After the disappointments of Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, I was still excited about a sequel. The original Maximo had a lot of elements that, with some refining, could have created something outstanding. I don’t hear nearly as much about the sequel though, vs. Army of Zin, as I do with the original and I could not really find out why. The game’s story continues from the last game with Maximo searching for a way to save his queen Sophia, and includes a frankly random backstory about a sealed vault containing creatures from the land of the dead.
Maximo is traveling with Grim Reaper when they both stumble upon what looks like skeletons with trapped souls that are causing havoc at a nearby village. Grim sets out to save these souls, while Maximo leaps to rescue the innocent people of the village. The story is not engaging and includes elements that are poorly introduced, such as an old rival of Maximo. Thankfully, the story never becomes a focus and ends on a cliffhanger with very little added in for the main goal: saving queen Sophia. It is rather a side story than anything else, which might be a reason for why this game is more forgotten. This would also be the last Maximo game for now, but after playing this installment, I really do hope for at least a third one.
A broken sword can be fixed
Maximo 2 is, like its predecessor, set as a third person hack and slash with platforming incorporated. From an overworld map, you will unlock stages one by one as you finish them, with each being linear levels taking you from start to finish. Not much has changed here from the previous game, but small alterations such as neglecting hub worlds for a traditional overworld map and the ability to save the game at any time, are already huge improvements. You will be sent to the beginning of the stage with all items intact if you save inside a stage, but this improvement is already a showcase for how much better this entry is.
First of, Maximo has expanded his skills with the sword to new heights. He can perform combos up to 4 strikes, make multiple stab-attacks if you are quick with the button presses, has a horizontal slash for a stronger attack, can stab downward with his sword, and has a spin-attack. As for defensive moves, he can block attacks with an unbreakable shield, and dodge-roll should he land on a platform and block. Also new to his arsenal is a red bar that is used for special attacks that Maximo can acquire, such as throwing your shield or performing a strong stab. This bar is filled up by making combos and killing enemies, which comes in a good variety.
Enemies vary slightly from each other with specific attacks, defenses, speed and so on, through while no enemy is a threat alone due to how simple in design they are, it is when multiple start attacking at the same time it can become a challenge, but never unfair thanks to the camera being able to turn left and right, as well as Maximo’s quick attack and defensive moves. Should enemies give you a hard time still, you can activate a blue bar when the image of Grim appears. Then, you will transform into the Reaper himself and become invincible and gain strong attacks, though only for a short time. It can only be filled up by finding blue souls from enemies, which will also fill up another counter for gaining extra lives. Should a game over appear, you will simply be booted back to the title screen, which is a fair punishment when saving is involved.
Like the last title, Maximo also disposes of different chunks of health bars, representing a part of the armor he is wearing and his own health. He can have upwards to three at first and if one health bar disappears, it is gone until he picks up more armor or buys them in shops. Yes, we have actual shops and vendors in this game, represented by travelers you meet on the way. Here, you can purchase scrolls for information about the levels, items which refill armor and health, extensions to the special- and Grim- bar, power-ups, and equipment. Indeed, power-ups and equipment return as well and this time includes explanations for what they do.
You have 4 different types of equipment you can have: swords, with one other you will find automatically, a hammer which you will get two different versions of through the story, and then underwear and shields which can only be acquired through stores. The swords and hammers can get power-ups and special-moves through the vendors, while underwear is attire that can provide special help such as one more health bar or have the controller shake if you are near a secret treasure. Lastly, shields can also be bought and they can get a couple of power-ups too. All are expensive, but will definitely be of use. Because of the varied uses, a lot of time can be spent in menus changing underpants and shields, though hammers and swords can easily be changed by the press of a button. Both weapons are useful with the sword providing more combos and the hammer dealing stronger attacks.
Acquiring coins can happen by exploring, finding chests, jumping for some to appear, or by helping civilians and warriors. In every level except for boss fights, people are being attacked by villains and saving them will provide nice rewards, be it keys for chests, a vendor, or coins to name a few. Though these are important elements, I have yet to talk about the platforming, which is a clear part of this adventure. Maximo still has a double-jump, though it is much more lenient than before and can actually save you from an ill-timed jump due to its maneuverability. If that was not enough, Maximo will use his equipped weapon to cling onto edges of platforms, which is a Godsent. There were two times it did not work properly and while it did not cause death, it was a bit annoying. Though the levels are designed to provide engaging platforming with movable trees, gravestones appearing up from the ground, enemies becoming obstacles on small areas or subtly showcasing paths to secrets.
