Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon

a game by Konami

Platform: Nintendo 64Nintendo 64

Genre: Action

See also:Ninja Games

Excellent, but totally and utterly weird, Japanese 3-D adventure Ganbare Goemon is about to hit our shores under the new title of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. And it's just as weird!

If you've ever played the import version, and in between smacking strange bald girlies in day-glo dresses and riding rotating fish attached to poles you wondered what the hell the characters you met were talking about, then wonder no longer. Strangely though, now that it's possible to understand what the people you meet are saying, Goemon (or Mystical Ninja as we'd better refer to it from here on in) is, if anything, even more 'out of it' than before.

Part of this is probably attributable to the version of the game we had a gander at, which came with a note explaining that some of the translation had yet to be completed, and thus a few strange phrases should therefore be expected. The main reason for the weirdness of it all though is more than likely just the basic outlandishness of Japanese games in general!

Take the items you find, for example. There's Goemon's 'chain pipe', 'Mr Elly Fant' the interior map (the map has a name?) and of course, 'Mr Arrow', who marks the position of the boss on the map when he's collected. Anyone who mentions that when we covered Goemon way back in issue six, we were convinced Mr Arrow was actually a weapons power-up, will be dealt with swiftly and severely - so don't bother! And then there's the lucky cat icon which is now apparently called a 'Silver Fortune Doll', although it'll always be a lucky cat to us!

Of course, there are doubtlessthose of you who have never even heard of Goemon, much less played with him (ooer) so here's a quick recap.

Goemon is a short, stumpy chap with mad blue hair and an equally mad group of friends. After starring in no fewer than four games on predecessors to the N64, Goemon is back in his fifth adventure, along with three friends. The plot to the game is... strange, to say the least. Gameplay-wise everything's fairly straightforward - you need to explore feudal Japan, find magic objects, defeat huge robots, etc - but the reasons for doing this are a little more 'Japanese' than your average run-of-the-mill game. The plot concerns some rather musically-inclined aliens who have decided to conquer Japan and, um, stage a musical. There's obviously more to it than that, but it's up to Goemon and his friends to find out what.

As you progress through the game, various characters help and/or hinder you in your attempts to save Japan from a fate worse than being forced to listen to a pub singer perform endless Take That covers, and they also provide a lot of humour along the way. From Plasma the fortune teller to the rather un-robot-like 'robo officer', everyone has something to say - albeit not always anything particulary useful.

Graphically, the game is almost unchanged. Obviously the text is now in English, rather than Japanese, although the musical numbers (so far) remain the same. What has changed is the rather dubious design on the square boxes which Goemon can use in combination with his chain weapon to bridge large gaps. In the Japanese version, these boxes sported a rather risque swastika design (nothing to do with Nazis but an ancient religious symbol, though most Westerners didn't know that), which has been replaced with a more PC star insignia.

This game was an awful lot of fun even when it was all in Japanese. Now that it's possible to chat to the characters and to actually know why you're doing something - instead of just doing it because it needs to be done - the game is infinitely more enjoyable.

Even characters who don't have any real bearing on the game are fun to talk to - some will give you clues, some will tell jokes and some will just drop weird anecdotal comments. Watch out particularly for Chuppy, the talking dog. He doesn't seem to have any bearing on the plot at all, but he's really cool in an anthropomorphic strange-Japanese-humour kind of way.

Soon then, all N64 owners will have the chance to eat Octopus Dumplings, battle Wartime Kobuki Robots, blow the Triton shell, explore the Ghost Toy Castle, visit endless coffee shops and call lots of people a weirdo (which from the look of things is Goemon's favourite insult - ow, cuts like paper!). Quite how good the fully converted version turns out, still remains to be seen, and you'll just have to wait for the upcoming full review.

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Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon Downloads

Nintendo 64 Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon download

Wacky mix of RPG and platformer, and very entertaining. Help Goemon and mates save ancient Japan from musical aliens!

reggie posted a review

There's plenty to sink your teeth into here. A sprawling, enjoyable adventure that works its socks off to square up to Mario.

reggie posted a review

Goemon's back... and this time he's bringing a friend!

The original Goemon game was entertaining, challenging and, above all, weird. That was even after the UK translation came out and we could tell what the characters were actually saying!

Goemon 2 is the Japanese sequel to Goemon, obviously, better known by its UK title of Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon. As with the previous game, this game is both enjoyable and also very, very, weird.

Rather refreshingly, instead of simply churning out the same product again, Konami have revamped the game structure, taking out some of the things that didn't work so well first time round and adding some totally new features.

Oriental Oddness

In keeping with the first game, a suitably strange plot runs throughout. It seems that the wise old man from MNSG has invented a machine for re-animating the dead. Something has gone wrong, however; the machine has been stolen and as a result ancient Japan has been flooded with ghosts.

As the wise old man is a pointy-haired managerial type, it's absolutely unthinkable that he would be the one to go and sort out the mess, so instead it comes down to Goemon to put things right. Well, Goemon and a friend.

This is the first change that Konami have made to the game. Goemon 2 features an all-new (to the N64, anyway) two-player co-operative mode, which allows you and a friend to team up as you set out to challenge the evil forces that are rampaging across Japan.

