Review: Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
Developer: Game Republic/ Publisher: Namco Bandai / ESRB: Teen
So the other day, Justin asked me if I’d like to review Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“It’s this new puzzle platforming game where you and a giant monster solve puzzles in the ruins of an ancient kingdom.”
“Oh, you mean The Last Guardian.”
“No, it’s Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom.”
“Oh, so Team Ico changed the name of The Last Guardian.”
“No, it’s a different game from Game Republic with the same basic concept. They claim it’s just a coincidence, like Armageddon and Deep Impact coming out in the same year.”
“So what you’re saying… is that it’s LIKE The Last Guardian.”
“STOP SAYING THE LAST GUARDIAN! …And yes.”
“Sounds fun…! Oh, and one more thing: The Last Guardian.”
In Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, an underdog hero must fight to save a kingdom that has been conquered by a dark, evil force. So it’s not very original. You play as Tepeu, a “young thief who lived in a forest isolated from humankind” (making me wonder from whom exactly he’s thieving). The darkness has started overtaking the forest, so Tepeu and an army of adorable forest critters decide to free the Majin, a benevolent but powerful monster who has been imprisoned by the enemy for a century. Together, Tepeu and the Majin will join forces to unlock all of the monster’s powers and bring the ruined kingdom back to its former glory.
The Majin may have the power of a god, but he’s also childlike and occasionally helpless. There are moments in which his naïveté is endearing – I like the way he sometimes stumbles as he’s trying to catch up to you – but when he’s ineffectual (usually because he can’t do something you tell him to) his simplicity makes him the object of pity, or worse, irritation. At best, you’ll genuinely care about the beast and want to learn more about the occasionally intriguing history of the land. At worst, he’ll make you feel like a bad person for resenting a creature that depends on you.
Majin is a two-player game for only one player: you play as Tepeu and you order the Majin around as necessary to defeat enemies and solve puzzles. You’ll need him to kill enemies permanently (he eats their darkness, which sounds kind of dirty to me), and to perform key actions that allow you to progress. Sometimes you’ll work in tandem, climbing on his back to reach high places or teaming up to arm a catapult, while other times you’ll perform separate actions across the room from each other. A decent system, but does it work? Well… mostly.
The Majin’s A.I. is a little on the slow side. You can order him to attack a specific enemy – say, the powerful kind that summons other enemies – and he’ll throw one punch before getting distracted by a passing nuisance monster, leaving you all alone to get your ass kicked until you summon him again. He gets magical powers to help in combat, but his aim is frequently off and the amount of time it takes for him to recharge seems set on “Random.” But then, with the exception of some (reasonably clever) boss fights, the fighting is merely a way to extend gameplay and keep you engaged while you’re figuring out what to do next.
The world of Majin is big and sprawling, with everything interconnected but only gradually unlocked after defeating boss enemies or gaining new powers. As a result, there’s a lot of frustrating backtracking and a lot of lengthy explorations that end with the discovery that you wasted 20 minutes trying get somewhere completely inaccessible for now, which is extremely frustrating. That’s a fundamental design flaw with this kind of game. Most of the time you’re exactly where you need to be, solving puzzles that are just challenging enough without ever graduating to outright pains in your ass. A hint system, or at least a clear list of objectives, would have been appreciated, but otherwise this is an above-average game in its genre. Slightly, anyway.
Visually, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is hardly impressive but really… it looks all right. The environments are a little blocky and texturing is hardly of the Uncharted 2 level of quality, but then again too much detail could have made the environments look confusing. The world tries to take on a pleasing storybook quality, but when that fails it just looks like a standard puzzle-platformer: a little cartoonish, a little blocky, vaguely reminiscent of Jak and Daxter. The character design is pretty standard: the enemies are all black slime monsters, but at least their silhouettes make them easy to distinguish at a distance. Not much to complain about, but hardly four stars.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom won’t make the most of those fancy 7.1 surround sound speakers of yours. The sound effects are decent but unremarkable, and the music is of the standard fantasy game variety: appropriately orchestral but without a memorable theme a la the Legend of Zelda franchise. The music fits snugly in the background, and the only time it stands out is when the string section goes nuts after an enemy spots you. Since this happens all the damned time that particular piece of music rapidly becomes the bane of your existence, and the only cue you’re likely to remember after the fact.
The voice-over performances are generic, and in the case of the talking animals, aggravatingly cheerful and borderline condescending, like the performances in a bad elementary school play about the importance of sharing. Painful stuff, but at least you can usually choose when (or if) you want to hear it.
If you find a copy of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom in your stocking this year you won’t have much to complain about: it controls reasonably well, it’s fairly long and even if you’re buying it yourself the price is right (SRP $39.99). The flaws are unmistakable but rarely a real nuisance, so fans of the puzzle-platforming genre are likely to enjoy it. At least it gives them something to do until The Last Guardian comes out.