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by Kurt Kalata, with additions by Sam Derboo - last updated February 8th, 2014

Most gamers are familiar with Konami's classic series - Castlevania, Contra, Gradius, and so forth. Yet one of their longest running series has remained mostly obscured to those outside of Japan. Making only occasional appearances in the West, the Ganbare Goemon series (known also as Legend of the Mystical Ninja) spans over 24 titles over a period of nearly twenty years.

Possibly the biggest reason why the Goemon games have seen only rare English releases is due to the uniquely Japanese sense of humor. What other games can you find hula-hooping demons, time traveling nuns, evil sumo robots, and bunny obsessed shoguns? There are anachronistic elements running throughout the series, as you regularly find stuff (Elevators? Lasers? Gigantic robots?!) that really have no place in ancient Japan.

The few games that have been translated into English are filled with terrible, terrible wordplay jokes, so one can only imagine what the Japanese text is like. There's also a large number of cultural references, both Western and Japanese, ranging from movies to anime to video games. Even if you're not familiar with Japanese history or geography (I'm not) it's all so wacky and ridiculous that it's hard to not be amused.

The most humor from the game comes from the cast:

Characters

There's also a small handful of supporting characters: Omitsu, the belle of old Japan who also happens to be Goemon's sorta-girlfriend; the Wise Ol' Man, a perverted bastard who spends his day making wacky and improbably inventions; Kurobei, the awesome ninja cat; and the Lord and Princess Yuki, whose only function is to get kidnapped and be useless.

What really sets the Goemon games apart from other sidescrollers is its ability to weave the standard action-platforming with adventure gaming elements. The levels are rarely about getting from point A to point B, instead they encourage exploration to find hidden items and extra money. Towns are usually interspersed with the action levels, allowing you to talk to citizens, buy extra armor, or occasionally solve some puzzles. They're also filled to the brim with mini-games. The early titles just had small gambling or horse racing games, but later titles included playable cameos from other Konami titles. (Stripped-down versions of Gradius, XEXEX and Time Pilot are playable, for example.)

Ganbare Goemon 2 (Famicom)

Legend of the Mystical Ninja (SNES)

Ganbare Goemon 4 (Super Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon Uchukaizoku Akogingu (PlayStation)

Ganbare Goemon Oedo Daikaiten (PlayStation)

Goemon's Great Adventure (N64)


Mr. Goemon - Arcade (1986)

Artwork

Goemon first stepped into the gaming world in 1986. While the Famicom and MSX adventures are rather similar, the arcade version - dubbed Mr. Goemon - is an entirely different ordeal. The graphic style emulates the ukyo-e style paintings seen on the covers of the other titles, and for a game made in 1986, the squat character sprites exude a tremendous amount of personality.

The game is pretty simple - just go to the right and avoid the guards. You usually either bash them with your pipe or jump on top of them, although it's also possible to pick up random items (fans, cat statues, masks) to toss at them. If the guards catch you, you have to wiggle the controller to break free, or else you'll lose a life. It's a pretty short game, but since it's based in the arcade, it's also very hard. You only get three lives and you have to start from scratch when you run out.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling

Themes:

Comical Fantasy
Parody
Period: Feudal Japan


Mr. Goemon (Arcade)

Mr. Goemon (Arcade)



Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Douchuu (がんばれゴエモン!からくり道中) - Famicom, Game Boy Advance, Wii, 3DS (1986)

Famicom Cover

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Ganbare Goemon: Karakuri Douchuu (the subtitle means "The Tricky Journey") simply defies genre classification - it's part Double Dragon-style beat-em-up, mixed with exploration elements of Zelda. As the first 2-megabit game for the Famicom, Ganbare Goemon was more complex and bigger than most contemporary action games. Each level is a maze, and finding the end is only part of the puzzle. You have to explore and find three passes in order to proceed to the next stage. Many times, these are found by jumping over bushes or randomly hitting things, looking for hidden passages. However, if you grow weary or lost, you can always just run around, smash people in the face, and use the money to buy some passes. You'll quickly find candles to be some of the best items you can buy, because they illuminate secret passages. Cash can also be used to buy health items and armor, or to play some gambling games. Although your default weapon is your pipe, you can grab power ups that let you slingshot coins, or other items that make you run faster or extend your life meter. Getting hit degrades your weapons, but it's easy to upgrade them again. Unfortunately, using Goemon's pipe is a little awkward, as it's rather hard to hit things with it.

