• Goku Makaimura Review Ultimate Ghosts n Goblins - Sony PSP

    “Be careful what you wish for – it might just come true!” goes the old saying. This is normally delivered as a precautionary measure, usually to a miscreant child or in hushed tones by an elderly, sage-like relative. The thing is though, as a 26-year-old man who has just had one wish granted and two or three more nailed on in the coming months, I am inclined to continue wishing, and hedging my bets. This is because, around a year or two ago ,after rediscovering my passion for gaming, I asked (and on this very website, no less), for an RPG-tinged, 2D-style update of Capcom’s Makaimura series on this-gen hardware.

    The games fairy must have been browsing the forums that day, because that is essentially exactly what Capcom have done with the release of Goku Makaimura. With the original designer Tokuro Fujiwara back on board, this is a brave release: one that will delight fans who have waited more than a decade for a sequel, but potentially alienate the casual gamer with its gameplay - which is tricky, to put it mildly .

    You see, it is well-known in the games world that the previous three Makaimura titles are among the hardest platformers in existence, with levels of difficulty that range from hard, to very hard, to “destroy console/arcade hardware” . This has historically been achieved in spite of uniformly excellent level design and a sense of fairness, even if at times you do feel like repeatedly smashing your head against the nearest inanimate object.

    Goku Makaimura is no different in this respect. The gameplay is still very much 2D platforming, albeit with a pseudo-3D playing field and graphics that look simply spiffing on the PSP screen. With rich, detailed backdrops, smooth animation and a feel that evokes previous developer highlights such as Demon’s Blazon and Maximo, the presentation represents almost exactly how one would imagine a current-generation update to portray Sir Arthur and the menagerie of beasties within the Demon Realm. Opening with a magical haunted forest, the game takes you on a journey through rivers of blood, a raging, living inferno, and the obligatory giant castle of evilness. All look absolutely awesome, and it is clear that Fujiwara-san and his crew really went back to, and drew from, the true essence of the franchise. From the very start, your avatar is plunged into battle with constantly spawning wraiths, ghostly hands that materialise from all directions and the deftly-gobbed projectiles from the carnivorous Venus Flytraps – a series mainstay. It is quite unlike anything else you can buy for your PSP, and is an instant return to 1991 and beyond, as you attempt to negotiate the nails-hard, no-prisoners action. With all this familiarity, it is worth a mention that the biggest dollop of fan service is served up sonically, and from the very start. Capcom have well and truly dropped dabomb musically, with the opening tune a gorgeous reworking of the classic G+G theme that will have longtime admirers reaching for the Kleenex.

    The structure of Goku Makaimura is refreshingly non-linear, with multiple hidden routes through the five levels, and the ability to return to previously cleared areas once new abilities have been sourced, to search for more items. This is a departure for the series, and encourages longevity without compromising the arcade-style charm.

    The core of the game is not really any different to your actual previous Makaimura, guv’nor. Once again, it is Arthur, his suit of armour and his inexplicably infinite ream of projectiles against the (demon) world (village). In days gone by, gamers were granted two hits and then death; on the harder settings here that is still the same. Pick one of the easier options, however, and our protagonist becomes slightly more hardy, with an energy bar system to deplete before being stripped to the shreddies and then killed. The hardest option will also throw you back to either the start of the level or the midpoint, depending on whether you have collected the (often well-hidden) key icon that serves as the midpoint. Again, those clearly not hard enough can take the coward's way out with an easier setting, where you are plunged straight back into the action from wherever you have been knocked off.

