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Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
Graphics: 7.2
Gameplay: 8.1
Sound: 7.8
Control: 7.4
Replay Value: 7.5
Rating: 7.6

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is just one of those games. I sit there playing it, enjoying myself for the most part, knowing it isn’t a big-budget blockbuster that can compete with the big boys, but also knowing it could prove entertaining for the right person. …but then I go, “well, what person?” It’s a little too challenging and a touch too dark to be strictly for kids, despite some elements lending themselves well to the younger age group, and at the same time, it won’t be high on the priority list of any hardcore gamer. Then again, it’s only $40 and offers a refreshing reprieve from some of the over-the-top insane productions that require our wide-eyed attention and dedication. In other words, I’m left with the following quandary: Game Republic has a decent game here and I’d like to recommend it to somebody…I’m just not sure who. Well, maybe it’s worth putting on the holiday wish list. How about that?

The graphics are the game’s weak point, as they’re not as sharply refined as we’re used to seeing this generation. The visual presentation simply seems dated, despite a few nice character and enemy design touches, and great environmental construction. The animations aren’t too bad but they’re not especially impressive, and although the Majin and certain bosses really enhance the good side of the graphics, the overall palette is just lacking. It reminds me of an early PS3 game, with admittedly better definition and a few extra high points. On the plus side, it’s a very consistent production so you never look in one direction and go, “eww…now that’s just awful.” Thankfully, only the glimpses of graphical quality stand out and for the most part, you’re focused on the interesting world design, which means you won’t be complaining (much). The special effects can be pretty cool, too, even if they aren’t overly “special.”

The sound benefits from a thoughtful and well-implemented soundtrack that swells at the right moments and enhances the atmosphere. The voices are hit or miss, as I didn’t mind the main character and his colossal buddy, but a few of the animals you speak to in your travels are mediocre when it comes to voice performances. The effects are out of balance and can easily override the music at any given time – especially when performing a shocking stealth kill; that might hurt your speakers – but there’s nothing technically wrong with their composition or style. It’s a mix, really, and the positives do outweigh the negatives. I sort of question the Majin’s voice, though; it’s well done and even interesting but I’m not sure why he has to sound like a brainless, albeit lovable, oaf. All I could think of is Lenny from “Of Mice and Men.” But anyway, the combination of some helpful, fitting music, okay effects, and a few decent voicevers results in a game with mostly attractive sound.

I had to smile a little when playing the adventure, because sometimes I feel as if this type of game is falling by the wayside. It’s a classic action/adventure with platforming, exploration, puzzles, combat, and a focus on cooperative gameplay; the latter quickly becomes the crux of the entertainment. I just haven’t played something like this in a while, that’s all. You run around an environment with plenty of distinctly different locations, obtaining fresh power for yourself and the Majin, and backtracking through the expansive areas when you’ve collected necessary items and skills. The Majin is your friend for life after you free him from the darkness in the beginning, and you must work together to battle the forces of evil that hold sway. There’s also the mystery of the Majin’s missing memory, which can be restored by collecting memory coins that sometimes pop up during the night.  They're definitely worth collecting.

It’s a cool concept and the combination of various elements really makes it feel like a true-blue action/adventure. The puzzles you face involve both platforming elements and your helpful, if a little cumbersome, Majin. You won’t face too many similar puzzles in a row and although the enemies are downright deaf and dumb, they can still pose a formidable challenge if you haven’t been conscientiously exploring your world. Exploring nets you special fruits for your powerful friend, along with blue fragments that act like experience and levels up the main character. You will even find what they call “Outfits” but are essentially new equipment that can be equipped at save points. You will not only see this new equipment on your body; you will also see that it helps a great deal during the course of your quest. Grabbing as many secrets as you can find should be a priority.

The control is good but the camera isn’t perfect, and there are times when there seems to be a bit of a delay in responsiveness; i.e., “I hit that button and he didn’t do anything.” The camera will shake and shimmy when jammed into a tight area and because the Majin is so huge, that can cause even more visibility problems. Really, the only issue I would usually have with combat is that I just couldn’t see well enough. A simple solution the developers could’ve employed would’ve been to pull the camera back from the field of battle. By just placing the view further away, we would’ve been better off. Also, some of the puzzles seem a little obscure and you receive no help or hints from anything besides a few signs and forest friends, who usually tell you something you already know. Enemy AI is laughable, too: you can pop out from behind a pillar, have a foe see you, and his eye will turn red. But when he starts in your direction, you can go behind the very same pillar, and he’ll just lose sight of you and eventually, return to his position.  Funny, but wrong.

This can be abused throughout most of the game, although I will say I appreciate the stealth addition to this solid adventure, because it’s yet another facet that adds to the variety. But the little drawbacks start to pile up fast. The somewhat iffy control, the camera that can wack out big time, the less-than-impressive technicals, the sort of uninteresting story…it all holds this one back. At the same time, I kept playing because the core mechanic is fun. The co-op gameplay featuring the hero and the Majin works very well; giving him direction is as simple as holding R2 and hitting one of the face buttons. You can order him to follow and wait, crouch down to climb on his back, open heavy doors, or attack enemies. The Majin must be kept alive by feeding him special power-giving fruit, but he’s capable of restoring all your health; just stand in front of him after all the baddies are gone and wait. Also, some of the puzzles are ingeniously designed.

Some might complain about the backtracking but I won’t. I will complain about the ridiculous respawning, though: you can walk maybe twenty paces in any given direction after a battle, wait a few minutes, and turn around to see those very same creatures back in place. Sure, it’s great for power-leveling but it soon gets tiresome and puts a big hitch in the flow and pacing of the adventure. Then again, I almost always had fun fighting. It’s pretty easy; just hack away with the Square button, dodge with the Triangle, and hit the Circle button for a finishing combo when it becomes available. You will also gain new combat skills for both you and the Majin; the first has the Majin throwing you downwards at unfortunate foes. I also really liked running around finding secrets, solving those occasionally elaborate and typically satisfying puzzles, and nailing the unwary enemies in the back, all stealthy-like. The varying environments and inspired areas also kept me interested.  It really is a nice little package.

Majin: The Forsaken Kingdom isn’t a flashy game that’s going to turn heads. But it’s a decent game that almost feels like a throwback to a time when 3D action/adventure without much in the way of frills dominated. It’s fun, engaging, and that co-op emphasis works out extremely well. The story is a little bland, the technical parts are outdated, the AI is braindead, and the control/camera can chafe. But the great game setup, rewards for exploration, intriguing atmosphere, well-constructed puzzles, and focus on fulfilling partner play wins the day. Like I said at the start, I want to recommend it…but only to certain people. Is it worth $40? Well, yeah. If this is your cup of tea and you don’t plan to immerse yourself in GT5 for months.

The Good: Co-op gameplay works nicely and keeps us interested. Challenging, well designed puzzles. Decent, fitting music. Classic action/adventure theme is appreciated. Explorers and thinkers will be rewarded.

The Bad: Lacking technicals. Terrible enemy AI. Backtracking can get tedious. Control and camera aren’t 100% reliable.

The Ugly: Don’t get too close to some of the textures…

11/23/2010   Ben Dutka