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Ganbare Goemon Series — A Long Form Playthrough


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I've mentioned it in other threads, but I’ve decided to start a chronological play through project of all the games in the Ganbare Goemon series. There have been only a handful of games in the series that were released outside Japan, and I’ve only really played three of the games (Legend of the Mystical Ninja on the SNES, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon on the N64, and Ganbare Goemon: Toukaidouchu Oedo Tengurikaeshi no Maki on the DS), so I thought it was time to go through all the games in the series to see what they’re about.

 

I’ve read a lot about the games already, but I’m not exactly sure what to expect. This thread will act as a sort of diary of my travels, but if anyone else wishes to chime in, you’re very welcome to do so. I’m planning to play all of the games in the main series, and after I’ve finished that, I plan on taking a look at the the three other spin-off games on the PSX, PS2, and the GBA. ( I don’t know if I’ll even be able to play the LCD game from 1990, the feature phone games or the pachinko machines.)

 

My roadmap for this project is this:

 

Spoiler
  1. Goemon May, 1986 Arcade (Might also be known as Mr. Kabuki)
  2. Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Douchu July 30, 1986 Famicom & MSX2 (February 1987)
  3. Ganbare Goemon 2 January 4, 1989 Famicom
  4. Ganbare Goemon Gaiden: Kieta Ogon Kiseru January 5, 1990 Famicom
  5. Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyushutsu Emaki July 19, 1991 Super Famicom (AKA: The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (USA/EUR))
  6. Ganbare Goemon: Sarawareta Ebisumaru December 25, 1991 Game Boy (AKA: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (EUR))
  7. Ganbare Goemon Gaiden 2: Tenka no Zaiho January 3, 1992 Famicom
  8. Ganbare Goemon 2: Kiteretsu Shogun McGuinness December 22, 1993 Super Famicom
  9. Ganbare Goemon 3: Shishijurokube no Karakuri Manji-gatame December 16, 1994 Super Famicom
  10. Ganbare Goemon: Kirakira Douchu: Boku ga Dancer ni Natta Wake December 22, 1995 Super Famicom
  11. Ganbare Goemon: Uchu Kaizoku Akogingu March 22, 1996 PlayStation
  12. Sore Yuke Ebisumaru: Karakuri Meiro Kieta Goemon no Nazo!! March 29, 1996 Super Famicom
  13. Ganbare Goemon: Neo Momoyama Bakufu no Odori August 7, 1997 Nintendo 64 (AKA: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (USA/EUR))
  14. Ganbare Goemon: Kurofune-to no Nazo December 4, 1997 Game Boy (AKA: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (USA/EUR))
  15. Ganbare Goemon: Derodero Douchu Obake Tenkomori December 23, 1998 Nintendo 64 (AKA: Goemon’s Great Adventure (NA)/Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon (EUR))
  16. Ganbare Goemon: Kuru nara Koi! Ayashige Ikka no Kuroi Kage December 23, 1998 PlayStation
  17. Ganbare Goemon: Tengu-to no Gyakushu! January 14, 1999 Game Boy
  18. Ganbare Goemon: Mononoke Douchu Tobidase Nabe-Bugyo December 16, 1999 Game Boy Color
  19. Goemon Mononoke Sugoroku December 25, 1999 Nintendo 64
  20. Ganbare Goemon: Seikushi Dynamites Arawaru!! December 21, 2000 Game Boy Color
  21. Ganbare Goemon: Oedo Daikaiten March 29, 2001 PlayStation
  22. Ganbare Goemon: Tokaidouchu Oedo Tengurigaeshi no Maki June 23, 2005 Nintendo DS

 

 

Twenty-two games in total. Note that many of the game titles have been mangled over the years, and not just in the West. Apparently, many Japanese Goemon fans were under the impression that “Uchu Kaizoku Akogingu” (11) was actually titled “Uchu Kaizoku Akoking”. The Goemon games are at fault, really, for having such long, complicated titles.

 

I don’t plan to tackle this project in one long stretch; I’ll take a break now and then, which probably means that this will take me about two years to go through them all. I’m looking forward the most to playing the SFC games I never got the chance to play. I'm planning to play the games in  Japanese, although some controversies about the fan translations for the SFC and N64 titles tempt me to look into those as well.

 

Aside from the games themselves, I am also very curious to see what happened in the transition to 32-bit/64-bit, and why the Goemon series lost so much of its popularity during that time.

