This is kind of an odd one for me.

#7: Maximo vs. Army of Zin

Call it a matter of vintage or merely personal preference, but I kind of tend to favor 2D platformers over 3D ones. Not that I don’t like the 3D stuff, but to me it’s like the difference between putting on a set of comfortable clothes and a really nice dress suit. I like rocking a suit every now and then, but let’s face it, there’s a reason the other stuff is considered casual (and let’s not drag the semantics of “casual” gaming into this; I’ll just say that Contra is comfortably casual to me and leave it at that). The 3D stuff is nice and spiffy, but there’s a certain ease with which I can slip into a 2D game that I don’t get there.

Which makes my preference for the 3D Maximo over its 2D predecessor, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, all the stranger. I don’t dislike the latter, but it’s never quite ranked among my favorites over time; I beat the first go-through of Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts way back in the day, but the second (with a requirement that you had to hold on to a specific power-up in order to beat it) proved too much for me and mine. I still like to dabble with it a little, should the opportunity arise, but they’re not games I’ve actively sought out and purchased (though the PlayStation Portable installment had me curious for a time).

On the other hand, the 3D spin-off Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, managed to attract my attention in ways that the older titles never did. It began with the Dreamwave one-shot comic book, and continued with the game itself — which I enjoyed, but was a bit tougher than I could manage in even the earliest goings (restricted save points and an increasing cost to continue aided this). Perhaps desperate to find a welcome place in the franchise, I turned to the higher-recommended sequel, Maximo vs. Army of Zin, and things just clicked.

Rather than Ghosts ‘n Goblins star Arthur, Maximo follows the titular king on his journey from being slain by the evil King Achille to avenging his death and rescuing the fair Queen Sophia. But speaking of death, the reaper of souls by the name of Grim approaches the fallen king in the underworld, revealing that Achille is using souls — his souls, of course — to fuel his army of the undead, and so is willing to return Maximo to the world of the living in order to set things right and ensure that he still has a job to clock into come tomorrow morning.

The pair’s quest continues in Army of Zin, which adds another element I love: robots! Well, of a sort, anyway. The eponymous army is mechanical in nature but fueled by lost souls, which of course draws the attention of Grim after someone frees the army from their isolation.

The game itself (as with its predecessor) is a hack ‘n slash platformer, but unquestionably a fun one. The developers seemed to take criticism of the original to heart in order to improve the experience, but it’s nonetheless a challenge as you slice your way through an army of mechanical skeletons and other soul-driven creeps. Just as in the spirit of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, your health is based on how much armor is knocked off of you, though here it comes piece by piece, with a boxer-clad Maximo leaving you one strike away from death. And speaking of death (again), as in the opening cutscene above, you can use Grim’s coin to summon and take control of him for a short time to cut a large swathe through enemies without the binds of mortality to hold you back.

Oh, and another thing setting Maximo apart from Arthur is his awesome shield. In addition to defense, Maximo is able to channel his inner-Super Soldier and hurl it like Captain America, bouncing off of foes and having it return to his hand.

I guess I haven’t done much to sell this one as a “spooky” game, but its vintage as part of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise coupled with some of the mechanically skeletal images in the videos above (oh, and Grim) should hopefully speak for itself. Really, this game gets nowhere near enough love, and word is that a third game in the series was planned but axed (the closure of developer Capcom Studio 8 surely not helping). While the first game is available on the PlayStation Network as a PS2 Classic, Army of Zin is sadly not available there outside of Europe. Fortunately, I’ve seen used copies going for good prices — which is actually how I came by it.

Really, this game needs more love, and I’m long overdue to show it here. I’m always disappointed when Arthur shows up in something new, but not the (in my humble opinion) superior Maximo. That said, maybe you can show it some much-needed affection by tracking down a copy and playing it this Halloween season, yes?

Heck, just writing about it makes me want to dust off the PlayStation 2 and give it another go. Alas, other things must come first…

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.

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