In Maximo you play as… Maximo, the titular spunky young king, who upon emerging victorious from countless battles to protect his people, returns home to find his true love captured and his kingdom enslaved by his royal advisor, Achille, and his undead army. As Maximo attempts to rescue his beloved Sophia, he is killed by Achille and sent to the afterlife. Once there, Grim (the grim reaper) offers him a deal – he will return Maximo to the living realm if he returns the deceased souls that Achille has stolen from the underworld. Thus, our hero embarks on a quest to rid the land of evil and reclaim his squeeze.
The Old Gods And The New
Maximo is actually a spin-off from Capcom’s hugely popular Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise. Capcom Digital Studios created the concept of Maximo as a way to bring back the “old school” style gameplay of the aforementioned series, but revamp it to suit modern audiences and consoles – and boy did it work.
Originally scheduled for release on the Nintendo 64, Maximo was delayed several years, skipping the Dreamcast altogether and eventually finding it’s home on the PlayStation 2. It succeeded in adapting the unforgiving difficulty of Ghosts’ arcade roots to suit the PS2 and managed to retain many of its unique gameplay elements (such as crushing grave stones for souls), but ditched the 2D side-scrolling look for a fully-realised 3D world.
East Meets West
Maximo adopts its distinctive art style from illustrator Susumu Matsushita’s interpretation of the Ghosts n’ Goblins universe. His unique manga artwork is heavily influenced by American comics; meaning Maximo’s animation features a blend of both eastern and western cultures that serves to make it stand out as a game that wasn’t afraid to push the boat out and go against conventions. In fact, its refreshing art style was the reason it originally caught my eye.
The music in Maximo is also taken from the Ghosts n’ Goblins series; the soundtrack is essentially an array of remixes of tracks from previous games in the franchise.
The music in Maximo is also taken from the Ghosts n’ Goblins series; the soundtrack is essentially an array of remixes of tracks from previous games in the franchise. Although a huge round of applause goes to video game veteran Tommy Tallarico for composing these remixes; he did a great job creating a slightly camp, yet spooky sounding score that totally immerses you in the world of the game. Whenever Maximo pops into my head, the music from the game’s first stage immediately begins to run through my mind and always leaves me wanting to play through it all over again.
But Our Princess Is In Another Castle
The narrative takes the player across five weird and wonderful locations: The Boneyard, The Great Dank, The Frozen Wastes, The Spirit Realm and finally back home to Castle Maximo – all of which feature their own unique roster of enemies, obstacles and secrets to find. The variety of enemies in this game is enormous, keeping the combat fresh and exciting. It serves to keep you on your toes, as you never know what’s around the next corner.
Each of the five locations comprises of a HUB stage from which four separate levels can be accessed, once you have beaten these stages you’re able to do battle with that realm’s boss. Once you defeat the boss, one of the Queen’s beautiful handmaidens will be freed and grant you one of three wishes: either a full armour upgrade, an opportunity to save the game (which don’t come around very often, but more on that later) or a kiss; which if you collect all four, will grant you access to Matsushita’s original concept art for the game – which is a nice little addition.
When you are first transported to the Boneyard, a number of koins appear before you; as you approach them however, the ground starts to tremble at your feet and a giant mountain erupts and impedes your path. So you find another route, but before long the earth opens up to reveal a fiery lava pit, the only way to progress being to navigate across the coffins floating on the surface. It is in the gameplay department where Maximo relishes its old school roots, using classic side scrolling obstacles but modifying them to suit the 3D mechanics.
After you manage to retrieve the koins, they can be used to purchase random items that are scattered across each stage, ranging from healing potions, to upgraded weapons, to a fancy new pair of boxer shorts.