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What are you constituting as ‘spin off’

I would consider some games in your list to be spin offs (Sore Yuke Ebisumaru, Goemon Mononoke Sugoroku) and games like Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon on the PS2 more of a main line title.

 

Also, you’ll need pretty good Japanese knowledge to get through a number of these games. The early Famicom and GB games especially are RPGs and will be tough without it.

 

Still, I’m interested to see how you get on. Good luck

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9 hours ago, DeDeDe said:

I've mentioned it in other threads, but I’ve decided to start a chronological play through project of all the games in the Ganbare Goemon series. There have been only a handful of games in the series that were released outside Japan, and I’ve only really played three of the games (Legend of the Mystical Ninja on the SNES, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon on the N64, and Ganbare Goemon: Toukaidouchu Oedo Tengurikaeshi no Maki on the DS), so I thought it was time to go through all the games in the series to see what they’re about.

 

I’ve read a lot about the games already, but I’m not exactly sure what to expect. This thread will act as a sort of diary of my travels, but if anyone else wishes to chime in, you’re very welcome to do so. I’m planning to play all of the games in the main series, and after I’ve finished that, I plan on taking a look at the the three other spin-off games on the PSX, PS2, and the GBA. ( I don’t know if I’ll even be able to play the LCD game from 1990, the feature phone games or the pachinko machines.)

 

My roadmap for this project is this:

 

  Hide contents
  1. Goemon May, 1986 Arcade (Might also be known as Mr. Kabuki)
  2. Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Douchu July 30, 1986 Famicom & MSX2 (February 1987)
  3. Ganbare Goemon 2 January 4, 1989 Famicom
  4. Ganbare Goemon Gaiden: Kieta Ogon Kiseru January 5, 1990 Famicom
  5. Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyushutsu Emaki July 19, 1991 Super Famicom (AKA: The Legend of the Mystical Ninja (USA/EUR))
  6. Ganbare Goemon: Sarawareta Ebisumaru December 25, 1991 Game Boy (AKA: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (EUR))
  7. Ganbare Goemon Gaiden 2: Tenka no Zaiho January 3, 1992 Famicom
  8. Ganbare Goemon 2: Kiteretsu Shogun McGuinness December 22, 1993 Super Famicom
  9. Ganbare Goemon 3: Shishijurokube no Karakuri Manji-gatame December 16, 1994 Super Famicom
  10. Ganbare Goemon: Kirakira Douchu: Boku ga Dancer ni Natta Wake December 22, 1995 Super Famicom
  11. Ganbare Goemon: Uchu Kaizoku Akogingu March 22, 1996 PlayStation
  12. Sore Yuke Ebisumaru: Karakuri Meiro Kieta Goemon no Nazo!! March 29, 1996 Super Famicom
  13. Ganbare Goemon: Neo Momoyama Bakufu no Odori August 7, 1997 Nintendo 64 (AKA: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (USA/EUR))
  14. Ganbare Goemon: Kurofune-to no Nazo December 4, 1997 Game Boy (AKA: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon (USA/EUR))
  15. Ganbare Goemon: Derodero Douchu Obake Tenkomori December 23, 1998 Nintendo 64 (AKA: Goemon’s Great Adventure (NA)/Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon (EUR))
  16. Ganbare Goemon: Kuru nara Koi! Ayashige Ikka no Kuroi Kage December 23, 1998 PlayStation
  17. Ganbare Goemon: Tengu-to no Gyakushu! January 14, 1999 Game Boy
  18. Ganbare Goemon: Mononoke Douchu Tobidase Nabe-Bugyo December 16, 1999 Game Boy Color
  19. Goemon Mononoke Sugoroku December 25, 1999 Nintendo 64
  20. Ganbare Goemon: Seikushi Dynamites Arawaru!! December 21, 2000 Game Boy Color
  21. Ganbare Goemon: Oedo Daikaiten March 29, 2001 PlayStation
  22. Ganbare Goemon: Tokaidouchu Oedo Tengurigaeshi no Maki June 23, 2005 Nintendo DS

 

 

Twenty-two games in total. Note that many of the game titles have been mangled over the years, and not just in the West. Apparently, many Japanese Goemon fans were under the impression that “Uchu Kaizoku Akogingu” (11) was actually titled “Uchu Kaizoku Akoking”. The Goemon games are at fault, really, for having such long, complicated titles.

