In Maximo vs The Army of Zin you play as Maximo, a young lad trying to find his girlfriend who has been kidnapped. Eight years have passed since its last adventure and the defeat of Achille but he finds himself back adventuring in the wilderness again. In the prologue to the game to story behind the new enemies is portrayed, The Army of Zin. During this cut scene, they attack a village before being lured into a vault and the knight who goes down with them, makes sure his friends vow to never let them out. Somehow they have got out however, and somehow they are giving both Maximo and the surrounding village people a hard time.
Maximo vs The Army of Zin isn't your every day run of the mill platform game. Whilst it does have a lot of jumping around the place (perhaps too much as we'll get to later) there are also a lot of puzzles which need to be solved. In one area of the game you have to hit an object with your axe to move a stone, there are three stones and to progress you must figure out the way around to move all three as well as timing a double jump perfectly. You can walk up to non-player characters and they will provide you with some help. The first time they will give you a subtle hint as to what you have to do, but the second time the games humour really begins to shine through. In one section we had to jump across the roof of some houses to progress, to which a young maiden gave a subtle hint. Ask her again and you're greeted with something along the lines of "for crying out loud jump across the roofs of the houses". Small touches like that make Maximo vs The Army of Zin a joy to play. The story also features boss fights, the first of which is a dragon stuck in a house.
The game is quite scripted but this doesn't really reduce the enjoyment of playing the game. The game can also be different each time you play. In the early sections of the game you're in a village trying to rescue as many of the town folk as possible. First time through you might save someone and they might give you a key to unlock a chest, second time you may not get there in time and you miss the key or perhaps an important clue from the aforementioned maiden. Enemies fall out of the sky at certain points and the game will at times cut to an in-engine cut scene. The cut scenes are quite well done and most of them (bar the prologue) are actually played out in the games engine.
There is one major problem we have with the game and unfortunately it may ruin some peoples desire to play the games. It's the double jump system and the amount of puzzles. I'm not totally against double jumping in games, but when it has to be inch perfect or you have to swing your sword to make a small jump, it can be annoying. The other problem is the amount of jumping puzzles. Sometimes you will finish one, only to turn around a corner and to find another one. Perfecting the double jump early on is definitely a key component in having a good time playing the game and not ending up throwing your controller across the room.
There are a few features of the game which help alleviate this somewhat however. If Maximo just misses a jump, he may stick his sword in the stone or other object you were trying to jump on which gives you a platform to try and jump up to the ledge and continue on. The other feature is checkpoints. Every so often during the levels you will find a checkpoint, destroy it and each time you die you will come back here. Maximo has a limited amount of lives before the game ends, and once the game ends the checkpoints are a moot point and you have to start the level all over again. Quite frustrating at times especially with all the double jumping and the fact some levels are very long. You can go back and play any of the completed levels at any time.
The Army of Zin is Maximo's primary enemy in the game and some are easy, some are tough. The first enemies you encounter are clockwork monsters which fall out of the sky as you're walking along. Due to the scripting its highly unlikely they will actually fall on Maximo but once they are down get ready to fight. Other enemies include a pirate-like character who yells "your money or your life" before he shoots at you, psychotic bunnies who once attack you are very hard to get off, crows, poisonous mushrooms, and others. The enemies aren't overly smart and a few hits with some weapons should do the trick.
Maximo begins with a sword but through his quest can come up with some other weapons such as the axe. The axe has multiple uses. Besides killing enemies, it can also be used to hit switches, which are emblazoned with an axe logo. Maximo also has three levels of armour to help him avoid injury when fighting enemies. The highest level includes a helmet and some strong armour, this can be found as a pickup throughout the levels, the default armour covers his chest but not his head and his last line of defence is his boxer shorts, which have hearts on them to remind him about his girlfriends plight. As well as this, pressing a button will change the playable character to the Grim Reaper who will disappear once everything on the screen is killed. Other pick ups include green ale, which restores health.
Maximo has a variety of moves which can be performed which certain control inputs. Mashing the X button down continuously will make him perform one of his super moves, the controls are quite simple and laid out well. Square is a basic slash, circle throws his shield at enemies, and triangle performs an overheard attack. Jumping in the air first (via the X button) alters these attacks somewhat.
The graphics of the game are quite impressive with a great draw distance and not much popup to speak off. The framerate remains stable, and Maximo and the enemies animate really well especially the clockwork monsters who explode upon impact. Levels are varied and keep the game interesting and you may encounter a maze, going off the beaten track isn't punished in this game as you may find some useful powerups. Sound effects are good but except for the introduction cut scene there is no voice acting to speak of, only on screen text from the non-player characters.
Maximo vs The Army of Zin will no doubt be one of the best games available in the first half of 2004. Even if you didn't play the original you will still enjoy this game. If you haven't been a traditional platform fan then Maximo may not be for you but if you can get over the double jumping and puzzle jumps aspect of the game then Maximo vs The Army of Zin is definitely one game you should check out next time you're looking to lay down some cold hard cash for a new game.