Critic Score: 69 / User Score: 8.5
The Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a title that just seems so Japanese that you’d have to try really hard to make it more ridiculous. What can you expect from such a game? If you guessed an amazing fusion of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with a bit of Mario 64 and a BUNCH of Japanese culture thrown in for good measure, then you have a really good sense of gaming! A quirky title from Konami, Goemon is currently sitting at a bit of an odd point of Metacritic.
While not exactly doing awful, there seems to be a slight divide. Why is that exactly? Users consider this game to be an absolute gem! With fantastic gameplay and insanely hilarious story elements and characters. It could be due to the massive amount of Japanese content filled in the game with references and jokes galore, so much so it kind of makes you wonder how this game got localised during a time where it was a risky gamble to do anything so overly Japanese!
Ladies and gents, this is Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon for the N64! A game where Metacritic is clearly wrong!
Released in 1998, the game is tied to the Legend of the Mystical Ninja game on the SNES. As you might have guessed, it’s a game based around a ninja named Goemon. Something of a legend in his native Japan, as he’s been portrayed in so many things at this point. Games, movies, audio books, you name it. To sum up his legend, he is pretty much Japan’s version of Robin Hood. Except Goemon met a pretty awful end, go check out his history if you have some spare time, it’s really interesting.
The game lets you play as either Goemon himself, or his three comrades. You have to save Japan from a strange gang led by some… interesting characters that go by the names Spring Breeze Danicin’ and Kitty Lily, who together form the Peach Mountain Shoguns. Their brilliant plan to overtake glorious Nippon is to use their ‘instant stage beam’ to turn Japan into one big performing arts stage! It’s not a plot you can make up so easily and can only come from the land of the rising sun, but trust us, it’s brilliantly executed.
So the colourful cast of Mystical Ninja are Goemon, Ebisumaru, Yae and Sasuke. As these characters, you’ll be going through a vast Japan to undo the misdeeds of the Peach Mountain gang. You’ll travel through popular locations in classic era Japan and go through dungeons which in Goemon are Enemy Castles. A fitting theme since it’s a retro Japan setting, as hotshot lords and politicians often had their own castles.
The castles are less of Zelda like puzzle affair and more focused on platforming, hence the Mario 64 reference we added. The 4 playable characters come in handy in different ways for the castles you’ll encounter. They all have specific abilities that can help you in tricky situations like Goemon can use his chain pipe to cross gaps you wouldn’t be able to as other characters, or Ebisumaru’s ability to shrink themselves to fit into small spaces. Also, they have a giant robot they can summon, because… well Japan! The robot battles are actually really fun and lend well to the overall gameplay.
Actually, it’s because Goemon really focuses on slapstick and good comedy. The Japanese love their gag humour, for them some comedians are more popular than some Hollywood celebs. So Goemon embraces this aspect of Japanese culture by turning Japanese culture into a joke that everyone can enjoy. Where we see giant robot wackiness, Goemon also has subtle ribs at all sorts of moments in history and various plays on words that not even the most gifted translator could spin into a way English speaking audiences could understand.
But that isn’t to say there is nothing here for us to enjoy! The is PLENTY of references and comedy that’ll leave any gaijin in stitches. Cut scenes often have over the top animations, awful puns that are so bad they are good. Plenty of fourth wall breaking moments, and pop culture references, like Jichael Mackson being an obvious nod to Michael Jackon. It’s a rollercoaster of silly situations and shows off this undeniable level of charm that Konami put into it, so much that they believed the game would be a fit outside of Japan!
The graphics are decent, considering the game is for the N64. A wide pallet is used in Goemon, as you’d be hard pressed not to find a bright and vivid colour scheme in every level. Sometimes it can get a bit over the top and feels forced, but overall very good. You won’t see any other games on the system that look like Goemon, that much is for sure. The character models clearly had the most focus, as they can show a wide range of emotions and often feel Disney animated at points and really give the game it’s own life.
Music is also just as charming and stunning. Given the limitations that you had to deal with with the N64 and it’s cartridges versus something like the PlayStation, it is truly surprising just how much Konami was able to do! The music for Goemon is REALLY catchy! You’ve got everything under the rising sun here, traditional Japanese melodies, hard rock ballads, quirky and upbeat music for some of the more sillier moments. You really have to play the game and experience the music for yourself, as it is really fun to listen to when you play!
So what is the big catch here exactly? Where are all the cons? Well, there are a few. The first would be the length of the game, not every game is going to be Ocarina of Time levels. Given the fact that Goemon is filled with fantastic sounding music, a fair amount of cutscenes, and some truly impressive levels. The game is painfully short. Due to the cartridge limitations, Goemon is only around ten hours if you start fresh, and less if you decide to play through it again. 5 castles and few dozen areas to explore. It’s sad as to have a more expansive adventure could have truly given an unforgettable gaming experience!
The game is also quite easy. There isn’t much difficulty involved in completing the short game, health is given to you like it is going out of style and the baddies are chumps. Puzzles also are pretty much handed to you on a silver platter, as the game will just give you a message telling you how to solve a few specific puzzles. Not a hint, but a full on explanation. It kills the momentum and lessens the experience of solving the puzzles the game has to offer, which is sad since it’s already short!
Another con we have to address is the camera. This is where a lot of the hate for the game comes from, why exactly? You don’t get to control the camera, instead, it follows you around and just works as programmed. A pretty awful system to have in place, especially as there is no dedicated reset button for the camera. So lining up jumps will just consist of you waiting for the camera to re-angle after a moment. It takes away a lot of fluid motion and is a very understandable gripe.
Lastly is the lack of an open world feeling from the game. In Zelda, there were so many things you could do and plenty of people to meet! But with Goemon, it’s all quite linear. You don’t really have much to do in the game world beyond stopping the Peach Mountain Shoguns, which is quite upsetting given the expansive game you have. Characters aren’t there to mingle with, they are there to point you in the right direction, which is pretty disappointing once you finish the game.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a game filled with personality. It’s different from the standard N64 games of the time, and if you didn’t realise, it’s a good game that isn’t from Nintendo. Konami managed to take the N64 and make a truly unique and charmful game out of it. While some of the issues with the camera can hinder the gameplay a bit, overall it’s an easy enough issue to get past to embrace the true classic underneath! We hope to see more of Goemons adventures make it out of Japan in the future if more games are released.
While the Metacritic score wasn’t all that high, there is no denying they really got it wrong on this one. If you are looking for a unique experience for the N64 that isn’t your typical Mario or Zelda games but still holds parts of what make those games so great, then look no further than Goemon!
Did you play Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon? Did you like it or dislike it? Let us know in the comments down below!
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