 

I don’t plan to tackle this project in one long stretch; I’ll take a break now and then, which probably means that this will take me about two years to go through them all. I’m looking forward the most to playing the SFC games I never got the chance to play. I'm planning to play the games in  Japanese, although some controversies about the fan translations for the SFC and N64 titles tempt me to look into those as well.

 

Aside from the games themselves, I am also very curious to see what happened in the transition to 32-bit/64-bit, and why the Goemon series lost so much of its popularity during that time.

 

This is one way to get through the lockdown I guess.

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And straight into the 'mental illness' basket. Just play the best ones, you madman! I'm always terrified of these full series marathons where people have to drag themselves through some painfully basic NES games because they started becoming brilliant from the sixth game on the SNES. God speed, DeDeDe. God speed.

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I remember loving Mystical Ninja on the SNES. Then I imported Ganbare Goemon 2 and it turned out to be even better than the original. The sequel is easily in my Top 20 SNES/SFC games -- the graphics and sound really show off the hardware, plus it's full of imagination and memorable stuff.  Then I played Mystical Ninja on the N64 and enjoyed playing through it, even if the engine was a bit ropey.  I also played the N64 sequel and one of the PS1 games, but can't remember much about them.  

 

I really need to play through Ganbare Goemon 3 & 4 with the new translations. Then I'll go back to the PS1 games. 

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@Goemon I considered this angle, but I decided to approach the series not in terms of gameplay, but rather if the games existed in the Ganbare Goemon "universe." Bouken Judai Katsugeki certainly looks like it plays more like a mainline Goemon title, but from what I've read, it is set in an alternate, slightly more realistic universe.

 

In contrast, it seems that Sore Yuke Ebisumaru ties up a storyline that ran in the background in Goemon 2 and Gaiden 2, even if it doesn't play like a mainline game. (I'll concede that the Sugoroku game is most likely just a Mario Party-like diversion, but I'll probably need the break after the PSX and N64 games.)

 

I've played through the relatively text-heavy DS game, (which has a somewhat sophisticated story) so I'm not very worried about the Japanese itself. I'm not saying that I won't encounter any difficult spots, but I think I'll be OK.

 

I assume you're familiar with many, if not most of the games? Any comments or thoughts about the games would be very welcome.

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@Rob Rule I thought about doing just that... But my curiosity got the better of me, and I wanted to know for myself what the best Goemon games were. I do wonder if I'll be able to play through all the games, but if I decide to stop the project after completing the SFC games, that's good enough.

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3 hours ago, DeDeDe said:

@Rob Rule I thought about doing just that... But my curiosity got the better of me, and I wanted to know for myself what the best Goemon games were. I do wonder if I'll be able to play through all the games, but if I decide to stop the project after completing the SFC games, that's good enough.

 

No! You may not stop until you have completed Mystical Ninja N64. This is my decree and you will obey.

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  • 1 month later...

Bump! It’s been a bit more than a month since I started this thread, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t started the project. The opposite, really. It’s been really fun playing these games. I’m a bit stuck in the first RPG (Gaiden) right now, so I’ll be posting my thoughts on the games I’ve played so far.

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Let’s start our journey as we whistle along.

 

Mr. Goemon (1986, Arcade)

Developed by Konami (Arcade Division?)

 

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Ports: Game Room (Xbox360), Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch

 

Played via MAME.

 

In truth, a chronological retrospective of the Goemon series doesn’t need to start with this game. Mr. Goemon is a little too different to subsequent games, and yet it must be mentioned as it introduces a lot of elements that you’d see in the console games. Before I started this project, I was vaguely aware that this game existed, but I had something very different in mind—like a medieval Japan version of Ghosts ‘n Goblins. However, although Mr. Goemon is a side-scrolling action game, it plays like other Konami action games of the time, like Rush’n Attack/Green Beret.

 

There are several articles out there (the Wikipedia entry stands out in particular) that suggest that this game was called Mr. Kabuki, maybe unofficially. And, despite the slight inaccuracy, the alternative title gives a better idea of what the game looks like and what it’s about. The game launches straight into the title screen, with the characteristic colors of kabuki theater, and after a minute or so launches into a somewhat mysterious attract screen with a blue-ish-haired man facing a green goblin-like floating creature in front of a screen with a bamboo design.

