Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (Xbox 360, Playstation 3)

It’s hard to play “Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom” without thinking of the 2010’s excellent “Enslaved: Odyssey to the West”, since both games encompass and emphasize cooperative gameplay in which two characters make it through the world and must work together to find items, solve puzzles and defeat enemies. Both games provide a solid story-driven experience, but Majin is one of those games that falls into the “good and almost great” category, excelling on many levels but ultimately falling short of being a landmark title.

The story of Majin is rather simplistic but it’s engaging enough to keep you interested. A once prosperous kingdom has been enveloped in an evil force that has thrown it into darkness and chaos. Many have tried to save the kingdom and none have prevailed, and this is where you come in. You control a young man known only as Tepeu and he is charged with the quest of freeing the kingdom from the darkness. His first order of business is to awaken the Majin, a mythical monster who possesses the power and strength to free the kingdom and vanquish the monsters that have overtaken it. Sadly, when we first meet the Majin, he is a shell of his former self; his powers have been taken away and placed into magical fruits scattered throughout the world. As you progress through the game, you will find these fruits and the Majin will gradually get his powers back, which includes the ability to use wind and lightening to great effect. That’s the story in a nutshell, unremarkable but still fun and serviceable.

The gameplay is a mixture of the cooperative platforming of Enslaved and the environmental puzzle solving of Ico. With the Majin to command at your beckon, you can use him to knock down walls, manipulate parts of the environment and bead down enemies. It’s that latter part that is integral to the gameplay because your character is abysmally underpowered in combat, so commanding the Majin to pummel enemies is the only way short of running that you will survive the waves of enemy encounters. Having the Majin collapse a wall onto a cluster of enemies or executing a cinematic finishing move is very satisfying, but combat ultimately feels half-baked. Your character only has two combat moves and you never improve to the point where you feel powerful, so the Majin will do the lion’s share of the fighting and this can make battles feel drawn out and tedious at times. Having said that, combat is not the main objective of the game, so you can sneak by enemies and avoid combat on most occasions. In terms of controls, Majin is a pleasant and responsive platformer that is not overly complex, so novice gamers should find this relatively accessible, while there is enough depth in the puzzle solving to give more seasoned gamers some challenge. The puzzles are a mix of flipping switches, manipulating the environments and using the Majin’s strength to access impassable areas, and some of them are very challenging and well designed.

Visually, the lush environments and well-designed levels look great, however people looking to nitpick will find plenty to dislike as well. The environments look good, but a close-up reveals plenty of pixilation and rough textures, and the character animation (especially the voice synching) is laughably bad at times. Personally, the above doesn’t bother me as I care more about gameplay and story than I do about the visuals, so I can easily forgive any technical imperfections. If the game has a serious deficiency, it’s definitely in the voice acting. Imagine the hammiest voice acting from a bad children’s television show and you’ve got a good idea of what to expect here, it’s beyond terrible. The Majin himself comes across sounding like the Abominable Snowman in Looney Tunes, and his constant cave man talk (“Majin fall down. Majin sad”) will your nerves after a while. The other characters you meet along the way fare little better, so if there is one area this game really falters, it’s in the voice acting.

At the end of the day, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a good game that provides a solid experience for people looking for a quality puzzle-based platformer. Neither the gameplay or the story are innovative on any level, but the gameplay is solid and the controls are responsive, which is what I look most for in a game. Some people will find the visuals, story and especially the voice acting to be below-pay for a next-gen title, but Majin is a game that’s better than the sum of it’s parts. There is enough charm and challenge here to hold your interest, so I recommend picking up this game if the above intrigues you.

Rating: 7/10

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