Several months ago, the eShop saw the release of Avenging Spirit, a gleefully eccentric title that made us all sorry we missed it the first time around. Lightning doesn't strike twice for Jaleco with Maru's Mission, however, as this time the publisher has dusted off a forgotten title that really should have stayed that way.
The game begins with Maru and his girlfriend walking through Central Park, where they are assaulted by Muramasa and, through some of the most static animation you'll ever see outside of a child's Colorforms set, Maru's significant other is kidnapped. To get her back he'll have to conquer some of the scariest baddies ever, such as Dracula, Medusa, and the most terrifying of them all: awful controls.
The controls are, to be blunt, terrible. They're loose, they're sloppy and they often don't make any sense. For example, jumping: Maru will continue to rise in the air as long as you hold down the A button, meaning he essentially flies. He can even leave the screen. This renders every single platforming obstacle in the game moot, as the developers didn't seem to remember that their protagonist has this ability, nor is it ever explained, justified or used. Why this otherwise normal schoolboy can ascend heavenward on command is never addressed, and why the game bothers to give you lame platforming puzzles when you have the ability to quietly float over them is an even greater mystery.
Your default weapon is throwing stars, and you can fire them in four directions: you won't find much use for that, either, as most enemies can be taken out with complete safety from the front. Periodically you will be given a special weapon, but try as you might you won't be able to use it until the level-ending boss fight, where it's mandatory. This is confusing, because no matter what you press when you get the weapon, it won't work. Find the boss, though, and suddenly you can switch to the weapon after all, by pressing select. It's a confusing and pointless complication for something that should be very simple.
The search for your girlfriend will take you through six regions all over the globe, and you'd think that with only six levels they wouldn't have to repeat background elements and enemies, but you'd be wrong. Maru's Mission pretends to be a globe-trotting epic, but in reality it might as well play out in somebody's tiny back yard.
No level feels particularly different from any other, with the exception of one that makes the controls even more frustrating by giving you the ability to walk on the ceiling. Sometimes. And not other times.
Between certain levels you'll be presented with a bonus game, which sees Maru swimming in the ocean. While swimming you'll need to fend off swarms of sharks and manta rays before they kill you which, to us, sounds like a pretty liberal application of the term ‘bonus game’, particularly when any damage you sustain carries over into the next level proper.
The main issue with Maru's Mission, though, is the sheer number of glitches. We played this game from front to back in under an hour, and even in that short period of time there were more glitches on display than we could count. Enemies exploded for no reason, other enemies glitched through walls and floors, items appeared and vanished where they didn't belong, bosses spawned improperly so that there were two of them where there should only be one, inanimate objects took damage and Maru's health meter started displaying random letters instead of numbers. In short, this game is a mess.
And, yes, you read that right. You can complete all six levels in a very short period of time, but unlike other such games there's no reason to come back again. Avenging Spirit offered a similarly brief experience, but it was at least challenging, which Maru's Mission fails to be, and there were enough characters in that game to warrant several playthroughs, at least. Here, there's nothing to come back to: no harder mode, no hidden levels, no secrets to find, and precious little fun to be had.
Maru's Mission is tedious, buggy, unsatisfying and chock full of absolutely terrible spritework and animation. The music, in the interest of fairness, is decent, and the game is playable, barely.
Make no mistake; Maru's Mission is a bad game. Rife with glitches, boggled by its own gameplay and utterly devoid of replay value, there's almost nothing here worth genuine consideration. With a front-to-back experience that clocks in at well under an hour, it seems hollow, slight and not worth even the small amount of time you'll spend with it. We can't in good conscience recommend this one, even to die hard platforming fans.