 

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The green goblin-like creature is Raijin, the thunder god, of course, and even if you didn’t know anything about Japanese culture, you would be able to infer that the man is (Mr.) Goemon. Raijin makes a threatening kabuki-like dance, Goemon looks indignant, his mouth agape... And then you are back at the title screen. 

 

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It’s an intriguing introduction to the game. You insert a coin and press the start button, and Goemon enters stage right, as the kabuki clapper sounds the beginning of play. Without the arcade flyers, it’s a little difficult to discern exactly what you’re supposed to do, but Mr. Goemon is not a complex game—eventually you get the hang of it. It’s very much a run-and-gun game, although in this case you attack enemies with your kiseru pipe or projectile items you find in the stage. You can also jump on enemies, but this doesn’t kill them—it merely drops them down a level, unless you did so at the ground level, where they do fall out of the screen. In contrast to other games of this ilk,  the enemies themselves don’t kill you if they touch you. They grab you, and you have to waggle the joystick to break free; if you don’t, you lose a life. Enemy projectiles, however, do kill you.

 

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The game itself is comprised of 5 levels, going along the Tokaido from Edo (Tokyo) to Kyoto, and those levels are in turn divided into 2 stages each: first, the town stage, as Goemon traverses through a town and the townsfolk try to stop you. At the end of the first stage, a pile of gold is waiting for you, and you are given pause to breathe before the second half of the level, which starts with a whistle as the police start chasing you. You encounter a boss at the end of the second half of the level, and after escaping or defeating the boss, Goemon throws the money he stole around the town. At the end of the final stage, Goemon climbs to the top of the castle to seize a golden figure as the castle lord looks in distraught. Then the game loops over.

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Mr. Goemon is really impressive, graphically speaking. It’s not the show-stopper that was OutRun, and similar games such as Rolling Thunder and Rygar are more impressive. Konami had a lot of things going on at the time, and it’s quite possible that they couldn’t afford to develop those kinds of games, time-wise and budget-wise. However, you get the feeling that they made up for it by focusing on the gameplay and also making games really, really hard.

 

Art design was obviously another area where they could shine, and Mr. Goemon does not disappoint. There is a lot of detail given to everything in the game. Mr. Goemon has really sold, chunky sprites with a lot of personality and life. Every level is different in terms of level design and regional differences. There is a huge amount of level decorations and designs taken from kabuki, and on top of that the developers incorporated a bunch of ukiyo-e designs (mainly Hokusai and Hiroshige works) in the levels. If you lose a life, all the enemies onscreen break into a very stage-like kabuki laugh, with their heads held high as everyone shares a hearty guffaw about your blunder. There is a map at each mid-point in the level, and Goemon uses the time to puff some smoke from his pipe. It has a lot of great little touches, and what’s even better, the game also runs at a smooth 60 fps, which really adds to the game.

 

Every stage is set at night. It makes sense, as a “noble bandit” such as Goemon would probably only act at night—although I suspect that the developers went this route because of all the sprites on the screen. It’s really well-thought-out, though: the night setting brings with it a very surreal atmosphere. Konami would rethink the concept for future Goemon games, but the almost dream-like quality of the game, with a lot of images and patterns shamelessly swiped from kabuki and ukiyo-e, works in its favor here. Everything works together really well that it feels like an episode of a cartoon or comedy TV show or from the 1970s/early 1980s.

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Sound-wise, I have mixed feelings. The game has a really strong sound design: the instruments, pacing, tempo, etc are really well thought-out, and the music is really catchy. As far as I’m aware, they are all original compositions, but they sound authentic to the kabuki motif, and they adhere quite strictly to the standard folk style in Japanese music, with one percussion instrument and one melodic instrument, plus one or two instruments that might be called for at certain times. In Mr. Goemon’s case, this means music performed via a taiko drum and a flute... But the flute sounds very tinny, and somehow it doesn’t resonate with me, despite some impressive arpeggio work:

 

 

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Thanks for bringing this up. Mr. Goemon (in the excellent ACA collection) has been on my radar for a few months, so this convinced me to finally get it. Cracking little action game imo.

 

I love the attention to detail. With such limited means they managed to convey a really colourful and interesting setting. Eg. the enemies riding the great wave (of Kanagawa), or how -true to the legend- Goemon throws money to the poor after a boss fight.

