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Goemon: Mystical Ninja (DS) artwork

Goemon: Mystical Ninja (DS) review


"As the sun rises of the land of Edo, Goemon wakes up to the sound of angry yelling. Before he can even get his bearings, he is faced with a large mob of irate villagers armed with torches, pitchforks, spears, and other pointy objects. Apparently, they’ve come to either arrest Goemon or lynch him on the spot. Using nothing but his skills of disguise and a little luck, our hero manages to escape his likely death and meet up with Ebisumaru, his best friend/ partner/ ambiguously non-straight ninja. ..."



As the sun rises of the land of Edo, Goemon wakes up to the sound of angry yelling. Before he can even get his bearings, he is faced with a large mob of irate villagers armed with torches, pitchforks, spears, and other pointy objects. Apparently, they’ve come to either arrest Goemon or lynch him on the spot. Using nothing but his skills of disguise and a little luck, our hero manages to escape his likely death and meet up with Ebisumaru, his best friend/ partner/ ambiguously non-straight ninja. Apparently, this dynamic duo has been framed for a wide variety of crimes in the local villages. With the likelihood of execution on their minds, the two heroes venture forth into the depths of Edo to clear their names.

They won’t be going alone, however. As you progress through the game, Goemon and Ebisumaru will team up with some other characters to take on evil. Fans of previous titles in the Ganbare Goemon series will be happy to find that Sasuke, the robotic ninja machine, and Yae, the femme fatale, are both present and available as playable characters after you reached certain points in the story. Each character comes equipped with their signature weapons; with a simple press of a button, Goemon can bash enemies’ brains in with a quick swing of his trusty tobacco pipe or a spare change toss. Ebisumaru can pack a mean mallet, Sasuke can dual-wield kunai blades and bombs, and Yae comes toting a katana and an oversized bazooka. Should you find the proper items lying around, you’ll be able to upgrade these weapons to make them have better range and attack power. At least, until you get hit by some unfriendly fire. When you take damage, you’re weapon will lose power, forcing you to seek out more of the game’s plentiful pickups.

It’s not like you’ll have much of a problem with keeping Goemon and his friends alive, though. Aside from the various weapon boosters and health regenerating items, none of the enemies in Ganbare Goemon: Toukai Douchuu Ooedo Tengurigaeshi no Maki (to which I will refer as simply Mystical Ninja DS hereafter) are particularly challenging. You’ll be forced to face the baddies in small groups, but no more than four or five at a time. Most of these foes can be simply dispatched by a quick smack of Goemon’s pipe, but later foes will require more a bit more effort. Such ease is balanced out by our heroes’ crappy fighting skills; they tend to lack the range and moves ideal for making the combat seem fun and interesting. The majority of the time, you’ll simply run up to an enemy and mash the attack button for all its worth until your victim has been beaten to death.

Fortunately, this game doesn’t revolve around kicking evil’s collective ass. As with all other games in the Ganbare Goemon series, the gameplay of Mystical Ninja DS is focused on the platforming aspects. In between the various towns surrounding Edo, you’ll have to deal with all sorts of bottomless pits, broken bridges, deep ravines, high ledges, and bodies of water. This can be a little challenging given the game’s isometric camera angle, which essentially morphs the game from a traditional 2D side-scroller into a not-quite 3D adventure. Also, puzzle aspects have been integrated into the gameplay; sometimes you’ll have to move a block against a certain wall with special gloves, equip a certain outfit to cross water unharmed, use balloons to boost your jumps, or even drill a hole into the ground you stand on. Some of the interactions between the heroes and NPCs will involve equipping certain items as well. Such acts are easily performed once you’ve gotten a hang of the item menus. All you have to do is switch the appropriate character, and then use the DS’s shoulder buttons to cycle through the party’s various items. Aside from weapons and skills, you’ll even be able to equip disguises, such as a tengu mask or a beard. Accordingly, none of these puzzles are particularly difficult; even if you don’t speak Japanese, visual cues will usually pop up to let you know that something needs to be done.

That doesn’t mean that the characters will have to do all the dirty work, though. Mystical Ninja makes great use of the DS’s Touch Screen to solve puzzles as well. If Goemon and his pals are standing on flippers or seesaws, you can use the stylus to pull them back and release them to send the heroes flying to greater heights. Some forms of tightrope can be pulled back to create makeshift slingshots as well. Need to keep a platform spinning? Touch it with your stylus and start whirling it around to get things moving. Considering that the game highlights most of these special puzzles for you, these quirky little features ought to be obvious on sight. However, the main draw of the Touch Screen features comes in the form of some of the boss battles. Fans of previous Ganbare Goemon games will be happy to know that Goemon Impact (aka a gigantic robot mecha version of Goemon) is back and more badass than ever. Armed with his trusty in-game DS, Goemon can summon his faithful weapon of mass destruction to take part in the larger-scaled battles. Instead of using the buttons to punch and kick, you’ll be given access to a menu that features the robot’s various maneuvers. All you’ve got to do is tap the right icons, and Goemon Impact can do various punch combos, defensive tactics, and even a fiery self-destruct attack. Needless to say, few games have made better use of the Touch Screen.

The game also makes decent use of the DS’s graphical capabilities. While the top screen is used for map displays, the majority of the action occurs on the other. All four characters have been rendered with small 3D figures with cel-shaded costumes and blocky shapes. It’s not the prettiest rendition of Goemon and his pals ever seen, but at least you’ll be able to make you Goemon’s stylish blue hair and red outfit, the light blue jumpsuit wrapped around Ebisumaru’s pudgy frame, and Yae’s flowing green hair. All of the attack and jumping animations have been well done, allowing for fairly quick and smooth movements. Each character comes with his or her own voice, though it rarely gets used outside of attack grunts or death screams. You’ll also be able to make out the various town folk in their traditional Japanese garb, as well the crabs, demons, goblins, and other enemies that happen to get in your way. The real beauty, however, lies with the surroundings. Though the characters may look pretty ugly, the rest of the game is presented as if it were entirely painted using watercolors. You’ll be able to see the pale greens of the leaves, the brush stroke work of the thatched roofs, and the even faint glow of Japanese lanterns. When you factor in the excellent instrumental music, you’ll find that this game is a work of art in the palm of your hand.

It’s a shame that Mystical Ninja DS isn’t available for American release. This is one of the few games that bring platforming, puzzle solving, and a bunch of quirky characters together for a great time. Goemon and his pals are back in action, traveling through Edo in a brand new adventure. So maybe the enemies aren’t so fearsome, and the puzzles are watered down past the point of necessity. The various items, teamwork, and various platforming aspects are all present and accounted for. The game makes wonderful use of the Touch Screen, integrating it into several puzzles as well as featuring it in some of the largest-scaled boss battles ever seen on the handheld. Mystical Ninja DS has got all the solid gameplay and charming oddities that have made the Ganbare Goemon series one of the most beloved of its time.

Rating: 8/10

disco's avatar
Community review by disco (January 24, 2007)

Disco is a San Francisco Bay Area native, whose gaming repertoire spans nearly three decades and hundreds of titles. He loves fighting games, traveling the world, learning new things, writing, photography, and tea. Not necessarily in that order.

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