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Maximo vs. Army of Zin (PlayStation 2) artwork

Maximo vs. Army of Zin (PlayStation 2) review

"Maximo VS Army of Zin, the long-awaited sequel to the critical success Maximo Ghosts To Glory, is a lot like your hamster rolling around in a ball: it’s cute, quirky, lots of fun, and has a certain charm to it-much like the first game in the series, although several gameplay elements have changed, and for the better. The game’s difficulty has been toned down to the point that casual players that are attracted to the box art alone can pick the game up, and actually beat it this time around withou..."

Maximo VS Army of Zin, the long-awaited sequel to the critical success Maximo Ghosts To Glory, is a lot like your hamster rolling around in a ball: it’s cute, quirky, lots of fun, and has a certain charm to it-much like the first game in the series, although several gameplay elements have changed, and for the better. The game’s difficulty has been toned down to the point that casual players that are attracted to the box art alone can pick the game up, and actually beat it this time around without putting their head through the television set. The difficulty slowly increases without leaps, making it more of a mental ramp for the player to walk up, rather than steep stairs that the first provided. While this is an excellent marketing decision, the fans may feel deserted now that Maximo has been stripped of his trademark? Either way you go about it, Army of Zin is a rich experience from the genre that is over-saturated with awful titles.

Let’s start off by stating the obvious: the difficulty is still there, but it is more inside of the platforming elements than the bosses and enemies themselves, and the platforming elements are amongst the best in the genre. The enemies are programmed well, with an arsenal of attacks that can occur after being attacked, and unlike most other games within the genre, the Blocking ability actually comes into use more than once in this title. Enemies are vicious with counterattacking, but will soon become way too familiar, like a Good Times rerun. The platforming bits of the game provide multiple ways to escape dangers, collect items, or something as small as changing weaponry.

Unlike most of the overabundance of titles in the genre, Army of Zin does a decent job of keeping track of collectible items, and making sure that every item is used at one point or another. Where most games would go astray with the “Collect these items... just because we say so” philosophy, Army of Zin keeps the limit of collectible items down to a minimum that will not confuse you as you play along, or make you say to yourself, “What in the hell do I use this for, again?” While everyone may be used to locating all of the hidden Gyro Dolls, JuJu Fruits, or some other worthless collectible, Maximo will stick to the vitals: Souls, which will call your dear friend Grim (Reaper) to help you out for a short period of time, in which you will be invincible for a short period of time, Iron Keys that will open Locked Chests, and Koins, which you will use as currency, in non-Mortal Kombat fashion. There are Innocents that you must save from the monsters that roam around the landscapes who will give you items or advice upon their saving. Finally, the Death Coins are simply extra lives, which you can purchase, or find scattered throughout most of the 20 stages in the game. There are ways to Master a stage to unlock art galleries for viewing, but they require merely saving the townsfolk, or grabbing items that will benefit you otherwise. Most aspects of Army of Zin are certainly tame in this category, and thankfully so, for a change of pace.

Army of Zin provides a short experience that can be compared to Sly Cooper & The Thievious Raccoonus on a grand scale, without the personality working behind it. The obstacles are there to throw you off track, or even provide a bit of anxiety behind it. After all, you do not want to fall into a pit of acid after you have just made your way through several dastardly groups of deadly enemies, or jump across a series of timed platforms that will drop within three seconds over a pit of lava. While Capcom Studio 8 has toned down the difficulty regarding the enemy’s actual power to your armor for the “Normal” standard when playing in that respective difficulty, they have added a boost in actual do-or-die jumping situations to the point that fans of the original will be pleased.

Even so, the general jumps are actually quite easy to make, as long as you’re comfortable with the controls of a 3D platformer, and can distance your shadow from the ground itself. The one thing that Army of Zin provides that no platform has brought to the table in the past five years is the “clinch your fists” jumps that make you grunt when you actually pull them off. The little things that look nearly impossible to perform, yet are perfected in development to the point that you barely make it. “Barely” being the keyword. Rarely is this seen in platformers, much less perfected. It is not a pre-set part of the game that is for certain that you will live, which is what makes the tough jumps even more climatic when you manage to make the jump. Many imitators attempt to perfect such a small element, but it’s like Action Movies. A huge leap from an explosion is a lot more appealing when an established actor like Gabriel Byrne does it rather than, say, Carrot Top.