While the game is fun for the first ten minutes or so, the levels all begin to look the same after awhile, and there's barely any real variation in them. After clearing all of the 13 stages, the game starts from the beginning again, only in a different "province." The levels are exactly the same only the enemies get subsequently harder with each playthrough. The game only really ends after eight loops, amounting to 104 stages. The final text-only congratulations message is hardly worth the hassle, though, and there's only so long you can run around aimlessly smashing stuff before it gets old. Ganbare Goemon was an innovative concept, but one that isn't fully fleshed out until the later games.

The game was also released for the Gameboy Advance under the Famicom Mini label in 2004. Like the other games in the series, it's a port with no enhancements save for the standard Famicom Mini menu. A download for the Wii Virtual Console followed in 2007.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Comical Fantasy
Damsel in Distress
Parody
Period: Feudal Japan


Ganbare Goemon (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon (Famicom)


Ganbare Goemon! Karakuri Douchuu (がんばれゴエモン!からくり道中) - MSX2 (1987)

Cover

Like most Konami games of the mid-'80s, Goemon also found a home on MSX2 home computers. It's pretty close to the Famicom version, although the graphics are slightly better. Similar to many MSX games, there's no scrolling, only completely static screens. The levels look similar but are completely different in structure to the Famicom game. While the Famicom game looped for several times when completed, here the levels are different each loop, adding up to 48 stages overall. The gameplay is mostly the same, but Goemon's default walking speed is incredibly slow. You can still find shoes to make yourself run faster, and getting hit doesn't slow you down like the Famicom game, but it makes the game extremely sluggish until you power yourself up. The MSX Goemon features a two-player alternating mode like the Famicom version, but it introduces an entirely new character for the second player, a black ninja named Nezumikozou ("Rat Brat", who is also apparently a figure in Japanese history). Given his looks, Nezumikozou is likely a direct predecessor for Ebisumaru.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Action: Top-Down View

Themes:

Comical Fantasy
Damsel in Distress
Parody
Period: Feudal Japan


Ganbare Goemon (MSX)

Ganbare Goemon (MSX)


Ganbare Goemon 2 (がんばれゴエモン2) - Famicom, Wii, 3DS (1989)

Cover

Guide Book

Goemon 2 is still pretty similar to the original, although the graphics are much better and the level design is much less generic. A two player simultaneous mode has been added, with the second player hopping into the shoes of Ebisumaru. Goemon has an additional weapon, a set of firecrackers that fly towards enemies, although they're ultimately rather useless. You'll also be attacked by some interesting bosses - the first level guardian is a robotic sumo who attacks by throwing his toupee, and later levels have you facing a gigantic peach and a shmup style spaceship. There are also some vertical scrolling segments where you scale giant buildings or huge staircases, as well the return of the first-person dungeon crawling mazes. While the game can still get difficult at the later stages, you have an expanded life bar, ultimately making the game less frustrating.

