After seventeen years of playing videogames, I somehow got it into my head that I was getting better at them.  It turns out the games were just getting easier and Capcom's latest PlayStation 2 title, Maximo: Ghosts To Glory, helped me realize that.  I didn't expect much out of the ordinary when starting the game.  It looked like a standard 3D platform adventure game, only with a knight, sword and undead monsters lurking about in comical fashion. Imagine my surprise when it took me several tries to make it past the third stage!

Ghosts To Glory's premise comes from the Ghost 'n Goblins/Ghouls 'n Ghosts series, which pitted a knight, Arthur, against the forces of the underworld to save his princess girlfriend.  In this new version, the knight, now called Maximo, returns from war to find his kingdom overrun by the dead and his girlfriend (a princess) in the clutches of Achille, his usurping advisor.  Maximo is banished to the underworld and confronted by the Grim Reaper, who gives him another chance to take back his kingdom and defeat Achille.

The story is simple, but the game's setup is a little disconcerting at first. Ghosts To Glory is divided up into four areas, each with a homeworld that leads to four other action stages via a small pillar that the player strikes to enter. Contrary to platform gaming protocol these days, the player begins each new world in one of the four action stages. This setup leads to some initial confusion. After playing through the first level, I was thrown aback by entering Level 2, which was actually the more subdued homeworld. Upon striking the first pillar I came across, I found myself standing in Level 5, with no way back and enemies already charging me. Ghosts To Glory gives no numerical indication of what stage a player is entering until it is too late. I'm still a little confused as to whether this is a glaring oversight in the game design or an intentional device to make the game harder on the player.

Considering all the other difficulties Ghosts To Glory throws in, I suspect the latter is correct. This game can be down right mean to a player, as it basically strips gamers of all the amenities they've enjoyed in the past several years of videogame trends.  As I mentioned previously, playesr begin each new world in one of the four actions stages, which means they must fight through an entire level just to get to the homeworld. And the homeworld is important, because that is the only place a player can save his or her game.

The second amenity Ghosts To Glory takes is the ability to save game data at any time. Each save comes at a cost of 100 coins (or "koins," as they are called in the game). Even though it isn't that hard to collect well over a hundred koins in any given stage, the knowledge that only one save point exists in each world creates a slight sense of urgency to the gameplay.  Yet, in some strange way, it makes the game better. It makes a player pay more attention to what he or she is doing.  Making progress in Ghosts To Glory requires 100 percent commitment, because there aren't many save points to fall back on.

The third amenity Ghosts To Glory takes is a frivolous combat system. Regular players of 3D platform adventure games know that the characters usually come loaded with a variety of combat moves and that most of the enemies can be defeated with any of the moves. This leads to players using only a few maneuvers to dispatch enemies, only changing when he or she becomes tired of doing the same thing. Ghosts To Glory gives players a decent assortment of combat moves that are necessary to defeating certain types of enemies. Each type of enemy can be easily overcome by a certain combination of moves. Finding the correct combination in a split-second adds real difficulty to the game. However, animation also plays into the combat difficulty. When Maximo swings his sword, he goes through a full range of motion, with no choppiness. The drawback to this effect is that he is momentarily left vulnerable after striking. That's usually when the enemies decide to attack, getting off a couple of cheap shots. A similar danger arises when Maximo swings his weapon too close to a stationary object, like a tree. Should the player be unfortunate enough to strike the tree before the enemy, Maximo will need a moment to dislodge his blade from the trunk. During that precious time, the player is probably groaning in frustration from the hard knock he or she just took for the mistake. Precision in combat is the key to surviving each stage with your clothes on (literally, as Maximo loses both energy and armor).

The amount of challenge Ghosts To Glory piles on to a gamer has led some reviewers to use the term "old-school" in describing the gameplay. "Old-school" refers to videogames in the days when graphics didn't matter, just the pure experience of playing a game that generally gave people a hard time. Actually, the term "old-school" is so lucid and long a definition it would require an explanation in essay format. In Ghosts To Glory's case it incorporates the challenging gameplay most gamers remember facing with old 2D side-scrolling games into the 3D platform medium. I recognized this several minutes into the game, as it proceeded to wipe the floor with me.

Long after the thick cloud of foul language (issued from my mouth) cleared the air, I couldn't deny I was having fun. Ghosts To Glory is like that. Most gamers will find themselves in a love/hate relationship with it, torn between frustration at its excessively difficult points and adoration of smooth play control and design. Yet, the game has re-taught me many of the lessons I had forgotten in videogaming over the past few years. Maybe somewhere in all the Metal Gear-style gameplay of moving my character from point A to point B, then watching several minutes of dialogue scenes, I forgot the razor-sharp reflexes one needs to make it as a gamer. Ghosts To Glory was a welcome lesson in returning to the basics of gaming, where all you need to survive are fast fingers. I'm gaining back my fast fingers. Unfortunately, my anger management skills are developing a bit slower. Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

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