Presentation is one of the various enjoyable aspects of the game, as it brings beautiful details to the design of the stage selection screen, like tiny, subtle objects that you may recognize from the gameplay. The menus are easy to navigate, and equipping your given shields or boxers will become a frequently done procedure. Thankfully, it’s a breeze, like the soft summer wind blowing through your hair... or being dangled out of a car on the freeway. Alas, the game has a confusing display system, as you will be curious what goes where, and the like. The obvious way to set your mind at ease is to look through the instruction manual, although this could become troublesome to those that do not have one, or are too lazy to look through it. The abundance of icons that appear on the Pause screen can be comforting for those curious on how many items they have without wanting to wait for the regular menu to load up. Convenient, to say the least.

The game surrounds you with situations where you must fight a flying enemy on a small catwalk, which is around as hard as it gets. The enemies have smart AI, but it is ruined by their repetitive nature in blocking your attacks. As long as you have a functioning memory (and if you do not, write it down), you can easily slash your way through the various types of enemies in the game by simply attacking a couple of times, and blocking their counterattacks. The enemies are vulnerable to multiple combos in a row, and thus are extremely simple to destroy without much effort. Yes, there are several enemies that have a single pattern within the battle, and will be a mixed nuts job the rest of the fight, but even so, the AI is even numb within the boss battles themselves, as well. There are weaknesses in battle, and sloppy AI programming. Sadly, Army of Zin rides the thin line between the two options.

Thankfully for the developers, the boss battles are absolutely stunning, on a gameplay level. Once every two to three years, a game will come along that has made a boss battle fun to go through multiple times, rather than a break from the incautious action to provide a bridge to the next scene. While the bosses are not massive, or even that visually impressive, they do provide a decent aspect of how a cartoon-inspired boss should look. The majority of boss battles in this genre involve frantic running and jumping, yet Army of Zin serves up a laid-back lunch of love. The pace of the battles will have you plotting your long-term game plan while you execute your initial idea of how the fight would go, and that is how a boss fight should be. The bosses leave you with a sweet taste in your mouth. Like Bon-Bons, only creamier.

Speaking of the design, the in-stage elements are just beautiful. The worlds will come to life, as the clearly animated fire flickers in the background, or the toxic waters bubbles and glow with some affection towards Maximo’s skin. You can’t help but feel the love for the subtle details that the designers themselves clearly felt. Little details things matter, and while the game could have had more of a visual improvement; the notion is worth the look alone, even if it resembles something slightly outdated. Hey, I’ve never been one to complain over moldy bread. Creature design is certainly inspiring for such a title, and these tin-man creatures are truly a sight to look at and goggle over. And if that doesn’t catch your eye, the cartoon cleavage might do the trick. In short, the game has some truly unique atmospheres that look stellar. A dried beach that has an epic presentation, a farmer’s field with cornstalk mazes, a church filled with evil, and a cavern filled with lava and crystals. What a lovely combination!

The game bases itself around atmosphere, as each stage has a grand aura surrounding it. Most of the Secret Chests that are buried underneath the ground can be found by merely keeping an eye out for a patch of soil or concrete that looks naked, to a certain degree. Of course, you cannot have atmosphere without sound effects, and I’m sad to say that one of the key pieces to the puzzle is missing. Maybe the kitten ran off with it? Regardless, the sound effects revolve around crying folks that you must save from the clutches of demons, and this is certainly helpful to those looking to Master every level in the game. But, alas, there are randomly birds chirping at the sea, or the sound effects of the waves of water crashing against the shore. The only decent sound effect in the atmosphere is the cackling of the flames in the early part of the game. The music has a computerized orchestra feel to it, and some of the later tracks provide a sense of heroism to Maximo’s journey.

