MYSTICAL NINJA 64 STARRING GOEMON / Konami / Nintendo 64
Mystical Ninja 64 seems like it wasn't really made out of creative vision so much as a desire by Konami to have their own Mario 64 / Zelda hybrid entry into the platformer market, grabbing Goemon for the task since that was the franchise that matched up best thematically. The series to this point had been built on quirky charm, detailed graphics and harder-than-average challenge, and those things are here only in limited quantities. It's instead mostly flat, empty, uninspired-feeling environments with repetitive enemies and no challenge whatsoever outside of a few jags attributed more to sloppiness than intentional design.
We're at the Union Station Starbucks?
To be fair, the game does start to feel like it's beginning to hit a creative stride a few hours in, with more inspired dungeon and boss designs. At this point the soundtrack also stops being "Goemon through the filter of Mario 64" and actually starts to approach a Kukeiha Club level of quality, and the unlockable characters you pick up (series staples Yae and Sasuke) are more pleasant to play as than the starting duo. Unfortunately, "a few hours in" is almost the end of the game.
This is the first 3D polygonal outing for the Goemon series, with the bulk of the previous entries being on the NES or SNES. Of the ones I've played, Mystical Ninja 64 most mirrors the structure of Ganbare Goemon 2, which Konami never brought out of Japan. Towns are minimal in their intricacy and activities as compared to the first game for the SNES, where they were packed with neat little surprises like arcades and mini-games. Here, they're mostly non-interactive stops to refill your health bar and pick up some items. As with Goemon 2, the emphasis is placed more on the platforming levels, but there's nowhere near the consistency in inventiveness here, nor is there ever any significant challenge.
The only tough parts of the game are the Impact battles, which are identical to their introductory form in Goemon 2. You first pilot the giant Goemon-looking robot through a confusing sequence in which you have to avoid large structures and jump pits while building your stats by basically colliding with everything else possible. You're then thrown into the equally-confusing cockpit to figure out the offbeat controls while an enemy is wailing on you. While the Impact battles were also the most frustrating part of Goemon 2, there they had a relatively simple control scheme limited by the SNES pad. Here, most of the truly useful moves require confusing C-stick combination presses that you'd never intuit if you didn't read them in a guide. Once you know all the moves, it's still a drawn-out process of whittling the enemy robot's overlong lifebar down while trying to evade their spammed attacks. UNNNNNNH IMPACT-OOOOOOO.
Fortunately, there's only four Impact battles in the whole game. The first comes early, but isn't too bad to muddle through after a couple of frustrating deaths learning the controls. The final three are back-loaded to just before the final segment of the game, coming almost in sequence. So for most of the game you're actually playing uninterrupted by these things, which is nice. Unfortunately, everything else here is a total zero-effort cakewalk, save a truly horrid "strength training" mini-game in the later reaches that is so bad and frustrating it might actually cause you to quit on the game (I'm sure it stonewalled some people doing a 2 or 3 day rental from Blockbuster back in the day).
One final blow to the game is a seemingly half-assed translation. There's actually something of a clever ongoing plot and meta-commentary about evil forces wanting to turn the whole of Japan into a theater for Westerners to watch noh plays and kabuki, but it's completely bludgeoned to death by the bottom-dollar localization effort.
Mystical Ninja 64 really reminded me a lot of Castlevania 64, if only in that it gave the sense of Konami feeling a marketing obligation to drag the franchise into 3D rather than having a particularly great idea about how to do that. It's certainly not terrible, and if you dig the Japanese Quirk and wandering around a cartoony feudal recreation of the country, it'll probably appeal to you a little more.