Hardcore gamers are familiar with most types of games, but even so, they occasionally let certain titles slip under the radar. Goemon is one of these series of games that’s gone unrecognized for the most part in the West. Most people who have heard of the series learned of it from the SNES side-scrolling classic: The Legend of the Mystical Ninja or Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon for N64.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was a two-player side-scrolling adventure featuring minor RPG elements set in an alternate-reality medieval Japan. The game was fairly difficult, but was arguably one of the most unique platformers to reach the SNES in the West. The first N64 Goemon game was quite different; it was more of an action-RPG or Adventure game similar to Ocarina of time, and it actually preceded that classic title. In it, you could switch between four characters and pilot a giant robot. Some fans of The Legend of the Mystical Ninja loved the new style, while others yearned for the days in which Goemon was a side-scroller. I enjoyed both games, but I’m going to focus on the first of the SNES games in this blog (yes, I said games).
Many gamers who played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja for SNES are unaware that there are actually three sequels to the game that never made it to the U.S. In Japan, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was called Ganbare Goemon, and Kid Ying and Dr. Yang were named Goemon and Ebisimaru. Ganbare Goemon was actually a series of four games for the Super Famicom Console (the Japanese SNES). We were fortunate to receive the first great game in this obscure series, but its sales sealed the series’ fate in the West until two Goemon titles were released on the N64.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja features two characters named Goemon and Ebisimaru (I’m using their up-to-date translations). Goemon is a badass with spiky blue hair that wields a pipe. His secondary attack is the ability to throw Ryo (Goemon’s currency). Goemon was throwing chump change long before a certain gambler took up the hobby in FFVI. Having two attacks is fairly standard for a platformer, but something unique about Goemon was his ability to upgrade his weapon twice. By defeating enemies, Goemon could earn cat statues which would increase the length of his pipe and eventually turn it into the extending Chain Pipe. Ebisimaru has a similar set of abilities. He attacks enemies with a fan that can be upgraded twice. Like Goemon, he can also throw things, but being stingy with money, he decides to throw the almighty shuriken. Ebi may not look like a ninja, but he can certainly give Ninja Gaiden’s Ryu Hayabusa a run for his money when it comes to fighting (ok, maybe not). One last technique the characters of Goemon are able to utilize is the piggyback attack. I played the game solo, because this game was too much for everyone I tried playing it with, but having piggyback attacks is a useful option. If nothing else, it’s fun to hit your lazy partner now and then. Actually, life is precious in Goemon due to the game’s difficulty, so you don’t want to waste your hearts fooling around with your partner (not that way sickos).
In The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (I’ll now refer to it as Ganbare Goemon 1), you traverse nine areas of medieval Japan on your own or with a friend. You typically begin in a town full of marauding villagers. Even if you mind your own business, you’ll have people throwing fish and tea mugs at you. You can earn money by walking into cute girls wearing kimonos (I think that’s what you’re doing anyway), but it is important to watch out for those pesky samurai. Making it through a town unscathed can be a grueling experience for the uninitiated. It is important to fight off these continually respawning murderous townspeople however, because they net you money, which is necessary to buy equipment, food, and items essential for completing the game. Just make sure to follow the old rule you were taught when you were young: "Don’t hit girls!" You won’t get sent to jail, but you do lose money, which is precious in Goemon. You’ll need money to buy onigiri (rice balls) which replenish your health, and you’ll probably want to buy body armor and helmets, so you won’t run out of hearts as fast. Some towns will force you to buy passes as well, so you’ll have to check out various shops if you want to make it through the game. Grinding is necessary at times to get through areas, so be prepared.
Towns in Ganbare Goemon feature endless rows of shops and houses. Many of the shops are useful, as was mentioned earlier, but the houses often feature people who impart what they believe to be words of wisdom. You’ll often want to ignore them, but make sure to check out stores that will transport you, let you stay the night, and play mini-games such as Gradius. Sometimes you’ll have to do fetch quests as well, so stay observant and don’t skip a single area.
Well, I’ve already described the towns in plenty of detail, so now I’ll get to other aspects of the game. In the towns, you can move in all directions, but once you leave and enter a dungeon, the game changes to a strictly side-scrolling game. Dungeons require you to be an expert at jumping; some of the jumps in this game can be difficult due to various types of rotating objects. You’ll have to dodge spikes and crawl under gaps, but you’ve already done some of this in Mario games. What sets these dungeons (and towns) apart from other platformers is their traditional Japanese music and setting. The music in this game is phenomenal. There’s an occasional annoying song, but many of the songs are serene or very nature-esque. You’ll go through Japanese castles with Daruma dolls, bamboo shoots, and many other types of scenery. The enemies are straight out of Japanese lore, and are quite different from baddies you’ll encounter in most games. These dungeons can be pretty difficult, so it is important to bring plenty of items, watch your timing with jumps, and be cautious around enemies. Checkpoints are sparse, and you’re forced to re-do entire areas when you die, so it’s important to exercise caution. The boss fights are sometimes incredibly difficult–you’ll have to dodge a segmented doll that throws his parts at you and quickly hit him on the head with coins. You’ll also reflect enemy projectiles and dodge expanding bosses.
I’ve already went on long enough about the first Ganbare Goemon for SNES, but hopefully I’ve inspired you to check out this lost classic (or obscure Japanese title, whichever you prefer). Stay tuned for part two on Ganbare Goemon’s Japan-only sequel.
*All images courtesy of vgmuseum