Life can really suck sometimes…tedious workdays, exams in school didn’t go our way, we have to pay more than we were expecting with our bills. It’s enough to make you want to stay at home curled up on the couch, crying to yourself and watching really bad daytime TV. But if you think you’ve had bad days, just put yourself in Maximo’s boots. He returned from a war to find his ruler deposed, his girlfriend kidnapped and all hell literally breaking loose. Even worse, he barely had a chance to do anything before being killed and banished to Purgatory, where the Grim Reaper offered him a chance at revenge. Well, two years later, Capcom has released the unlucky hero’s latest adventure with Maximo Vs. The Army Of Zin.
The title of the game alludes to the seemingly limitless hordes of monsters that our Maximo faces as he continues his search for his long lost love, Sophia. Some time has passed since the previous title, yet Maximo and his “sidekick” the wry and cynical reaper Grim haven’t had any luck finding her. However, one night they wind up saving a villager from a rampaging mechanical beast, alarming both of them. The only time the land had ever seen such creatures were five hundred years before Maximo, when a legion of monsters known as the Army of Zin destroyed everything in sight. The beasts were finally stopped when the Baron of Hawkmoor baited the hordes into a massive vault, sacrificing himself to prevent their escape. Obviously, this ancient threat has found some way of breaking out of their prison, and it’s up to Maximo to save the land once again.
Like most sequels, Maximo still has his old skills. He still breaks out a double jump to grab platforms just out of reach, deflects incoming attacks with his shield, and performs his basic or powered up sword slash. However, he’s also opened up a whole new bag of tricks for this latest adventure. First of all, Maximo can unleash a number of attack combos, including quick multiple hit strikes and juggling opponents into the air. His shield is a much stronger and durable weapon also, with its own set of abilities. It’s possible to let the shield hover in one place to block projectiles or even attract koins and gems to Maximo’s pockets. He also gets an additional weapon, a war hammer, that he can use to smash opponents, trigger switches and open additional areas.
Both his hammer and trusty sword can be improved via numerous weapon upgrades in one of the more creative twists to Zin’s gameplay. As Maximo travels through the land, he’ll come across innocent people being attacked by the monstrous Zin forces. If Maximo manages to save these folks from being slaughtered, they’ll reward him with information as well as koins, armor or other helpful items; let them die or get there too late, and he gets nothing. What’s more, some of these grateful citizens are actually shopkeepers or elderly guards, who can sell Maximo useful items such as life koins, new attack moves or specialized boxer shorts.
You heard me right, the boxers are back. Yep, our favorite exhibitionistic hero still loses his suit of armor when enemies hit him. This has been tweaked within Army of Zin in two ways: First, he takes much less damage from some foes, extending the life of his tin can. Secondly, Maximo doesn’t need to be in his boxers to receive the benefits of his special underwear. In fact, there are some pairs of underwear that boost his health or attacks significantly, or, in one case, helps him find hidden treasure chests. Loot isn’t just found within chests. Beating opponents can cough up money or even soul gems, which powers up your Reaper gauge. When full, this gauge allows Maximo to transform into Grim for a period of time, rendering him invulnerable and able to dish out plenty of damage.
With these tweaks, it’s pleasing to note just how much of a departure was made from some of the clunkier elements from Ghosts To Glory. Gone is the clumsy three item inventory space that forced you to pick and choose which items would accompany you on a stage. In its place is a full-fledged inventory screen that lists weapons and abilities, as well as additional items, koins, and “lives.” The exorbitant fees for continuing the game are now gone as well. Perhaps its because Maximo and Grim are friends now, but no longer do you have to worry about constantly paying off the Reaper when you die. Instead, death coins can either be found or purchased as a set rate from a merchant. Finally, the awkward hub system that funneled Maximo through levels has now been replaced with a linear map interface that allows players to return and replay stages as often as they’d like.
It’s entirely plausible to commit this amount of backtracking because of the difficulty found within the game. Ghosts To Glory was particularly challenging, and Army of Zin is no exception. Rather than the earth splitting and shifting under his feet (like in the first game), Maximo is often ambushed from all sides, including falling warriors from the sky (that are strangely reminiscent of the Burning Legion from Warcraft III). While there isn’t much rote memorization of attack patterns, there are a substantial number of basic platforming elements, such as difficult leaps across pits and puzzle solving that raises the difficulty level significantly. Army of Zin is a taste of classic adventure gaming, where the obstacle with dying isn’t the repetition of a level as much as it is the mistake made that forced your character to die. That’s the part that will often have you kicking yourself or cursing at the TV screen.
You can hand one thing to Army of Zin: Its cartoonish nature is visually distinctive. Enemies, such as the scythe wielding footsoldiers or pumpkin throwing scarecrows, are drawn extremely well and their animated movements and attacks truly look wicked. Maximo’s determined smirk rarely ever leaves his face, and his variety of attacks look great. However, the star of the graphics has to be the particle effects, which are large and impressive. From the sparks that scatter from the impact of weapons or incoming soldiers to the chunks of armor that fly off Maximo and his opponents, these graphical touches are superb.
The camera, which can be fully controlled by the player at all times, has its share of problems at moments, especially when Maximo is jumping over pits. The horizontal plane that it can get stuck on at times can give you a poor perspective on where to make your next move. Additionally, some backgrounds can be particularly bland and simplistic, which is fine in some moments considering you’ll merely be concentrating on making a jump. Vocal acting feels appropriate to the action and so are the sound effects, which are pretty solid, particularly with weapons rebounding off metal and reverberating. However, much of the music and effects, while appropriate to the section of the game that’s being played, comes across somewhat muffled. In fact, it’s not uncommon that you’ll completely tune out or mute the sound, not because it’s horrible, but because it doesn’t have any impact on your gameplay.
While I’d love to be able to say that Army of Zin has a lot to offer players, it’s simply not true. Even though most levels are very large and tricky, this is a game that an accomplished platform player could blaze through in a matter of hours if they so choose, skipping some of the items entirely and merely completing levels as fast as possible. Of course, you’d probably want to stick around and attempt to master each level, which unlocks a specific art gallery for each of the twenty levels. While concept art and other drawings are a nice reward, this is the main incentive players have to throw additional time into completely conquering the game. Otherwise, there’s not very much of an incentive to replaying Army of Zin once you’ve beaten it, aside from keeping your platforming skills sharp.
This isn’t to say that Army of Zin is a bad game, however. It’s definitely a worthy successor of Ghosts To Glory, and its numerous weapon and gameplay enhancements make it better than the first Maximo title by far. It’s simply held back from greatness because of its lack of replay value. Still, platforming and adventure fans should check this game out.