Maximo: The Original Dark Souls
A lesson in patience and pain
I once believed that the only game which could make me feel completely incompetent and simultaneously shake with primal rage was Crash Bandicoot. This was true when I was growing up and remains true... to an extent.
I had never even heard of Maximo: Ghosts to Glory before my significant other remembered it from her childhood. Never afraid to explore old titles that had passed me by, we promptly located a battered old copy at little cost.
The story is simple. King Maximo attempts to rescue Queen Sophia from the clutches of the evil Achille, only to be banished to the underworld with potent dark sorcery. You are approached by the Grim Reaper, whose job is on the line now that the dead are being raised and there is an enormous hole in the fabric of the afterlife. He is more than happy to grant you life again, in exchange for services rendered in defeating Achille good and proper.
In no time at all, I realised to my horror that this would be no picnic. The enemies were relentless, untiring and aided by a devious camera angle. These wonky perspectives proved to be fatal, seeing my brave warrior king repeatedly hurled into cesspits and toppling into bubbling pools of molten lava. No matter how cautiously I tiptoed to the next stage, death would snuff me out and compel me to beg my controller for mercy.
Little did I know that this adventure was the spiritual precursor for Dark Souls, complete with extreme environmental hazards, tough opponents and a persistent paranoia. Checkpoints are few and very far apart - you can grind for hours only to be annihilated just before hitting a new save point. Most of my downtime involved being deceased, unable to pay the ever-growing resurrection fee. If I were using an arcade machine to play this, I would be drained of every little bit of loose change.
When Maximo was among the living, he primarily spent it in his humble boxer shorts. Is there a better way to fight legions of the undead? Doubtful.
At least my childhood was spared of additional digital trauma because I can't even make it through all the initial stages of Boneyard now! Collecting enough blue spirit orbs to gain new death tokens was about as difficult as keeping on extra layers of clothing.
The rougher edges and simplistic designs of your surroundings peel away the trappings of a PS2 game and reveal the Nintendo-64 ancestry beneath, a charming throwback to a bygone age where casual gaming with plenty of saving opportunities were non-existent. It very much reminded me of my earliest experiences with a hand-me-down SEGA Megadrive, recalling memories of the brutal Earthworm Jim and Dick Tracey. If you died too much, you could forget seeing the game's ending and become far too familiar with the first couple of zones.
This game was far more challenging than my usual experiences, but far from putting me off, it gave me a boosted incentive to be more adventurous with new titles. Even Dark Souls looked more appealing, a game I traditionally enjoyed watching others play. The added difficulty spurred me on, imploring me to develop a deeper relationship with my patient side. If I could endure 100 deaths, then surely with devotion and practice, I could one day run through the whole journey?
Despite the anxiety triggering camera and steep adjustment requirement, the platforming, combat and spooky mood-setting music gave me just the right balance of punishment and reward.
Give it a try if you haven't already - you might even get to see all the cutscenes I've yet to unlock! Say hello to Death for me would you?
Thanks for reading!