3-D Or Not 3-D?

Another big change to the original game is the perspective. Whereas the first game was entirely 3-D, the majority of Goemon 2 is actually 2-D, with clever use of graphics giving an imitation 3-D effect. Movement in the game is on a 2-D plane so the characters can go left and right and jump up and down, but they can't move into or out of the screen. To prevent the whole thing from looking flat, all the backgrounds are created from polygons, so you can see different sides of them as you go past -you just can't move closer to or away from them. In play, the feel is similar to Pandemonium on the PlayStation or Nights on the Saturn, the closest N64 equivalent being certain parts of Mischief Makers.

So why the move back from full 3-D? Memory may be one reason - since objects can only be viewed from certain angles, the whole thing doesn't have to be built, freeing up space for things like the two-player mode and the vast wodges of speech and music. A more likely reason, though, is to take the game back to the acclaimed style of the old Super NES Goemon games, but updated visually.

Another reason might be gameplay. Although the first game was in general extremely good, one its most irritating aspects was that certain parts required a great deal of very difficult jumps to be made - in 3-D, this became at times almost stupidly difficult. The 2-D gameplay, where you only have to worry about dealing with one plane of movement, means that things like jumps become about a hundred times easier to accomplish!

As in the first game, the idea is to explore Japan, talk to the locals for clues, accomplish various tasks and conquer a variety of different bosses. You also need to spend time exploring the towns to uncover various special objects which you need on your quest.

Size Isn't 'Everything...

One of the things which annoyed people the most in the first game was the size of the play area. The fact that the .game was big wasn't a bad kthing in itself, but there was a lot of landscape where pretty much nothing happened. Since you often had to go backwards and forwards between the various towns, this regularly led to a great deal of fairly tedious travelling. Well, no more! After each section in the game, the map appears with a little version of your character (or characters, if you're playing cooperatively) on it A glowing line indicates which way you can go and a swift button click sends you there. In this way, the action isn't spoiled by long period of mindless wandering -although you'll still need to spend some time exploring the towns.

What all these changes mean is a slicker, faster-paced, more polished game. Goemon 2 enjoys all the benefits of the first game and eliminates the problems. You begin the game with the characters of Goemon and his fat friend Ebisumaru.

During the course of their adventures, our heroes encounter their friends Sasuke the psychotic robot midget and Yae the mermaid sword-chick. Each character has different abilities and weapons - some the same as in the first game, plus some new ones like Ebisumaru's Marioesque bottom-bounce - and you need to utilise them each in different situations. The mad D bloke in the first city, for example, won't talk to anyone but Goemon, and you need to get him to talk to you in order to accomplish a specific task.

Old Blue-Hair Is Back!

Goemon 2 is a definite improvement over the first game, which was itself very good. Obviously the major problem is the Japanese text, unless of course you happen to be Japanese which the majority of our readership aren't. However, due to the new style of gameplay, it's much easier to progress as it's simply a matter of searching each town methodically and talking to everyone until they ask you to do something (at which time you are sent back to the map and your destination is highlighted). This isn't always easy - for instance, the first time we played the game we managed to get the guards to open the city gates but the second play through we couldn't work out what we'd done to earn this. It is a lot easier to play this than the first Goemon though, and the 2-D platform action sections, which play more or less identically to the SNES games, make it worth the effort. Can't wait to get our hands on the English version!

2nd rating opinion

This is much more like the old SNES Goemon games, and that's certainly not a bad thing. It's got all the weirdness and bizarre subgames that Goemon fans expect, and keeps the same playability as well. Roll on a UK release!

reggie posted a review

This game was released a while ago in Japan, under the title of Ganbare Goemon. Although it was generally considered to be a well designed game with a lot of neat puzzles, the masses of Japanese text made it very difficult to comprehend what exactly was happening tended to take a lot of the fun out!

Now the star of the original game, magical Goemon himself, is back in a translated, renamed version, entitled Mystical Ninja Starring begun to transform various Japanese landmarks and kidnap various members of the population to use in an - as yet - mysterious scheme.

Enter our heroes, Goemon and his fat friend Ebisumaru. We meet them as they are thrown out of a shop because Ebisumaru decided he could get a discount if he took off all his clothes and did a dance for the shopkeeper!

After a quick trip home for Ebisumaru to get dressed, the dotty duo set out to find out who the mysterious aliens are, what they are planning for Japan, and how exactly they can be stopped. It's a journey which will take them all over Japan, and they'll need to make friends along the way. Two friends in particular will join them on their quest, individuals with their own unique powers which are essential if Goemon and со hope to save Japan from a fate worse than Andrew Lloyd Webber.

It's An RPG, Isn't It?

Some aspects of Mystical Ninja will be familiar to those of you who have previous experience on RPGs, such as the character control method. Rather than guiding the characters around on-screen in a group, or moving them separately, you only actually see one of them at a time, and this character represents all of the others. For much of the game, it doesn't matter which of the characters you use to move the group around - it comes down very much to personal preference. Certain obstacles, however, can only be overcome through the use of a certain character's specific abilities or weapons. For instance, there are the heated platforms that you come across some way into the game which can only be crossed through the use of a special ice weapon used by a short punk-like character called Sasuke. Before you can conquer these platforms, you'll first have to find the ice weapon... and Sasuke!