One of the main problems with the game is the redundant nature of the way the game flows. Usually, the main quality parts of the game are run into the ground. In certain stages, the usually grand jumping areas are performed nearly non-stop for five to ten minutes, broken up only by a lone villain or two on said platform. Of course, the latter stages provide more variety, and a decent break from the constant leaping from one ground to another, but also suffer from a verbal murder of crows to defeat. You will find that the action rarely breaks in certain stages, and takes away from the nearly endurance-influenced second-to-last stage in the game that was supposed to be a heroic display of courage, which winds up being very expensive on the mind and body in one of the better attempts at creating an epic “rip through the crowd” scenarios of the past ten years. Sadly, it could have been the best ever, had the developers not added so many endurances before it.

Even with major flaws within the flow of the gameplay and the petty complaints with the sound effects to complete the circular cherry cake of atmosphere, the game is an epic adventure that needs to be experienced by young and old players alike. The stages are rich in design, and completely different compared to nearly every title in the genre at the moment. Of course, it is nowhere near revolutionary in a sense of taking the genre to a new level, such as Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando, but it is taking baby steps for the industry, and pushing bad titles to the side in a Rocky-esque fashion of celebration. And more power to it.

Sound: 7.5
The music is definitely stellar, crossing games such as the Castlevania series, with the original Maximo in the flavor that the game plays onto the soundtrack to be both lighthearted and classical. The computer generator orchestra puts on a dazzling performance that complements the detail to the stage effects themselves. Sadly, the stage sound effects, if many at all, are drowned out by the collecting of items, screams of ladies, and the swipe of the sword clashing against the tin that is the enemy’s skull.

Graphics: 8.0
Visually, the game’s details are to be admired, like a pretty Amsel Adams picture hanging on your wall of some unknown cavern. The levels come alive with pretty little tidbits that stick into your head, and while they are playfully colorful, they keep the balance between bright and dark to create an excellent feel. Of course, the game also looks like a very early PlayStation 2 title, as well, and it could have looked so much better rather than a direct graphical port to Maximo Ghosts To Glory. Thankfully, the colors and subtle array of little things push the game over the “Average” barrier.

Gameplay: 9.0
While there are a few things to complain about, let’s begin praising a few key items to the game’s chemical blend: first off, the fact that everything collectible is useful, other than simply existing. You can use your Koins to purchase new special moves to perform, or purchase new equipment that has different effects, making nearly all of the equipment useful more than once during the game. The platforming parts of the game are amongst the best ever, for the given area of the industry, and finding a new weapon actually means something, rather than “jotting another one to the menu screen.” Honestly, the redundancy of the things that make the game so perfect send the game spiraling downward. This is a decent improvement over the original. Sort of like that second Sister Act movie... or not, actually.

Enjoyment: 8.5
The environments differ enough to tell each stage apart from one another, and you will come out of the game thoroughly impressed by the effort that Capcom Studio 8 put into the title. This may very well be the future of common platforming games, as long as developers will stop being ignorant to the idea of creating stages that do not all look the same. The game has an epic journey type of feel that is appreciated by new gamers, as well as the older ones. You feel as if you’re playing a cartoon movie, with rich characters, despite the lack of character development, and inspiring focus on what makes a game more than just a story and a controller.

Overall: 9.0 (not an average)
Regardless of how the charm vibe that the game sort of rubs off onto you, the platforming elements, even if cluttered at times, are amongst the brightest and bravest in the genre. Army of Zin has a feel all of it’s own, and it is definitely something that can be appreciated. Surely, you will die a few times, and that’s always a good thing. The game is tough enough that you will slam your controller to the ground more than a few times, just not hard enough to actually break it, just jar a few wires loose inside. Fans of the original will appreciate the advances made towards creating new elements in the game, but will be disappointed that they are seldom used. While the second installment into the series is far from bliss, it brings up new things that no one has thought about doing, or if they have, never dared to attempt. The game is a definite rental, as it can be complete in six to ten hours, and a possible purchase for those longing for older aspects of games to be implemented into today’s developing pool.

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Community review by zoop (February 05, 2004)

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