Maximo vs. Army of Zin Japanese Preview

We go toe-to-toe with the evil robot army in the retail Japanese version of this Maximo sequel.

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Remaking old-time gaming classics has been somewhat in vogue the last few years, and 2001's Maximo: Ghosts to Glory continued that trend. The medieval hack-and-slash platformer was a follow-up to the classic Ghosts 'n Goblins series in everything but name, and despite an overwhelming difficulty level, it was a pretty solid game. This year, Capcom is working on a sequel in Maximo vs. Army of Zin, which brings the eponymous hero and his heart-pattern boxer shorts back for more of the sword-swinging action that made the first game fun. The game is currently slated for release in America in January 2004, but surprisingly, it's already available in retail form in Japan under the name Makai Eiyuuki Maximo: Machine Monster no Yabou. We've been putting this final Japanese version through its paces, and from early impressions it looks like Capcom has refined the first game's formula and made a few decent upgrades as well.

Zin metal will meet Maximo's mettle in Maximo vs. Army of Zin.
Zin metal will meet Maximo's mettle in Maximo vs. Army of Zin.

It would have been easy for Capcom to crank out a cookie-cutter sequel to Maximo, pitting the feisty hero against hordes of nameless enemies, but thankfully the creators of Maximo vs. Army of Zin have done one better by crafting an antagonistic force with real character. As you might gather from the game's rather epic title, Maximo is fighting against the Army of Zin, an endless force of evil robots. Yes, you're fighting robots in a swords-and-sorcery-themed game. But wait! These are soul-powered robots. Maximo learns in the game's opening cinematic that the Army of Zin is an ancient and diabolical mass of robots powered by captured souls and bent on wreaking destruction and mayhem throughout the world. Though the Army of Zin was successfully defeated and imprisoned hundreds of years earlier, it has mysteriously returned to terrorize the countryside once again. As the game opens, Maximo and his old pal Grim (the grim reaper) set out to stop the robots from slaughtering innocent townspeople and hopefully uncover the reason the Zin forces have once again been let loose on the world.

The fundamental combat mechanics in Maximo vs. Army of Zin are quite similar to those found in Ghosts to Glory, but returning players should find enough new gameplay possibilities to keep them entertained. Maximo has a variety of basic attacks, such as a horizontal slash that can be used repeatedly to form a basic combo; an overhead slash that is more powerful but slower and that can be combined with a jump to produce a powerful downward stab; and a shield attack that has you either throwing your shield, which depends on an energy meter, or simply bashing enemies if your meter is empty. Finally, you'll be able to briefly transform into Grim (using a different special meter) to gain a hovering ability and a significant combat upgrade. Don't think you'll spend the entire game relying on these basic techniques, though, as this is only the beginning of Maximo's attack potential.

This house isn't as mild-mannered as it looks.
This house isn't as mild-mannered as it looks.

The Ghosts 'n Goblins games were always big on providing you with new weapons to play with, and Maximo vs. Army of Zin runs with this idea as well. In addition to your trusty sword, you'll acquire a massive battle hammer pretty early on in the game, and you can switch back and forth between these at will. What's more, you'll collect coins throughout the game, both given to you by thankful townspeople and hidden in the environment. These coins can be used to purchase a number of special items, such as a Grim upgrade and extra lives, and they can also be used to significantly upgrade your attack and defense capabilities. The sword and hammer both have an array of special move upgrades that you can obtain, also by purchase using your stash of gold coins. You can invoke these attack moves anytime during battle by hitting the appropriate button sequence, and they generally create more-powerful or area-of-effect attacks. You can also upgrade your shield and, amusingly, your boxer shorts during the game, which gives you a variety of defensive and incidental effects like extra life or the ability to locate hidden treasure.

Thankfully, the difficulty level has been toned down a bit in Maximo vs. Army of Zin, as the first game drew a bit of criticism for being dauntingly hard. That's not to say the new game is a slouch in the difficulty department, but at least now it is possible to make your way through the game's linear progression of levels with a little bit of practice and persistence. You can save at set intervals between stages, but otherwise you'll depend on a finite number of lives to get through the game. Thankfully, you can purchase more lives from the wandering merchants for a pretty low price. There are also a lot of checkpoints spaced pretty close together in the levels, so if you die you won't be forced to repeat too much of the game to get back to where you were. Still, if you encounter a particularly difficult jump and fall in repeatedly, you can go from a lot of lives to "Game Over" in a surprisingly short amount of time. If anything, Maximo's frail mortality is a throwback to the extreme difficulty of Ghosts 'n Goblins.

It takes a lot of gumption to maintain your fighting skills in your underwear.
It takes a lot of gumption to maintain your fighting skills in your underwear.

In terms of presentation, the Japanese version of Maximo vs. Army of Zin has turned out to be pretty darn solid. The game's engine seems to have been refined from its previous incarnation, and the result is a clean visual style that moves at a buttery-smooth frame rate. We observed only a couple of instances of slowdown, but these seemed to be the result of specific combinations of camera angles and onscreen enemies, so these instances were exceptions rather than the rule. Furthermore (and perhaps more importantly), the game has a cohesive aesthetic in its design. The backgrounds are consistently gloomy and medieval-feeling, and the design of the Army of Zin is quite commendable. These aren't just mindless, innocuous automatons--the shambling robots of the army look truly evil, with scowling, leering visages and twisted, nasty-looking weapons. You really get a sense of swashbuckling heroism when you save a village maiden from three of the hellish, ungainly things at one time.

Since Maximo vs. Army of Zin is due for release pretty soon in the US, it's not likely that a lot will change between the Japanese version of the game and the one that hits our shelves. Still, Capcom may have some reason for delaying the game's American release, and we'll be eager to find out if anything is added to or changed in this solidly entertaining game. It's possible that the difficulty level could be ramped up a bit (as seems to have been the case with Ghosts to Glory), but we'll have to wait until January to find out for sure. In the meantime, we can say that Maximo vs. Army of Zin looks to be a very promising action game that should give old-school action fans a run for their money.

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