Ganbare Goemon 2 is chuck full of amusing extra touches as well - try walking into a woman's bath and get clocked in the head by some shrieking girls. Or see a burlesque show starring a creepy monster. Even more inventive is the Game Over scene, where you must struggle to break free from the grasp of an evil demon before you can continue to escape from hell and get on with the adventure. There's even a Konami store filled with game cartridges - buy them all and you'll turn all the bad guys into Konami characters, like Konami Man, Konami Girl, Fuu (from Getsufuu Maden) and the penguin from Antarctic Adventure. While the overall improvements are minor, they add up to a much better game than the original.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

Action: Side-Scrolling

Themes:

Comical Fantasy
Co-op
Going Through Hell
Parody
Period: Feudal Japan


Ganbare Goemon 2 (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon 2 (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon 2 (Famicom)


Ending Screenshots:


Ganbare Goemon Gaiden: Kieta Ougon Kiseru (がんばれゴエモン外伝きえた黄金キセル) - Famicom, Wii, 3DS (1990)

Cover

The Goemon Gaiden games for the Famicom are standard 8-bit console RPGs. Kieta Ougon Kiseru means "The Disappearance of the Golden Pipe". Goemon returns home one day to find that his pipe - a precious heirloom, as it turns out - has mysteriously vanished. Grabbing Ebisumaru, he sets off to reclaim his most valued object. The battle sequences are first-person Dragon Warrior-style, although the bad guys are much better animated. Like almost every RPG of the era, it feels outdated now, although there are some nice concessions not seen in other games of the day (like buying rollerskates to walk faster or the ability to save almost anywhere).

Some of the main supporting characters of the Goemon saga are introduced here for the first time, like Yae (though yet without her trademark green hair) and Kurobei the ninja cat (known here as Koban Neko). Some more of the goofy anachronistic elements pop up here as well, like the phone booths you'll find in towns and a rocket fueled flying castle. Goemon and his gang are also chased around by an angry, Godzilla-sized robot woman, presumably a precursor to Goemon Impact. The game also includes ten tons more wackyness than ever before. At one point the whole party is transormed into Ebisumaru, the group sees a number of performances that are all messed up by the chubby blue ninja in hilarious ways, and with an easter egg you get to see Yae in her underwear during the ending.

Importers, however, beware - this is a double-sized cartridge that won't fit in a NES with an adapter. You'll need an actual Famicom or a clone system to play it. Also, since it's a full fledged RPG with a lot of text, Japanese fluency is more of a requirement here than most of the other titles.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

RPG: Japanese

Themes:

Comical Fantasy
Parody
Mechas!
Period: Feudal Japan


Ganbare Goemon Gaiden (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon Gaiden (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon Gaiden (Famicom)

Additional Screenshots:


Ganbare Goemon Gaiden 2: Tenka no Zaihou (がんばれゴエモン外伝2天下の財宝) - Famicom (1992)

Cover

Tenka no Zaihou or "Treasures of the World" begins with Goemon learning of fortunes to be had overseas, so he sets sail with Ebisumaru to claim them. While the character sprites have been improved, the rest of the graphics are about the same. The battle viewpoint is now third-person, and not only does it move quicker, but it benefits from some animation to make them a little more interesting. Like all of the Goemon games, there are some goofily amusing touches - head into a store and you'll find yourself in an elevator, with an attendant taking to you to the department of your choice. You also travel to the weirdest places, like a village of raccoons and an island made out of foodstuff. You even get to climb the stairs to the moon, which is inhabited by white rabbits.

The new characters in this game have proven much less timeless than its predecessor. They're a brat named Koryouta and the kunoichi Hazuki, who essentially replaces Yae in this installment. Temporarily, Goemon and Ebisumaru are alos accompanied by a robot called Pemo Pemo and... Simon Belmont! At one point the group also finds one of the planes from Twinbee and can use it for faster travel.

There are also a couple of mini games, the weirdest of them being a strip version of rock-paper-scissors. However, like its predecessor, the main game is really just yet another Japanese 8-bit console RPG. It also comes in a double size cartridge.

Quick Info:

Developer:

Konami

Publisher:

Konami

Genre:

RPG: Japanese

Themes:

Comical Fantasy
Parody
Period: Feudal Japan


Ganbare Goemon Gaiden 2 (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon Gaiden 2 (Famicom)

Ganbare Goemon Gaiden 2 (Famicom)

Additional Screenshots:


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