After eight releases in seven years, someone at Konami must have thought the Ganbare Goemon series needed shaking up. Apart from a pair of turn-based RPGs on the Famicom, previous installments had all been fairly simple run-and-jump action affairs. Enter 1994’s Ganbare Goemon 3: Shishijūrokubē no Karakuri Manji Gatame, the first Legend of Zelda style action-adventure of the bunch.
I had to wait a while to tackle this one. Whereas the linear Japan-exclusive Goemon titles can be successfully navigated without knowing the language, you’d be hard pressed to do that here. Talking to NPCs and following up on the clues they dole out is vital. It wasn’t until February of this year that DDSTranslation, Tom, and FlashPV brought us their unofficial English translation patch, dubbed Go for it! Goemon 3: The Mecha Leg Hold of Jurokube Shishi. At last, I can continue the comedic odyssey of everyone’s favorite big-haired Robin Hood analog and his kooky cohorts.
The adventure kicks off in typically absurd Ganbare Goemon fashion, with the Wise Old Man debuting his latest invention: A time machine. Not too shabby for the 16th century. His plan? To use it to perv on young girls…in the future! I’ve never understood the appeal of ultrahorny senior citizens as comic relief, but it’s huge in Japan for whatever reason. Anyway, the Old Man’s skirt chasing rampage is cut short when he’s abducted by an evil nun named Sister Bismal, who just happens to be the spitting image of Goemon’s portly sidekick Ebisumaru. Watching all this transpire from the past via a monitor, Goemon and Ebisumaru decide they have to find a way to join their idiot friend in the future and save him and his potentially dangerous machine from whatever sinister fate Bismal has in store. Along the way, they’ll be joined by the robot ninja Sasuke and the, uh, non-robot ninja Yae, making for a total of four playable characters
The option to switch out your active hero at will with the press of a button is arguably Ganbare Goemon 3’s central gimmick, overshadowing even the change of scenery the time travel plot affords. Each party member has his or her own melee and ranged attacks on top of a miscellaneous special ability or two. Said abilities are often tied to progression. Yae’s mermaid transformation allows her to maneuver underwater, for example, and Goemon’s chain pipe works like Link’s hookshot. Everybody shares a single health bar, so simply switching heroes won’t save you if you’re at death’s door. My only complaint with this system is the way it passively discourages you from using the slower moving characters much of the time. As in most other adventures, there’s ample territory to cover and tons of mandatory backtracking. The zippy Sasuke and Yae get it all done faster, and that’s bad news for Goemon and Ebisumaru.
Beginning the quest proper, your first task is to explore the tranquil streets of Oedo Town from a top-down perspective. You can chat up villagers for advice and do a little shopping for the item you’ll need to reach the local dungeon. You’re also free to beat on the town guards to earn a little extra cash. Goemon is an outlaw, after all. There’s honestly not that much to say about the overworld exploration here. It’s divided up into two main maps: The past (that is, Goemon’s present) and the future. Both are densely packed with towns, dungeon entrances, and the occasional secret room housing bonus treasure. Unless you’re entirely new to the genre, you’ll have seen all this before.
Things pick up considerably in the dungeons. They’re presented as side-view platforming stages similar to the ones in Legend of the Mystical Ninja and other 16-bit Goemon games, albeit modified to work better in an adventure gaming context. Thus, layouts are complex and maze-like, there are far fewer instant death pits, and you’re usually required to perform some elementary puzzle solving exercise in order to open the way to the boss’ chamber. These sections are the high point of Ganbare Goemon 3 for me. Leaping around and swatting foes with Goemon and crew is always great fun, although I still prefer the more straightforward and challenging takes on the concept seen in those other games I mentioned.
Of course, no Ganbare Goemon outing after 1993 would be complete without the gang’s mighty mecha, Impact. This towering metal Goemon doppelganger pops in every few hours to add some spectacle in the form of a Godzilla-inspired mass destruction mini-game followed by a first-person boss fight against an enemy mech. Not much has changed in terms of how these battles play out. Impact can again punch, block, shoot coins from his nose as projectile weapons, and launch a limited number of bombs from his pipe. It’s worth noting that the enemies you face as Impact are significantly easier to defeat this time around. I burned many a continue on Ganbare Goemon 2’s Impact battles, yet had no such trouble here.
So far, we’ve established this as by-the-numbers action-adventure with some decent platforming and giant robot brawls thrown in. A little personality goes a long way, though, and Ganbare Goemon 3 has a lot more than most. Both the past and present are brimming with the quirky characters and irreverent dialogue fans have come to love. From a ninja who’s mastered the art of turning into a chicken to a pregnant Demi Moore, you never know who or what’s coming next. This anarchic sense of humor extends to the smallest details of the art and animation, too. If you don’t laugh out loud the first time you see Ebisumaru’s crawl, you should probably get yourself checked by a doctor. The soundtrack has all the quality and scope you’d expect out of ’90s Konami, offering a pleasing blend of classical Japanese instrumentation in past Oedo along with funk, techo, and industrial influences for its future incarnation. If you’re looking to understand the difference between a likable work and a lovable one, Ganbare Goemon 3 makes for an excellent object lesson.
There is one word of caution I should relay, however. Ganbare Goemon 3 has a secret final boss and extended ending scene that are only accessible if you’ve maxed out your health bar by collecting every hidden Maneki-neko (lucky cat) statue along the way. Pretty cool, huh? The downside is that once Goemon and friends journey to the future about a third of the way in, there’s no going back. That means that if you miss even one lucky cat in all of past Oedo, you’re permanently barred from achieving the best ending on that playthrough. The unnecessarily punishing execution of this feature is a real bummer. I actually ended up scrapping my whole save file once I realized I’d screwed myself and starting over. Hopefully you can learn from my mistake and be extra thorough in the early going. Assuming you care about achieving the best ending, that is.
Ganbare Goemon 3 isn’t my personal favorite of the saga. As stated, I tend to favor the faster-paced action-platformers. That said, it’s a well-crafted game with charm to spare and I’m glad I was finally able to experience it. It’s also an important one, given that it served as the template for several later action-adventure entries in the franchise, including the beloved Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon for the Nintendo 64. If you’re a Link to the Past junkie looking to take a break from Hyrule, it’s worth a go. Just make sure that creepy Wise Man keeps his hands where you can see them.