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access_time January 17, 2021 at 1:41 PM in Features by David Poole

Bring it Back | Ganbare Goemon (Mystical Ninja)

It’s Sunday and that means it’s time for our second entry in our Bring it Back series. After starting out last week with our Final Fight feature, this time we focus on a somewhat more obscure franchise. At least, the obscurity depends on where you live. For those in Japan, the Ganbare Goemon franchise is pretty well known. In other regions, the Mystical Ninja series saw only a fraction of what the franchise offered. Konami’s series about ninjas in a comical and cartoony world were pretty popular in the 90s, but sometime in the mid 2000s, the series faded away. This isn’t the only Konami franchise to do this (and many Bring it Back entries will focus on Konami titles), but this is one of the more iconic ones to suddenly disappear.

Ganbare Goemon started out with pretty normal roots with the first title, the arcade classic Mr. Goemon. Taking inspiration from the famed thief Ishikawa Goemon, the character of Goemon was a ninja thief that took some design tips from traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre. A couple games later, the series began to take on a more stylistic approach, and Goemon’s character design changed to what we know today. With that time, Goemon also went from being a thief to a more traditional hero as well. One thing that always remained the same was his weapon of choice, a kiseru (smoking pipe). It’s not your typical weapon, especially for a ninja, but it’s remained to this day.

The series itself has a bit of an identity crisis. Most of the games are scrolling platformers, but some even take on similarities to The Legend of Zelda series using RPG elements. The games would also start to introduce more characters to join Goemon’s team of ninja. This includes the lovable but strange Ebisumaru, Goemon’s best friend introduced in Ganbare Goemon 2. The 4th game, Ganbare Goemon Gaiden: Kieta Ōgon Kiseru, introduced the female ninja Yae to the team. Finally, the 5th game, Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki, introduced the mechanical ninja Sasuke. These would be the staple characters for the rest of the franchise. Bringing their own unique skills to the team, players would have some variety in the gameplay.

After a few games on Nintendo’s Famicom system, the series made the jump to the next generation. It was also when the series first made it outside of Japan. Ganbare Goemon: Yukihime Kyuushutsu Emaki was localized to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. Not only did the game receive a different title, but the main characters were renamed as well. Goemon was now Kid Ying and Ebisumaru was Dr. Yang. The game also has a hilariously interpreted boxart for the Super Nintendo. Despite this, it was the first time America and Europe would get to experience the series. Using a lot of Japanese folklore and themes, it was pretty different to what Americans were used to at the time.

Despite the release on the Super Nintendo in 1992, Americans wouldn’t get to see a return of their “Mystical Ninja” until six years later. In the meantime, Japan got five more games during that gap. It wouldn’t be until the Nintendo 64 that we would see a return. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon was released on the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy in 1998. This was back when both platforms often came out with games at the same time. Of course, both games were completely different (and in Japan, completely different titles). Regardless, now our character was sporting his proper name and look. Of course, there were still content changes, like one character’s collection of adult magazines becoming car magazines.

The Nintendo 64 era was arguably the biggest time for the series, as it was the first transition to 3D models. Characters started to come to life in new ways and even gained voices. We would even get to see the giant robot battles with the Impact gameplay. Of course, Goemon’s popularity didn’t just limit him to games. The series made its way into multiple anime adaptations and manga series. In Japan, this was a character that was heavily known, a luxury that America and Europe didn’t really have. That exposure made for quite the imbalance, but America still got to know the characters a bit more thanks to the Nintendo 64 games.

Goemon’s Great Adventure was the second game for the platform, making quite a few improvements and even including multiplayer. The game is considered one of the best platformers on the system to worldwide critical acclaim. Despite this, it was the last game in the series to receive any localization. Japan would continue to see games and spin-offs, spanning platforms like PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo DS. The series even took on a more serious tone with Bouken Jidai Katsugeki Goemon, playing more like a 3D adventure title. Some of the games even took on a futuristic approach with the descendants of the characters. Despite the continued development in Japan, it suddenly halted in 2005.

With all these titles and different takes on the series, it’s strange to see that the franchise just… stopped. This has become common with many Konami franchises, and even carries over to releasing Pachinko machines in 2009 and 2011. The characters would continue to make appearances in other Konami content including mobile games and even Yu-Gi-Oh! titles. Some of the older games would even see releases on Xbox 360’s Game Room and Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Most recently, the character became a Mii costume in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Considering that this is now the 35th anniversary year of the franchise, it’s time to Bring it Back!

As mentioned earlier, many Konami franchises are currently under lock and key. Despite this, some did see anniversary titles, like Castlevania Anniversary Collection or Contra Anniversary Collection. Contra did get a new game with Contra: Rogue Corps only months later, so there’s some significance to these anniversaries. With the 35th anniversary of Ganbare Goemon, it would be great to see a Goemon Anniversary Collection. This would also be a good opportunity to bring Japanese only titles to other regions. Konami was hesitant to bring the games over due to the Japanese flavoring, but western markets accept Japanese themes and ideas a lot easier now than they used to. Perhaps an anniversary collection would be a great way to test the waters for a new game.

The biggest question for a new game would be the direction to go. Would it be best to revive the classic Goemon? Or would they want to try reinventing the character again? It’s hard to say since Japan was the only place to experience a large bulk of the titles. Most Americans and Europeans don’t have the spin-offs to try and see if they would like it. If you ask me, they should try the classic series first. Start with the roots and build a great game from it. Contra got a new game with a reboot, but it didn’t get a great reception. Maybe even get the involvement of an outside developer like Treasure. The possibilities are endless and the ball is in Konami’s court for a new Ganbare Goemon. These characters deserve a new life for the world to experience.

Do you think the Ganbare Goemon series is due for a comeback? Let us know in the comments below! And stay tuned for next Sunday when we look back at a classic series from Square Enix.

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