Death's a Bitch
Maximo is a heroic young adventurer of great fortitude, who spends his life prancing around the place dealing with indescribable peril. In other words, he's an upstanding citizen. But one day, he returns home to find his kingdom plunged into darkness, and his once-trusted advisor Achille the source of great evil and power, and the forced husband of his bride-to-be Sophia. Upon voicing his concerns, the evil Sorcerer kills him. Okay, that doesn't really amount to that much of a videogame, but Maximo is the sort of chap who doesn't take death lying down. Confronted by the Grim Reaper, he is offered the chance to once again seize the mortal coil, but only if he can deal with the threat of the kingdom's evil ruler once and for all. According to Death, Achille's actions include harvesting spirits and ruffling the feathers of the happily deceased. This is no good. Maximo had that one in his diary anyway, and lo, he is resurrected, born again and armed only with a sword, a shield and some fancy armour, he has to find the source of Achille's evil power (ooh, guess), destroy it and its master, rescue the kingom's four banished sorceresses and save his damsel in distress. Phew. Maximo begins his adventure with three lives and a Death Coin. Although Koins - the currency of the game - are scattered all over the levels, the Death Coin is far more important. In the event that Maximo runs out of lives before he completes his quest, he can use the Death Coin to charm the Reaper into resurrecting him again. The wily old Reaper's incentive in all of this is that a Death Coin consists of spirits, plucked from the battered tombstones of the kingdom, which Achille has been keeping from him.
Because spirits are being unfairly unearthed by Achille's power, Maximo has to collect them by locating suitable graves (which have white embers circling them), smashing them to pieces and collecting the spirits inside. Collect 50 and you can buy another Death Coin, but the price rises with each subsequent resurrection. The world that Maximo steps into is extremely Tim Burton-esque, with wafting mist, shrieking ghosts, lava pits, earthquakes, and ghouls and skeleton warriors rising from the ground to attack him. To defend himself, Maximo can employ his two main sword slashes; side-to-side and overhead (square and triangle) to parry blows and despatch enemies, and he can block attacks outright by clutching the R2 button. By twirling the left analogue stick as he attacks with the side-to-side slash, he can also perform a 360-degree attack, perfect for when the poor fella's outnumbered. Maximo can also evade enemies by jumping to higher platforms, and he can even double-jump ala Jak & Daxter by hitting the X button twice in succession. The most devastating move in his repertoire though is the downward strike. By doing a double jump and then hitting the triangle button as if to do an overhead slash, Maximo brings his sword crashing down into the ground, destroying anything from felled skeletons (who will get up again after a while unless obliterated) to vaulted graves, and generating a shockwave to take out enemies nearby.
The Pummel and the Waggle and the...
Maximo's downward thrust also allows him to save. In a way. The game's save system is somewhat different to other games, but it's no less valid, and adds a level of tension to the game absent from many recent platform adventures. Maximo can save his progress through any level by performing a downward strike on a Holy Ground checkpoint, but these are only valid for as long as his lives remain (and saved in RAM to boot, or not to boot, heh). Outright death (even with a Death Coin to his name) results in a restart. In order to actually save his progress, Maximo has to find a Magic Pool, which allow him to save his progress at the cost of 100 Koins. Maximo : Ghosts to Glory consists of a number of Boss Towers (in each of which can be found an imprisoned sorceress), with about five levels to complete on the outside before Achille's resolve is suitably weakened that the drawbridge lowers and Maximo can perform his daring rescue. Once our hero has passed the first level of a particular hub, he is released into the ground of the Boss Tower, where Master Collectors (portals to each of the hub's levels) can be found as well as the odd secret and of course, Magic Pools. Maximo can also save after each boss encounter, when the rescued sorceress offers to save his progress, replenish his armour or give him a friendly kiss. We'd recommend the kiss though, because as the manual points out, if you finish the game with all four sorceress' kisses, you will win a special reward. Level design works on the basis of swapping in random elements of that hub's palette. So in the first of the game's hubs, Maximo has to contend with crypts, graveyards, busted bridges, lava pits (opened by the shifting earth) and fiery platforms. This gradually gives way to more diverse locations, but for some bizarre reason, even when the player is being shoehorned through an unnatural open-top-stone causeway, the game still feels appealing enough to continue. Even in the face of such tired antics as crumbling platforms and secret areas hidden by breakable rock.
As you can probably tell, Maximo is a very intricate adventure, and apart from everything I've mentioned so far players have the option to replay levels to improve their scores in the Level Completed, Game Completed and Game Mastery ratings. Although you can complete a level without mastering it (doing 100% of everything to be done), you cannot complete 100% of the game and reap the reward for doing so without first demonstrating your mastery. Players can also improve Maximo's arsenal of attacks by locating enchantments, which act like power-ups. Maximo is blessed with a number of 'power points', which can be spent on performing these enchanted attacks, which vary from the likes of Magic Bolt to Doomstrike. Up to three enchantments can be kept from level to level, although more can be collected during the course of one. Visually and aurally, Capcom has created the Nightmare Before Christmas of videogames, with its eerie-yet-cutesy atmosphere and simplistic narrative, and it works on a grand scale. It rarely takes itself too seriously either, with Maximo often stripped down to his polka-dot boxers by the loss of his armour. The texturing is nothing to write home about, and the game's vistas can barely hold a pinch of salt to those seen in Jak & Daxter, but the engaging gameplay and sheer number of things to do, collect and see within the game world mean that it seldom gets boring, although it is certainly one of the most difficult PS2 games witnessed in recent months. Another thing that I suppose I can't really leave you without mentioning is the camera. Unfortunately, you can't manipulate it yourself ala Jak & Daxter (will people just start copying this already? Please?), so you can either go to R1 / head-cam mode to look around and peer over and under things, or you can stop, hit L1 and have the camera centre behind you. Not being able to do this on the run is maddening.
Still, for once bombarding the player with repetition has worked for Capcom. It's a Saturday morning cartoon of a game with a grown-up skill setting. Although at times frustrating and ostensibly a bizarre hackandslash, it's eerily compelling and brainless enough to unwind with. At about 15 hours from start to stop, it's a reasonable length too. Well worth investigating, especially if you're a fan of the old skool.