 

And do some of the enemies get into a frantic wank after they get you?

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  • 1 month later...
On 22/04/2020 at 08:23, Keyboard Koala said:

Thanks for bringing this up. Mr. Goemon (in the excellent ACA collection) has been on my radar for a few months, so this convinced me to finally get it. Cracking little action game imo.

 

I love the attention to detail. With such limited means they managed to convey a really colourful and interesting setting. Eg. the enemies riding the great wave (of Kanagawa), or how -true to the legend- Goemon throws money to the poor after a boss fight.

 

And do some of the enemies get into a frantic wank after they get you?

 

I can't believe I've let this thread remain dormant for such a long time. I'll be posting more regularly now that I have a better grasp of what the series is about, and what the creators wanted to make.

 

Yes, absolutely. The game would lose most of its appeal if you were to take away those details, and at least for me those first few bars of the first period are what kept me replaying the game, despite some demoralizing deaths in the third stage. Being able to jump on top of the mountain in the second level, the weaponized wigs, the various characters waiting inside doorways...

 

Of all the Goemon games, this strikes me as the most well-researched--although I suppose it helps that Mr. Goemon is smaller in scale than what you'd get on consoles.

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I'm not sure about the enemies having a wank after they get you, though... Most enemies will launch into an exaggerated kyogen-like laughter if you die. This is the shortest video I was able to find about the technique:

 

 

Are you sure you're not talking about the bootleg copy that was released about a month later titled "Mr. Spank-e-mon(key)? ;)

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Ultimately, the fact that Mr. Goemon is an arcade game is the game’s weakness and strength. It is one of those arcade games that was nice to play, but a breezy, lighthearted experience that didn’t last very long, and also an experience that didn’t linger very much in your memory. Playing the game in 2020, Mr. Goemon feels like it should be one of the progenitors of the endless runner genre that really developed into its own genre with the rise of smartphone games. There is a time limit in the game, but it’s fairly forgiving, and the game rewards you for patient play... up to a point. There are points in every level that become bottlenecks, where you have to get rid of enemies quickly and efficiently, but I am never good enough for the challenge.

 

For me, it proved to be a very difficult game—although it’s frustrating to read that Mr. Goemon is not known as a difficult game, and Goemon fans in general don’t hold this title in high esteem because it doesn’t have a lot of content and it can be completed quickly. This runs completely against my experience, but either that is because of my fading reflexes, and/or the ROM of the game is set at a harder difficulty, or not quite emulated correctly. (I don’t own a Switch or a PS4, so I’m playing this via MAME. It’s not the best way to start this project, I’ll admit.). No matter how long I play, I can’t quite get a grasp of what should be a relatively simple game, and it doesn’t help that, like a lot of early Konami games, this is one of those games where you have to press up on the controller to jump.

 

In any case, after repeatedly failing to get past the third stage (Nagoya?), I gave up. But I will return to the game as I play other titles in the series.

 

Next up: Ganbare Goemon: Karakuri Dochu on the Famicom.

 

(On a side-note: This has become a bigger project than I'd intended, actually--but in a good way. There is a surprising amount of things tied to the Goemon games, and I'm not sure what to do with all of it, but in the meantime I'll keep posting regularly about my gameplay experiences.)

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I think like most arcade games of the time, they were simple in premise but to get proficient takes LOTS of understanding of the fundamental points. It’s not been designed to allow you to get through it like a console game, it’s designed to subtly take your money.
 

Looking forward to hearing more antics. I’ve tried the Famicom games a few time’s but have bailed pretty swiftly due to difficult and lack of understanding.

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I did a similar run through all of them back in 2005? You're in for a treat because most of the Japanese exclusives have been fan-translated. Check RHDN.

 

BE WARNED:

The 3rd game on SNES, with the robot walkers, suffers from an extremely SEVERE game break glitch. I keep trying to get people at RHDN to look into it, but apparently they didn't like me bumping the topic, and deleted my posts. So fuck em.

 

In the robot future town, when you go into the dungeon with the rocket flames, MAKE BACKUP SAVES! There's a bit where you push a statue on to switches. The 2nd statue is glitched. I walked past it, then double backed to its room, and it had vanished. The flag for triggering its appearance was set to OFF - it only sets to ON once, the first time you enter its room. The switch you're meant to push it on to meanwhile was still set to OFF, meaning the rest of the dungeon was FOREVER blocked and you could never get beyond it.

