Friday, September 23, 2011

N64 Month: Goemon's Great Adventure

Goemon's Great Adventure
  • Publisher: Konami
  • Developer: Konami Osaka
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 22 September 1999
  • Genre: Action, 2D Platformer
  • Players: 1-2
  • Save: Controller Pak
  • Rarity/Cost: Uncommon (US$30-100)
Out of the few pieces of media from the Ganbare Goemon franchise that have crossed over out of Japan, the one I'm assuming most of us are familiar with is the first Nintendo 64 game, sold as Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (reviewed here).  It is a really good game, even on its own merits, but if you're familiar with the other games, all but one of which we Anglophones were never granted the privilege of buying in our own market, it's a markedly different experience.  Whereas Mystical Ninja was basically a 3-D Legend of Zelda clone, the main series games, primarily on the Super Famicom, were more traditional platforming experiences.  Well, they made another game for the N64, one that followed this older formula, and best of all, it came out in America, as Goemon's Great Adventure.

So what is this classic formula?  Instead of cribbing from Zelda, GGA and the SuFami series have more in common with platformers like Super Mario Bros., except in "2.5D".  For the uninitiated, this means that while while you and all other characters are confined to a 2D plane at all times, all visuals are rendered in polygons (using the same engine from Mystical Ninja which, sadly, had become dated by 1999), and the paths may curve into or out of the background.  Even better, some levels have branching paths, which you'll have to explore at some point.  Progress through the game is controlled by how many Entry Passes you have collected, in a system similar to that of the 3D Super Mario series.  You get one Entry Pass whenever you clear a regular level for the first time, but in order to meet the requirements to continue, you'll have to earn more by completing missions from certain townspeople.  This collection quest may not be Donkey Kong 64-level egregious, but seriously, who likes these kinds of things?
The weapon upgrade system evokes Super Mario.
All four characters (Goemon, Ebisumaru, Sasuke, and Yae, the latter two unlocked soon after the start) once again have their specialties; for example, Sasuke and Yae can traverse underwater passages, while for some reason Goemon has been given a double-jump (the timing for which takes practice to nail down).  While it's only window dressing, I have to smile at Ebisumaru's main weapon, a paddle/spoon which knocks enemies into the background or screen a la TMNT IV: Turtles In Time (but don't charge up his projectile attack, just... don't).  This and other weapons can be upgraded through a power-up system used in the SuFami series and, in some fashion, even Super Mario Bros..  Picking up a Silver or Gold Fortune Doll upgrades your main weapon's strength and range, but each hit taken will take its level down one notch.  In a genius move, the control scheme allows you to use either the Control Stick or Control Pad for movement, with both the Z and L triggers used for projectiles.

The zany, Japanese-tinged humour so prevalent in the previous games is back with a vengeance in GGA.  Our heroes are invited to witness their friend's newest invention, a machine that can bring the dead back as ghosts, only to have it stolen by our villain, a female, faux-Catholic nun version of Ebisumaru.  Monsters themed after ghosts from Japanese folklore help to drive the cultural connection home.  Sadly the levels themselves don't get such a creative treatment; our heroes' quest does take them through the land of the dead (the easy way), but if you have fond memories of the Festival Temple or Gourmet Submarine Castles from the last game, prepare to be disappointed.
2-player co-op is available any time.
Seeing as how only one game in the SuFami Goemon series was ported outside Japan (the first one, sold as Legend of the Mystical Ninja in 1992), Goemon's Great Adventure's quirks may come across as more innovative than they actually are.  (They were to me; unlike the other entries of N64 Month, I didn't try this game until I was considerably older.)  But considering the franchise's relative absence in the occidental world, we should be embracing titles like these.  Fortunately, it deserves the recognition it failed to earn from us, given how fun, if unpolished, it is.  If this game encourages you to investigate the rest of the Ganbare Goemon franchise, then I'm happy to have done my job.

Graphics: 3 out of 5
Sound: 5 out of 5
Control: 3 out of 5
Design: 4 out of 5
The Call: 85% (B+)

Next Episode: The next game in N64 month concerns another quartet of oddball heroes - but from an entirely different island nation.

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