popular location in Japan, home of the fine tenements of our lovable blue spiky-haired thief-turned-comical-hero, Goemon. But it also seems to lure the craziest of villains to try and take it over for their own twisted whims, and in Ganbare Goemon: Ōedo Daikaiten (which translates roughly to "Go For It, Goemon: The Great Revolution of Oedo"), little has changed. This time, a new face rears its giant global head (literally): Ecorori, known colloquially as "The Recycling King", has come to kidnap Goemon's best ohagi-cooking gal, Omitsu, while his henchmen (conveniently hidden in garbage pails) wreak havoc all over the Oedo region. Our four heroes — Goemon, the mustached ninja Ebisumaru, the robot Sasuke, and the... uh, female ninja Yae (now in little shorts instead of a full-fledged purple jogging suit) — set out to rescue the beloved Omitsu! The only thing original about this plot is Ecorori's design; he literally has a giant globe of the world plastered to his head and wears a puffy jester's outfit. Where do these people come from?!
The gameplay is very similar to that of many Goemon games past, particularly Goemon's Great Adventure for the Nintendo 64. After selecting a stage on the Oed-overworld, you'll either be taken to an action stage or a town. The action stages are typical left-to-right fare, though often with multiple paths to take. The upper path is far more difficult to get to, mostly because of tough jumps to get there that fail more often than not. Each character will have their own special ability to help navigate each stage, and you can switch between all four on the fly. Goemon uses a pipe chain to swing from blocks with a manji on them (which, at first, I briefly thought was a swastika), Ebisumaru can float with a pair of Japanese fans, and both Yae and Sasuke can swim underwater, though unlike past adventures, they can't use their weapons at that time. That's a pain, though not as much of a pain as working with Goemon's pipe chain. At first it was used to break certain blocks, but in Ōedo Daikaiten, it's now used for swinging across precipices. Trying to grapple a manji block while moving is frustrating and, unfortunately, is used more often than it should be, which is AT ALL.
The game is also hampered by its very short time limit. Many stages can easily be dealt with during this brief timeframe, but when you have to navigate some rough areas — notably those involving the extensive use of Goemon's heavily flawed pipe chain — having to rush against a quickly dwindling timer is a terrible distraction, and it results in death due to lack of available patience or simply running out of time (which also results in death for reasons still unknown after several decades of this phenomenon).
Like games past, every once in a while, you'll meet up with an opponent so formidable in stature that Goemon and his crew can't handle him alone. That's when the mighty conch shell is sounded and the mighty Goemon Impact comes to the rescue! Impact is a giant robot that closely resembles Goemon but has extendable arms for punching and can also shoot ryo (the game's currency) as a projectile. These battles take place in first-person mode, with you in Impact's cockpit. While they do break up the gameplay a bit with more variety, these fights can often be ones of frustration rather than pleasure, depending on how proficient you are with controlling Impact, as well as how good your timing is with punches — if you're too slow (and that's indeed a possibility with this game), you'll just take the brunt of anything your opponent throws at you. I've personally never been the biggest fan of Goemon Impact scenes, but luckily each foe only has a few moves at their disposal, and their general patterns are easy enough to learn, making these brawls more of a stepping stone to moving ahead than an overall hindrance.
Wackiness is abound as usual, but they could've spent a few extra ryo on a new soundtrack.
When the stresses of fighting for justice become overwhelming, you can always stop off in one of the local towns to relax. Each town offers the standard fare that has been featured in every city in a Goemon game to date. You can visit a local shop to spend your ryo on armor, rice balls for your travels, or some other local culinary delights. There's always an inn to nap or save your game, and a sauna isn't too far off the beaten path if you want to rejuvenate your skin (the robot Sasuke doesn't have the best time here, as his silly facial expression indicates). The towns are rather large, and while it's hard to get lost in them, they do take a while to navigate. But the towns have another purpose: they are the gateways to continuing along your path, and you can only progress if you get a gate pass. By completing town-specific tasks, such as winning at mini-games or finding an item in a dungeon, you'll be rewarded with a pass. (One store simply lets you buy one for 500 ryo.) This mechanic forces you to fully explore every town to find a way out, and that can be tedious.
Ōedo Daikaiten maintains the 2D look of previous sidescrollers, but the characters and much of the environmental setpiecess have all been pre-rendered with CGI in a similar vein to the Donkey Kong Country series, mixed with polygonal platforms and backgrounds. The game looks decent, although the gritty textures of the backgrounds do tend to stand out. On the plus side, it's cute to watch all the little cutscenes in between, complete with the goofiest voice acting. It demonstrates that the humorous tone of the series is still alive and well. It would be even more hilarious if I understood Japanese!
I do have to say, the music is very disappointing, not because it's terrible but because the vast majority of it has been ripped directly from either Goemon's Great Adventure or Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. Impressions quickly transformed from "Oh, I remember this tune!" to "Did they compose ANYTHING new for this game?" (Maybe the appearance of the "Recycling King" is a nod to how the composers recycled their own work.) Thank goodness the soundtracks to those games were so awesome. I am glad, however, that the "I Am Impact!" vocal theme song, first featured as the introduction to Impact battles in Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, is now played DURING Impact battles on an indefinite loop.
If the classic side-scrolling Goemon games appeal to you, then Ganbare Goemon: Ōedo Daikaiten will give you much of the same thrills. There's nothing really new to experience here, so you'll have to settle for tried-and-true gameplay. But hey, if Capcom could get away with it with the Mega Man series, so can Konami. Ganbare Goemon: Ōedo Daikaiten offers decent platforming but is impeded by a few undesirable design choices. If you're a fan of classic gaming, this one might still be your ticket to Enjoyment City.