 

You can tell the game is having a seizure about the flags because the audio for the rocket blasts automatically triggers as you enter the room, regardless of whether you have the statue or not, but the flame themselves only trigger when the statue is on the switch. It honestly looks like there's spaghetti code running that part of the game.

 

I am honestly shocked such a glitch could make it into a retail game. Or maybe it was introduced by the translation patch. RHDN wouldn't check, so I dunno.

 

But it's easy to do. I was low on health, so rather than slowly push the statue and put myself at risk, I decided to run past it, to try to find more health pick ups, thinking I could just go back. But oh no, once you leave the room that statue vanishes forever. Then you enter the rocket room, the flame sounds start, and BAM! Trapped forever.

 

I quit playing at that point. Also I'd saved at that point. Which is why I quit. :(

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On 29/05/2020 at 15:13, Goemon said:

I think like most arcade games of the time, they were simple in premise but to get proficient takes LOTS of understanding of the fundamental points. It’s not been designed to allow you to get through it like a console game, it’s designed to subtly take your money.

 

Yeah, you're right, and I was aware of that. Arguably, there was nothing subtle about Konami arcade games in the eighties and early nineties: they were designed to steal your money. The thing about Mr. Goemon, however, is that the general consensus of people who played the game when it was released is that it was relatively easy even back in the day--which is why it turned out to be a commercial failure.

 

Quote

Looking forward to hearing more antics. I’ve tried the Famicom games a few time’s but have bailed pretty swiftly due to difficult and lack of understanding.

 

All of the Famicom and MSX Goemon games have been fully fan-translated--including two translations for 1 & 2 released last month. I can't vouch for the translations, but I would really recommend playing Ganbare Goemon 2, at the very least. It has a unique character and a fantastic Michiru Yamane soundtrack.

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On 30/05/2020 at 04:12, Sketch said:

BE WARNED:

The 3rd game on SNES, with the robot walkers, suffers from an extremely SEVERE game break glitch.

 

According to the Game Catalog Wiki (in Japanese), there are actually four places that had serious bugs where you could get stuck. To be fair, two of them are apparently ones where you need to know what you're doing, and the other two were fixed in later pressings/re-releases.

 

As far as to how it could be possible to have a situation where a retail game could have these game-ending bugs? Well, as far as I have been able to piece together, the Ganbare Goemon series sold really well, but it seems that Konami either didn't have faith in the team (which had to borrow time to make SFC Goemon 2 and 4) or placed too much pressure on them (as it happened with SFC Goemon 3). In fact, a lot of Goemon games are full of bugs. Goemon Gaiden 1 in particular has a critical cart save bug, and that's a 25-hour RPG.

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7 hours ago, DeDeDe said:

 

According to the Game Catalog Wiki (in Japanese), there are actually four places that had serious bugs where you could get stuck. To be fair, two of them are apparently ones where you need to know what you're doing, and the other two were fixed in later pressings/re-releases.

 

 

Whoa! I did not even know about the others. Also, I'm not entirely sure, but I think the glitch I found is in addition to the four listed there? I used Google Translate to get the gist.

 

Well, with all this you should be well prepared for the challenge ahead. Good luck!

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  • 2 months later...

Well, look at the sky.

 

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Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Dochu (1986, Famicom)

 

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Unlike Mr. Goemon, which hinted at something more ominous in the attract screen, as Goemon faced the bosses from that game, Karakuri Douchu starts with a more conventional premise. We see Goemon being chased around the streets of an Edo-era Japanese town (somewhat leisurely, it must be said—although that might be to emphasize Goemon’s slippery evasion skills). Goemon escapes by jumping on the rooftop of a house, and then the game begins as you find Goemon standing in the middle of (the same?) Japanese town. If you have the experience of playing later games in the series, Karakuri Douchu feels a bit more anxious as you realize that Goemon is not so much on a silly quest around Japan with his friends, but on a mission by himself—against the very government of each province. The setting gives the game a different flavor, but I wonder what audiences at the time—for whom Goemon was an entirely new character—thought about it.