After replaying the game recently, I found the gameplay to be very similar to more recent hack and slash titles. The combat system in particular felt reminiscent of God of War, leading me to believe that Maximo may have had something of an influence on these games. It’s a sword and shield affair, in which you can upgrade Maximo’s weapons with special abilities, giving his sword a longer reach for example. You can also bestow upon it a weapon affinity, such as fire or ice, each one having its own unique style of play and greatly increases your sword’s attack power. There are also a multitude of combos to play around with that become more useful the further you progress into the game, as well as a ton of sweet techniques, combos, spells, items, power-ups, and transformations to unlock – giving Maximo considerable replay value.
I Am Death Incarnate!
Boss battles in particular are a nightmare, as they cannot be beaten with conventional methods, meaning the player must think outside the box and use trial and error to succeed.
One thing I must warn you about Maximo, however, is that it’s super hard. So hard in fact, that IGN ranked it #6 on its ‘Top 10 Most Challenging PS2 Games of All Time’ list. You cannot change the difficulty setting, you are instead forced to use brains as well as brawn to overcome the challenges it throws at you, which is something I hated at the time (considering I was 9 when I first played it) but now that I am older and wiser it is something I can truly appreciate.
Boss battles in particular are a nightmare, as they cannot be beaten with conventional methods, meaning the player must think outside the box and use trial and error to succeed. Let me give you an example, the pirate boss from the Frozen Wastes must be led to a grid at the side of the map and when he stands on it with his wooden leg you attack him, causing him to slip down the grid and become stuck – then, and only then, are you able to take health from him. This was the only time I felt the difficulty was unfair, since if it was my first attempt at a boss – I was definitely going to die, because I didn’t know what to do.
Once you eventually die you are sent back to the underworld, where you must give Grim a death coin to return to the living realm. Death coins are acquired after you collect 50 souls from smashing gravestones; if you don’t have a death coin, then it’s game over. Now this wasn’t the annoying thing about dying, it’s actually relatively easy to gather souls. The annoying part is that when you are brought back to life, you lose all of your equipment, techniques, combos, power-ups and everything else you had accumulated on your journey, apart from a select few items that you could choose to lock into place as necessities in case you die. This is what made Maximo incredibly hard, you become completely barebones as something you relied on for so long was now gone, forcing you to come up with another way to fend off nasties. Although it was extremely frustrating when you lost all of your equipment by accidentally slipping off a ledge into some lava, it was actually one of the best ideas in the game. It made the experience so much more tense and electrifying – and not to mention terrifying.
The only real issue I had with Maximo was that you could only save the game at one predetermined point in each realm’s HUB stage. This was frustrating because:
1 – You had to complete a whole level without losing all of your lives
2 – You also had to pay a whopping 100 koins to use the save pool, meaning if you hadn’t saved up your dollar – you were screwed.
Maximo’s zany cartoon-like world is presented through a constant canted angle making the world seem distorted, like a trippy dream world. This re-enforces the comic, yet spooky world in which our protagonist resides. No, it is not a horror, far from it; but it certainly features the occasional jump scare and some genuinely creepy moments, such as the final boss battle that takes place in the shadows of Castle Maximo, in which you must rely on the sounds of your enemy as you can barely see anything. For every scary moment, though, there are 20 funny ones, as the crazy sound effects and character designs never fail to put a smile on your face.
It’s hard to pick a favourite aspect of Maximo, as it’s one of those games that excels across the board. It’s got an amazing soundtrack and a great comic tone – heck, even the steep difficulty level works wonders for the game, it gave me an amazing sense of accomplishment upon completion. It’s a real shame that a lot of young gamers get scared away by a challenge nowadays, growing up comfortably with their regenerating health and checkpoints around every corner. In fact, it’s available to buy over on PSN so everyone should go and play it now, as it will surely toughen you up.
Mix It Up A Little
It’s charming cartoony animation still holds up well by today’s standards, which is an amazing achievement, considering it was released back in 2001. It makes me wonder why companies don’t develop more games with a mix of east and west or old and new, as it appeals to a wider audience and is a refreshing change of pace from the drab most companies churn out these days. Developers should really take note; Maximo is the perfect example of how to keep a franchise alive without capitalising on the same setup year in, year out.