The sadists who brought you 2001's Maximo: Ghosts to Glory are back for another hellish go with a new sequel, Maximo vs. Army of Zin. These games are noteworthy for two reasons. First, they're successors in spirit to the venerable Ghosts 'n Goblins platformers of yore, and second (following the first point), they're hard as all hell. Like its predecessor, Maximo vs. Army of Zin eschews modern gaming conveniences, like ample save points and unlimited lives, opting instead to make you sweat it out with only a handful of lives and lots of enemies and pitfalls to overcome. If you can grit your teeth and get past the daunting frustration factor, you'll find in Army of Zin a surprisingly deep and involved hack-and-slash platformer with a quirky, endearing style and a lot of heart.
Maximo takes time off from searching for Sophia to battle evil robots in Maximo vs. Army of Zin.
The story picks up some time after the end of the first game, with Maximo and his pal Grim (y'know, the grim reaper) searching the wilds for Maximo's lost and presumed-dead love Sophia. After coming to the aid of a village under attack by ghastly, shuffling automatons, Maximo realizes that the Army of Zin, a mythical legion of soul-powered robots, is again on the loose, though it was imprisoned in a vault 500 years earlier by the Baron of Hawkmoor. So Maximo, the hero that he is, sets out to protect the land from this new menace and to find out just how the heck the robots escaped their tomb in the first place. The story evolves through real-time cutscenes--and the occasional prerendered movie--throughout the game's five major areas. The story's actually compelling enough to keep you going, so even if the game wasn't any fun, the story would still likely keep you involved.
Fortunately, the game is fun. If you played the original Maximo: Ghosts to Glory, then Army of Zin will look pretty similar to you on the surface. Don't be fooled, though, because Capcom has made a startling number of fixes and upgrades under the hood. The fundamental mechanics are, of course, still the same. You still run through a level, double-jump over obstacles, and swing your sword at every malevolent being that crosses your path. Now, however, there's a lot more meat to controlling Maximo's heroics because this time you can purchase a number of upgrades from wandering merchants for your sword, shield, and even boxer shorts. You'll also pick up a massive combat hammer early on, and then later you'll receive elemental replacements for both this hammer and your trusty sword. The weapon upgrades give you new melee powers, like a spin attack or a dashing stab, which makes it easier to get out of tight spots in combat. Your shield powers give you the ability to actually throw the shield, or you can use it to suck up treasure. Finally, the various pairs of underwear help you to gain additional armor or attack power, among other things. (Interestingly, they may even help you find hidden treasure chests.)
There's a slew of new items and abilities at your disposal this time around.
The more you play Army of Zin, the more you'll discover how rewarding and just plain entertaining the combat can be. Maximo can execute a basic horizontal and overhead attack with his weapon, and these can be combined in different ways to produce some really long combo strings. In fact, the game even adds a combo counter to keep track of your hits, and the more you can get in one combo, the more treasure you'll be rewarded with when the enemies are defeated. It's good that Maximo is such a capable fighter this time around, since he deals with a truly awful number of evil robots and other enemies. Once you get a handle on the combat, it's pretty exhilarating to go buck wild with your sword combos to clear an entire room's worth of the clockwork bastards in just a few seconds.
In terms of volume, Maximo vs. Army of Zin isn't the longest game. However, that doesn't take into account the many inevitable times you'll have to retry a given level until you make it through, so the game will definitely take you a while to finish. As mentioned, the game's levels are split into five distinct areas, each with a rampaging boss at the end. Each level is really pretty long, and they're all densely packed with enemies, obstacles, and nicely varied scenery. You're rated at the end of each level based on how many enemies you killed, how many villagers you saved, and how many secrets you found. Once you've done it all, the level is stamped with a "mastered" seal. The more levels you master, the more trinkets you can unlock from an in-game art gallery. Finishing the game will take you a decent amount of time, unless you have machinelike precision. However, the sheer fun of the gameplay and the unlockables should keep you coming back for a while afterward.