Though what I did find surprising about this game was the challenge. Maximo vs. Army of Zin provides a comfortable challenge that will keep you on your guard, but it never reaches the height of what the series is known for. It always provides a good flow, with the later levels providing challenging platforming and encounters that can make you sweat a little, and healing items are rare throughout the game, but coins are not. This is a great thing, as it always gets slightly more challenging for each stage and will become easy to recommend for enthusiasts and newcomers. Lastly, the boss battles provide good challenges and, while they are easier than the regular stages with the exception of the last fight, are all fun and entertaining, with creative mechanics such as a hydra attacking the float you are standing on, causing you to have fewer places to stand on.
The only real problem Maximo 2 has, is that while it is never uncreative, it plays it safe without much deviation. Enemies are varied for example, but it is rather by the numbers that they can be challenging than how their fighting-styles are diverse. The same can be said for the platforming. While you will have obstacles to venture through with some tricky ones leading to secrets, it never becomes too demanding. The other minor issue, as stated, is that switching between boxers for different abilities, such as one for more health and another for more benefits if you are just in your underwear, can give the select-button a workout whenever you want to change attire. Still, Maximo 2 is a fantastic upgrade from the last game and one that made me have a smile on my face, even if I bit the dust.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
A minor diversion
This entry felt more like a sidestep when it came to the story as mentioned, but the same can also be said about the visuals. Maximo will be visiting a couple of locations, such as a burning village, a church, a ride on a steampunk ship, travel inside caves, through water-palaces and a couple of places more. However, variety between the locations is not grand and the early hour does give a sense of repetition, since a dark forest with gravestones, does not feel too different from a village within a forest with the dead walking around. Despite the lack of diverse areas to visit, you are still getting a good amount to visit and will also have plenty of varied creatures to fight against. While most will be different skeletons and machine-brutes, there are also some oddities such as beetles, mechanical spiders, and rabbits that will turn evil if you swing your weapon at them.
Though it all comes together well thanks to Maximo’s style. We have a mix of mythological creatures and steampunk, which is a very neat concept and the cartoony artstyle with big expressions and huge features, provides great designs for this world that will be memorable. Seeing also small details like people fighting against the creatures from the world of the death or keys hanging on Maximo’s belt or underwear, are also nice features. The cutscenes are very appealing to look at, though character-animations can be stiff. Including this is voice acting that is cheesy, but adds to the cartoony setting, reminding you that this is a lighthearted take on the gothic world, with Maximo being the hero that leaps into action and Grim having the voice of a man with too much smoke in his nonexisting lungs.
The music, however, has seen a huge upgrade compared to the visuals. All tracks are orchestrated and include dark and intense tones, with an echoey feel and a fantastic amount of variations in notes in each song, making them memorable and easy to listen to outside of the game. It is easy to hear that it was made by both Tommy Tallarico and Sam Hulick. Finally, hearing your sword cling against steel and the hypnotic effect of collecting coins are still satisfying.
Presentation Score: 7/10
Mastering for the art
After finishing a stage, you will be ranked by how many enemies you killed, treasure and secrets you found, and innocents rescued. Should you get 100% in a level, you will be granted more additions for the art gallery, and while this is not a fulfilling reward, it is fun to search throughout the levels for everything as they are short and not demanding. As for the hidden treasures, you can activate by jumping in specific locations, you can purchase early on pants that will make the controller shake when you are nearby them and they are never put in random locations. Still, pretty pictures can only get you so far.
Extra Score: 6/10
I am incredibly happy to see that Maximo vs. Army of Zin improved so much upon its predecessor with much better controls and some neat tweaks to both combat and platforming. It is quite clear that this game did not have the budget of the last game since it lacks more variety in locations you venture through and the extras have uninteresting rewards. Really, in many ways, it is a side-game with even the plot being a diversion for saving other damsels, rather than your own queen. Still, it is fun to play and provides a decent challenge, with good enemy variety and well-designed levels. The first entry might have been more unique, but this one I can actually recommend.
- Fixes issues from the previous titles, like being able to save between stages
- Engaging combat and fun platforming
- Always challenging, but never unfair
- Good difficulty curve
- Equipments that are more than just stat-boosts
- Engaging and rewarding exploration
- Lovely mix of mythology and steampunk
- Nice attention to details in visuals
- Soundeffects are hypnotising
- The magnificent orchestrated soundtrack by Tommy Tallarico and Sam Hulick
- Completing a stage is a great challenge
- It plays it safe with more on quantity, than quality
- Some stages can be too similar in looks, and a couple of enemies are reused
- Art-gallery is underwhelming