    Capcom’s committal to taking gamers back to the old school is also evident with the inclusion of the customary Makaimura M. Knight Shyalaman-style twist. Just like when you found out that Bruce Willis was actually (censored) in that spooky movie, in the olden days gamers would finish one of Arthur’s incredibly tough adventures, think they had saved Prin Prin… only to be sent back to the start to find some trinket or other that would give you the “true” ending. Controversial at the time, of course many games these days have similar stipulations, and this one is no different. Once you reach the end, you are told to go forth and explore the levels once again, to seek a number of golden rings needed in order to unlock the final boss, which you then need to slay in order to restore order to the world. Fifteen years ago an underhand twist like that would have pissed you off something rotten, and indeed Goku Makaimura is a hardcore experience that only a few will truly conquer – however at least we now have the benefit of the wonderful Memory Stick – something that was merely a twinkle in the eye of some now-very-rich person back when arcades still existed.

    Whatever way you choose to play it, the game is tough, and will at times frustrate with its unforgiving nature. It is a good job then that there are a number of new additions to the stupid/brave knight’s armoury that go some way toward levelling the playing field. Weapons are as diverse as ever, and unlike earlier in the series, there are not really any selections that one would avoid due to their crapness (stand up, flaming torch from Ghosts ‘N Goblins). Even a spiked flail/whip with a short striking distance can be devastating in the right hands, with a bit of practice. All weapons can be powered up by collecting the “POW” icons littered around the landscape. Magic is now readily available and upgradable by collecting icons and magic items on your quest. Potions need to be grabbed to maintain the refillable magic bar, and a press of the magic button has a variety of effects depending on which spell is equipped. Beginning with a straight-up fiery blast, there are numerous wild and wonderful attacks available to decimate the opposition. As you get surrounded by enemies - and believe us, on the harder settings the buggers spawn on top of you - the magical powers are a godsend. Building on the SNES incarnation, Arthur can now get kitted up with a number of different armour types, each of which come with different abilities, usually related to use of magic. Shields are another new feature – once gathered, holding down on the D-pad will allow projectiles and other nasties to be blocked until the hit points are depleted on the shield. Other items grant special abilities to further assist you in the ball-aching onslaught – such as a shield that allows flight for a limited period, and boots that enable a double jump. Items and spells are all easily switched on the useful equip screen, with an RPG-esque inventory that recalls the aforementioned Demon’s Blazon.

    Goku Makaimura really does hark to a bygone age, which like many retro things can be equally a blessing or a curse. The controls can be clunky and unresponsive, and once again the hardware is to blame (yawn). With many tricky platform sections requiring precision and timing, the dodgy D-pad does not perform as required, and you will find yourself negotiating a balance beam between success and bitter frustration at times. The stock answer to this is, as always, to get a D-pad add-on. Whichever method of control you select, there is no getting around the fact that the game is brutally hard. Old heads will love this, whilst newcomers may simply crumble before it. You could also argue that in spite of the dreaded gold rings requirement, and the many multiple routes through the game, it is still pretty short at five levels, and with a questionable amount of replay value. The pre-Goku efforts were all strictly arcade experiences, with no game-saving, a tight limit on time and harsh mid-level points. What we have here is challenging, but with the ability to save your progress. There is no real "score attack" feel; no real sense of one credit against the world, and thus the compulsion to run through it again may be hampered.

    That Capcom have decided to resurrect the series should be applauded. The game is a terrific piece of work that looks beautiful and plays well if you give it your undivided attention and concentration and overcome the flawed controls. Tokuro Fujiwara is also clearly a genius, and the game probably shows us exactly what he was aiming for in his non-Capcom years, when he knocked out the fine, yet limited pseudo-3D romp Tomba! Whether it will attract any new gamers is questionable, but rest assured that people of a certain age will be partying like it is 1985. Some of us will also be praying, hoping, and abusing internet forums with the suggestion of Extreme Gargoyle’s Quest.

    Review by Sean Smith
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. SUMIRE's Avatar
      SUMIRE -
      Good review. I loved that game, so much so I bought the Kai version. I am surprised they never brought it out on modern consoles.
    1. Mairus's Avatar
      Mairus -
      Thank you for the review, I didn’t play it on my PSP, gonna download and give it a chance today
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