Friday, April 8, 2011

Game Review: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

The following review was originally posted on on February 4th, 2008.

Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami Osaka
  • Platform/Release: Nintendo 64, 16 April 1998
  • Genre: Adventure, Platformer
  • Players: 1
  • Save: Controller Pak, 16 pages
  • Rarity/Cost: Common (US$3-10)

I've covered the Ganbare GoemonMystical Ninja franchise before, but this is the item which should be the most recognizable for everyone outside of Japan: the video game Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon for Nintendo 64.  As the first game in the series to be released for the console, in any region, it introduces a gameplay cocktail that was unique for its time: the expansive worlds and dungeon levels of Nintendo's The Legend of Zelda series with the three-dimensional gameplay of Super Mario 64. The game adds some original touches to this mix as well, such as the four playable characters, each with their own special abilities, that you get to control over the course of your adventure. You are able to switch between them at will, but there is little to no difference in how they move and fight, so most of the time your choice of character will boil down to personal taste.

Yeah, it's a Zelda clone - but a darn good one.
While Mystical Ninja borrows the gameplay of 3-D platformers such as Super Mario 64, it is unable to shine as brightly. One of the fatal flaws that this game suffers is that there is no camera control. You can't rotate or zoom the camera; the only thing you can do is stand still for a few seconds to re-center the camera behind you. The R button isn't even used in regular gameplay; it could very well have handled this function manually! And although the world is split up into segments, as opposed to being one huge world, it still takes a while to get across them given your characters' fairly slow walking speeds. As a whole, the game still works, but manual camera control could have been a help here and there.

There's a fair bit of visual detail to be found here; the textures are rendered surprisingly well for the Nintendo 64, except for grass and road patterns, which look like green and yellow barf respectively.  Other than that, the graphics are on the ordinary side, with a bit of slowdown on just a few areas. But even if Mystical Ninja doesn't quite impress on a technical level, there's no denying that they help to create an amazing, memorable world. The areas are clearly based on ancient Japan, but with a whimsical fantasy twist. Each of the five different castles that you explore has a creative theme to it; for example, the Gourmet Submarine Castle is set in a modern-era submarine filled with oversized Japanese foodstuffs. The music is excellent, also mixing Japanese instruments into modern beats. Music in the castle levels also gets remixed, growing in intensity as you progress further into the level. Just have your TV's mute button handy for the songs with vocals, which are painfully corny.

You're in Mount Fuji - just roll with it.
All this is wrapped up in a story that is silly to the utmost degree. When the game opens, we find our heroes getting kicked out of a restaurant in their hometown of Oedo for trying to bum a free meal. Suddenly, a UFO approaches out of nowhere and shoots a laser beam at the Oedo Castle, transforming it into a European fairytale-style castle! And the culprits behind all this? A couple who seeks to transform all of Japan into their own personal theater. I could not make this stuff up. The game also capitalizes on its lack of seriousness by fitting plenty of jokes into the dialogue; it even has its own laugh track!

If, during the Spring of 1998, you managed to put aside GoldenEye 007 or 1080 Snowboarding  long enough to give this a try, you probably thanked yourself for it. Those of you who ventured off the beaten path and tried this game were rewarded with a memorable trek through a whimsical, whacked-out take on ancient Japan. Although time has not been so kind to this game, new gamers should still check it out, if only for its sense of humour.

+ A fresh, funny story and setting.
+ Awesome music, even if the vocal tracks are an acquired taste.
- Lack of camera control.
- Some frame rate issues.

Control: 3 rice balls out of 5
Design: 4 rice balls out of 5
Graphics: 4 rice balls out of 5
Sound: 5 rice balls out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

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