 

The actual plot of the game is simple: you control Goemon as he travels through various regions through western Japan, through the major or significant castle centers of various regions, starting at Kumomoto, in southwestern Japan, going along the coast, traversing through central Japan, and finally arriving at Edo (Tokyo). Given the problematic gameplay style of Mr. Goemon, which saw the player only move left-to-right through various stages, designer Kazuhisa Hashimoto’s main design axiom was to let the player move freely within huge game regions, which means that in the game itself Goemon travels through various levels (presented in a Zelda-esque overhead perspective) as he tries to get three passes to get through the gates to the next section. As he does so, Goemon also takes the opportunity to steal as much as he can and spread the money to the people in the region. (In a charming touch, Karakuri Dochu also recreates Mr. Goemon’s sequences after completing a level, which show Goemon dancing through the town, spreading around the stolen koban gold goins.)

 

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What’s interesting about this game is that, while your main quest is simply to collect those three passes to proceed to the next stage, the team filled the maps with houses, shops, inns, mazes, hidden areas, and many other places where you can spend the money you’ve collected to buy protective gear and useful items—or simply to while away the time. (Literally, in this case: future Goemon games would de-emphasize this aspect of the game, but Karakuri Douchu features a strict timer, presumably to dissuade you from spending too much time in the level.) It feels more like a cross between an action game and an RPG, and the comparison is not a coincidence. Dragon Quest had made a big impact in the game world in 1986, and developers were not immune to it.

 

Hashimoto grasped the possibilities of what RPG elements could bring to games, and he wanted to let players have the freedom not to complete every task in order to proceed to the next level: it is possible to complete the game without spending any money, but money gives players the freedom to simply buy the passes if they prefer.

 

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In fact, the sense of freedom does not extend just to the passes: You get the feeling that the developers wanted the player to have a sense of somewhat fantastical freedom with its ancient Japan setting. Goemon begins his journey in a town, but after that he travels to mountains, beaches, forests, rice paddies, and castles, encounters a wide variety of foes. You never know what to expect. In one level, you might be throwing gold coins at the police guards in the town; in the next, you are attacking crabs and demons; in the mountains, the locals could be mountain hermits and tengu. And Goemon himself creates some of that fantasy: jump around the levels, and special items and underground stairs to special levels will emerge out of the blue.

 

Indeed, the game encourages you to jump around the levels so much that you realize a little too late that there is platforming in the game: Aside from buildings and forests, there are no barriers in the game, and it’s very easy to jump and fall into the water or down a mountain, as the game does not make it very clear which areas you are supposed to avoid. Even the barriers themselves are buggy as well, and there were times when I was playing the game, and found myself stuck in the scenery beyond some barrier or wall, and had no choice but either reset to my last-saved point, or run the timer out.

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An interview with Etsunobu Ebisu, who would join Konami a few years after and would become the director for the Ganbare Goemon series, posits some speculative points that shed light on some other factors I had been vaguely aware of, but had not considered seriously. Karakuri Dochu is very much also a response to other action and platform games from that time—most notably Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. There was certainly an element of competition shared between Famicom developers at the time, and Karakuri Dochuwas probably propped up as an example of what others could do, Konami could do better. if Super Mario Bros.had side-scrolling levels, Goemon would have pseudo-3D levels. If other games had sections where the player could go to underground areas, Goemon would have those, too—and they would be secret areas as well! It’s debatable whether this act of one-up-man-ship vis-a-vis Nintendo’s output was deliberate, or just a product of a very fertile time for Famicom development, of course, but whatever the reasoning might have been, one can surmise that at the very least Hashimoto and his team looked at all the concepts and ideas that had been shown in the recent past and decided to make a game of their own that incorporated those ideas, including those from Mr. Goemon. They just needed a good concept to tie it all together.

 

It is is a deceptively difficult game, and perhaps this is the alternative meaning behind “Karakuri” in the title: in the end, it’s a tricky journey for players who choose to take the challenge. This game takes Goemon across a long journey across Japan—from the Kyushu island, on the far west, to Edo, what is now Tokyo—to take justice against the corrupt daimyo in each region. Gameplay-wise, each level takes place in the space between the various gates in the road that you need to get through to the next section of your trip. You start at a town, and then proceed to a town in the country, next, a trip through the mountains, followed by a detour through the seaside, back into a town, another seaside sojourn, another village, another trek through the mountains, then you cut a path through rice paddies, a large samurai residence, and finally the castle—first through the outer wall and then inside the castle.

