We’re paying homage to Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon today, an N64 game from 1997 which is certainly up for the award of Weirdest Video Game Ever. The normally reasonably sensible Konami is behind the series, but with this one they utterly lost it and really went full on in the pursuit of Japanese surrealism.
20 years ago it was unusual for the more bizarre Japanese RPGs to even make it out for release in the West. We’d all become used to Final Fantasy games, but the particularly insane video games (JRPGs, as they are known) were considered too mental for the likes of the UK. Thusly, looking back with hindsight it’s odd indeed this got a release in Europe during 1998. We’re glad it did though, as the lasting impression it’s left on us has been… lasting. Quite.
Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon
Okay, so the title. Elsewhere it’s known as Ganbare Goemon: Neo Momoyama Bakufu no Odori (がんばれゴエモン～ネオ桃山幕府のおどり～ – “Go for it, Goemon: Dance of the Neo Peach Mountain Shogunate”) which gets the oddness machine rolling quite merrily. In the West we had the more mundane Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, but the intro was still there in all its glory. You can watch it above.
After this delightful introduction, the game begins with Goemon’s sidekick (the grossly overweight Ebisumaru) running naked through a Japanese street after some trouser department malfunction. Shortly after this aliens invade the planet, and Goemon (a spikey blue haired guy) and his peers team up to save Japan. The bad guys, who’ve arrived in a peach shaped spaceship, want to turn Japan into a stage and its population a bunch of mindless dancers. With that, you head off on your adventure across Japan with an upbeat soundtrack and plenty of freaky looking enemies.
Along the way there’s a vaguely disturbing laughter soundtrack to accompany the game’s bizarre jokes (although this, inexplicably, only sounds off at random), one of the most flat-out deranged songs to accompany Goemon (as a giant robot) bashing in enemies, a giant robot battle, an overtly sexually ambiguous antagonist called Baron, occasional sexual innuendo, endlessly weird dialogue between characters, the clearly mentally unstable Ebisumaru doing his thing, and the most unstable camera in the history of video games. Weird? Yes.
What the hell is wrong with the camera?
During the N64 era, the success of Super Mario 64 urged many other developers to, naturally, have a go at the old 3D lark. This met with mixed results for most companies as it was an awkward new era few could initially perfect, but Konami’s Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon is a strong effort. The story is entertaining, the RPG elements are welcome, it’s amusing, engaging, there’s a great soundtrack, and it’s challenging.
On the downside, there’s a lot of plodding around across enormous fields with nothing to do. There’s also the aforementioned camera system. We last played this game about 10 years ago (sadly, it’s currently unavailable to download on modern consoles such as the Wii U), but the lasting impression of this game, other than its outright lunacy, is just how awful the camera is.
The thing has a mind of its own. It gets lodged behind you, refuses to budge when necessary, and generally behaves as it’s a slightly drunk and petulant teenager. Compare this to the excellence of Super Mario 64’s camera system and you have to wonder what Konami were playing at.
It’s certainly not considered a classic but, for those who played it, the lunacy is what keeps it in their minds. The series seems to have drifted off into oblivion since the late 1990s, but Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon has a cult following for those who love cobwebs and strange. It stands as a curious oddity from far flung Nippon and a shining example of how to do weird wonderfully. Hurray!