Another RPG aspect to Mystical Ninja is the interaction with other characters within the game. Although much of the game is linear in nature, in that you have to do certain things in a certain order, it won't be immediately obvious what those tasks are, or in what order they should be done. To find out what to do, and when and where to do it, it's necessary to talk with the various inhabitants of Japan, ranging from ordinary townsfolk through talking dogs to hippie fortune tellers.

Some of the characters will give you helpful hints, some will tell you outright what you have to do next, and some will just make humorous remarks. You can't tell who will be helpful and who won't, since what the characters have to say changes as you progress through the game, so it's best to just talk to everyone at every opportunity.

Are You Talking To Me?

As with other RPGs, in the same way that certain tasks can only be performed by specific characters, sometimes you will need to have selected a specific character when chatting with someone to get the desired response from them. Sometimes you'll get clues from the townsfolk and various minor characters that you meet in your wanderings around Japan, other times you may find it possible to buy clues for a small fee in certain places, and sometimes it becomes just a case of experimentation - assuming different personalities and talking to the same people again.

Unlike RPGs, a lot of the action in Mystical Ninja is arcade based. Battling monsters for instance, is not done with attack rolls and experience points, instead it's your basic 'run-around-and-deck-'em-all' kind of thing. A lot of the time the game is like a platform adventure, in that you need to make precision jumps across stationary and moving platforms. It is here that the gameplay falls down somewhat, since in certain situations pinpoint jumps are made extremely difficult by a combination of the floating camera and the control system.

This is because the directional controls rely on the camera direction for their orientation - if the camera moves around, then the up, down, left and right controls all change relative to it. A case in point is one of the sub-games you must complete to obtain a magical power for one of Goemon's friends. The game consists entirely of climbing a pole by way of platforms which rotate and change in size, and this task is hampered considerably by the control system, turning what should be an amusing little sub-game into a frustratingly difficult task which could hold you up for hours.

Kill The Robots!

Although not divided up into levels as such, Mystical Ninja does nevertheless hold various bosses and sub-bosses who act as the equivalent to end-of-level markers. The tone of the game is very non-violent, so to get around the fact that you spend a lot of the game bashing, squashing or slicing up all manner of strange creatures, from floating dogs to short fat girls in party dresses, the plot explains that these are all robots, the implication being that it's okay to massacre them because robots aren't alive. Obviously no-one remembers Short Circuit and the endearing Number Five!

The bosses are all bigger robots that you either take on while on foot, or inside the belly of your own gigantic super-robot Goemon Impact which boasts a variety of special weapons. Before you face off in your giant mechanical Goemon, a short arcade sequence occurs in which you need to destroy as many buildings and town defences as possible to gain extra energy - which seems bizarre, considering that the whole point of the game is to defend Japan, not raze it to the ground!

Having played both the original Japanese Goemon and now Mystical Ninja, I can safely say that the translation of the text makes an awful lot of difference to the gameplay. With the original version, unless you happened to be gifted with a knowledge of the Japanese language, it was basically a case of running around blindly and discovering what to do by trial and error. With the English version, not only does it make it easier to work out what you're doing, but you actually know why you're doing it. The whole game becomes a lot more fun, because as you go along a storyline slowly unfolds allowing you to get a lot more out of the game.

Take the town sections for instance. Previously it was simply a case of moving through the town until you found a character who, through pressing a certain combination of buttons, would give you the next part of a puzzle. Except you didn't know what the puzzle actually was! Now it's actually good fun in the towns, chatting to the locals and discovering the variety of shops and facilities that are dotted around the district. The people are funny, and often helpful, particularly when you're stuck for what to do next. In the Japanese game, they were Just mobile scenery.

Looks Familiar...

Graphically the game has changed very little from its lapanese counterpart. One immediately noticeable difference though is the redesign of the boxes which Goemon utilises to travel across gaps that are too wide to jump. In the lapanese version of the game, the pattern on these boxes looks dangerously similar to the swastika symbol, recognised widely since World War II as the symbol of the Nazi party. Whether or not they don't consider it to be the same in Japan - I'm told that the swastika was originally a Buddhist symbol, carrying no negative connotations at all - it appears that Konami have rather wisely removed the offending symbol from the English-language versions of the game, replacing it with the less offensive star symbol. Of course, the star is the symbol of communist China, so will people have a problem with that? Only time will tell... perhaps they should have used something no-one is offended by, like the head of a Tellytubby.

All in all, Mystical Ninja, now translated, has become an enjoyable, fun-filled game which should keep you puzzling for a long time to come. My only criticism is the fact that a lot of the tasks rely on jumps which are made far too difficult by the annoying camera-related control system, and this is a shame, because the rest of the game has been so well thought out. Even this irritant though cannot spoil what is an extremely good, very funny 3-D adventure.

reggie posted a review
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