 

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That is thirteen levels, each of which becomes increasingly more difficult the more you make progress. In many ways, it’s a strange journey. Goemon’s journey could be seen as a sort of tourism through ancient video game-Japan; in contrast to the mainly kabuki-influenced Mr. Goemon, Karakuri Dochu takes most of its inspiration from the ukiyo-e work of Hokusai and Hiroshige, with beautiful background pixel art, and the game more or less lets you play freely around in the areas. There is not a lot of variety during the trip, to be honest. You will mainly go to shops or inns, and sometimes visit a house or a gambling shack. (One stop in particular is worthy of note: the RPG dungeon-esque “3D mazes” that you are able to go inside (for a fee, of course) at some houses. These would become a fixture in future games, despite the frustrating nature of traversing them.)

 

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And all the while, you are being attacked by almost everyone on the street. Unlike future titles, you get the feeling that Goemon is always in constant danger, and from the very start. The guards at the towns are chasing after you (shouting “Goyou!”—“Arrest him!”, which has been synthesized as an actual voice sample—an expensive rarity in those days), but so are pick-pockets, bandits, and samurai. And then you get to the village, and you have to contend with fishermen, bandits, birds... It never stops. In terms of just the concepts in the game, I am impressed that Goemon even has to contend with tengu (demons with long noses and magical abilities) and wild boars in the latter mountain levels.

 

Everything comes to a climax in the final castle stage, as you invade the castle to face the daimyo. Up to this stage, the game has been quietly ramping up the difficulty at every stage, but the castle level is a considerable step up. You go against a much larger variety of enemies, most of which are unique to the castle, and the castle layout is enormous. The background music also shifts in tone accordingly—gone are the jaunty tunes of earlier levels, replaced with something much more menacing. Goemon only needs to traverse the maze-like castle and get to the daimyo, but this becomes a hectic, desperate struggle against waves and waves of enemies. Although seemingly non-existent, exploring the various rooms in the castle reveals that there are still shops, etc in the level, but the game very effectively creates the feeling of being on your own against near-insurmountable odds.

 

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For a Goemon game, Karakuri Dochu has an odd flow. The game is not without humor: the incessantly bowing shopkeepers never fail to raise a smile, and the sheer ridiculousness of everything that is trying to get you is quite entertaining. However, this is all enveloped in a relatively tense environment with a cynical outlook on Edo-era Japan. Goemon being an outlaw that is being actively chased by the government, perhaps it’s to be expected, but the facts that shopkeepers will raise their prices after you buy an item, or that people in houses will give you very little information, or that the 3D mazes are in many ways traps—it feels like the world is against you. After meeting the daimyo and forcing him to let go of his corrupt ways, Goemon climbs to the top of the castle to celebrate his victory against all odds. It’s very tempting to think that the player probably feels the same as Goemon.

 

It turns out to be a practical joke, however: after the ending, you find yourself standing in the street of a town in Izumo, the next region in Goemon’s journey—just with the difficulty level pegged one step higher. Karakuri Dochu is truly an enormous game, albeit in an unimaginative way. There are eight regions in total (Higo, Izumo, Bizen, Settsu, Omi, Owari, Shinano, and finally Edo—which correspond, roughly, to Nagasaki, Shimane, Hiroshima, Osaka, Nagaoka, Nagano, and Tokyo nowadays), each with the same number of stages, except for Edo.

And even then, if you complete the Edo stage, the game is not over. Konami held a contest when the game was released, which required players to complete Goemon’s journey ten times over (for a total of 1300 levels). At the end of the Settsu area on the 100th round (funnily enough, the Osaka area) the game displays a secret code for a contest held at the time of the game’s release. Karakuri Dochu provides absolutely no help to complete the game: there is no save function or any password feature, which, thinking also about the difficulty level of the game, makes me very grateful for ports on recent systems.

 

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I've been ignoring this thread for too long... Or that is to say, I should have been posting here more often than I am. As I've mentioned before, this project became a little bigger than I'd envisioned, and so I made the decision to launch a Patreon.

 

I am writing 4 short-ish articles a month about each game in the series, including interview translations and various paraphernalia produced by Konami to promote the games.

 

Yeah. It's a Patreon now. But I'll keep posting my thoughts in this thread, though.

 

If you're interested, please check it out: https://www.patreon.com/projectgoemon

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