Do you like Medieval times? Do you like walking around feeling empowered in your heart-patterned boxer shorts? Do you like repeatedly falling into pits and restarting sections of a video game over and over again? Then you've simply GOT to try out Maximo vs. Army of Zin! It's the adventure of your dreams!
Following the events of Maximo: Ghosts To Glory, we find our moderately well-coiffed hero, Maximo, continuing his search for his beloved Sophia. Obviously not having been successful in his first video game venture, he travels along with his companion, Grim, one of the apparently many Grim Reapers from the scalding depths of Hell. During his journey, he discovers that many small towns in the area are being ravaged by the Army of Zin, a group of fully-mechanical beings unlocked by the evil Lord Bane, a crafty magician hellbent on gaining power, just as all antagonists are. Members of this army are powered by slain souls of the dead, those who were slaughtered over five centuries ago, and they have no issue with taking further lives in their rampage through the land. Maximo will need to put his love life on hold (though it wasn't exactly flourishing at the time) and rid the world of the Army of Zin's conquest-driven madness. In other words, Maximo has to slice up a lot of robots.
Maximo is, by most accounts, a slightly more modern-day Arthur from the Ghosts 'n Goblins franchise. The only major difference is that he's had a shave. Maximo has all the characteristics of the legendary Arthur of old. Like his old counterpart, he is crossing the countryside, looking for answers as to where his lost lady love is. He's got that terrific double-jump for getting to higher cliffsides. And when he gets a little too injured, his armor falls off, revealing his well-cleansed boxer shorts. Yes, this must truly be the descendant of Sir Arthur, legendary spearman. Except Maximo uses a sword like a smart man, rather than a lance, because who uses a lance besides jousters and doped-up Olympiads?
The game is broken up into 20 stages, all connected via a world map. Five of these are boss battles, basically putting you one-on-one with either some perilously over-the-top contraption or an important character in the game. The rest are platforming stages that will require you to slash through countless army robots, spiders, oversized centipedes, and... well, more army robots. I can't say the diversity of the enemies is particularly huge. Also, let's not forget the bunny population. If you hit any rabbits hopping about with your sword, it'll turn black and try to kill you. Word to the wise: leave the fauna alone. If the troubles of the army are keeping you down, you can temporarily transform into the invincible Grim to cause some damage, but Grim's power is limited by the number of souls you've collected from defeated robots.
But beyond the pure brawling lies the game's biggest obstacle: the platforming itself. Maximo will need to be a precise jumper to get through this game, and believe me, there's no shortage of difficult jumps to make. The muffled echo of Maximo's scream as he plummets into a bottomless pit will etch itself into your mind as you repeatedly miss your target. While some swarms of enemies in the game may prove taxing, it's the hopping about that will cause the most anguish. Sometimes you'll even need to latch onto the edge of a platform and pull yourself upward, an aerobically strenuous feat in itself, but it feels really tough to pull yourself up. It's about as difficult as ACTUALLY pulling yourself up onto a cliffside. It's also difficult to tell sometimes what can be grappled and what cannot, as there are even times when ledges that look exactly the same have different properties in this regard.
The soul of Sir Arthur is alive and well in you.
Along the way, Maximo will also need to at least TRY to do a few things beyond jumping and slapping his big sword around. Obviously, the townsfolk are frightened, so you'll have to do your best in keeping them from becoming mincemeat for a Zin pie. Doing so will make them indebted to you, offering money, keys, or delicious life-restoring ale as a reward. You'll also need to hunt down chests and feast on the glorious treasure inside. Many of them are hidden underground, only found by literally jumping around near them. They won't rise just by walking over that space; you need to JUMP. Lastly, you'll want to check out the many decrepit merchants that litter the stages, provided they didn't die because you were too busy etching your name in a nearby tree to notice an elderly citizen getting his limbs forcibly removed by a walking toaster oven. He'll offer armor upgrades, new sword moves, meter upgrades, and even more tasty ale, all for a low, low... high as heck price. Seriously, I always felt broke.
Maximo's focus is on its difficult gameplay, just as it was in the arcade days of Ghosts 'n Goblins, which pushes state-of-the-art graphics a bit to the wayside in favour of more simplistic textures and environs. Nothing will blow your mind (just as it didn't in 2004), but it's more than made up for with its art style, which borders more on the cartoon end of things, rather than going for a more photo-realistic style. Nothing wrong with that. There's a certain charm to that, although you'll certainly breath a sigh of relief when you finally reach a brighter and less mucky brown environment some stages down the line. I swear, there must have been a surplus sale on brown pixels that year.
I'm not sure what's going on with the audio sometimes, however. The music sounds fine, albeit uninteresting most of the time, but the voice acting often sounds like it was recorded on a TalkBoy. The voice quality would've been acceptable in a Nintendo 64 game, but for a generation later (and on a DVD, no less), it's a testament to the budget. That is, no budget. Or maybe voice acting was an afterthought, so they rushed to the nearest old man on the street and asked him to say "Thank you, boy!" into their tape recorder. Then bam! You've got a talking merchant! Yes, Capcom!
All in all, Maximo is tough. It just is. Maximo sucked me in with its nice 3D platforming and spit me out like an expired spicy tuna roll, laughing and coughing up grains of rice all over the sofa. Although it's often a pleasant experience, certain sections of the game can cause more than ample frustration. This, combined with slightly aged graphics (for its time) and audio that probably cost about twenty bucks to record, makes Maximo a game that could definitely find a home in your library, but it's not an absolute must-have. If you love torturous difficulty, however, by all means, release that inner Maximo.