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Gaming Evolution
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Gaming Evolution
Gaming Evolution
Published By: Namco Bandai Games
Developed By: Game Republic (JP)
Genre: Action
Players: 1
Rated: T for Teen (Animated Blood, Violence)
Release Date: November 23, 2010
Screenshots: Link
Amazon: Buy Now!
Written By: Christian Higley

December 11, 2010 - Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom was sent to die. In a peak holiday-season barrage of AAA sequels, this quiet, charming, beautiful budget title was shoved out of the nest with nothing but a demo and a prayer. I canít see how Majin can survive the onslaught that is the games industryís fourth quarter, which is a shame, because a lot of people are going to miss out on something special.

In pre-release coverage, Majin has drawn a lot of comparisons to the critical darlings birthed by Team Ico: Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and, especially, the upcoming Last Guardian. The player, as the forest thief, Tepeu, teams up with the behemoth Majin to explore a ruined kingdom and fight the dark spirits that infest its bones.

The premise certainly sounds familiar; like Ico and Yorda, Wander and Aggro, or the boy and the gryphon in Last Guardian, the symbiotic bond between Tepeu and the Majin is central to both the gameplay and the story. You can climb on the Majinís back to reach high platforms, order him to push or lift heavy objects and, of course, fight enemies you would never stand a chance against. Similarly, the slow-moving Majin needs you to distract enemies so he can land a hit, find fruit to power him up, and generally tell him what to do.

The relationship between the player and the Majin is the heart of the gameís theme. And here is where Game Republic walks a tight line: youíre either going to love or hate the dopey, clumsy, grammatically-challenged giant. The Majin talks a lot, often just for the sake of adding flavor to the game. He asks for your help, narrates your actions and broadcasts your successes with brief game-interrupting victory animations. Heís slow, he canít take care of himself, and sometimes he just stumbles to the ground for no reason. If all of this sounds frustrating to you, then -- well, I donít blame you. On paper, it sounds frustrating to me too.

In practice, the Majinís relative helplessness only endeared me to him, in approximation to how a parent is endeared to their child. Tepeu really canít hold his own in a fight and thatís where he needs the Majin most of all, but most of the time you are the Majinís guardian. Your actions guide him through the world, make him stronger, protect him, enable him, give him the tools he needs to see this journey through.

As an aside, this is one area where the game didnít go as far as it could have. While Majin has two different endings depending on your actions, there are no moral decisions. Usually, Iím not a fan of shoehorning a binary moral system into a game, but it could have been handled so much more meaningfully than usual in Majin: two different endings depending on what your actions actually teach to the Majin. Basically, how did your parenting affect him? Something like this would have made getting the Ďtrueí ending more meaningful than simply accumulating a certain number of arbitrary collectibles did.

The core design of the game has more in common with Metroidvanias or the Legend of Zelda series. The focus of the gameplay is on exploration, treasure-hunting and backtracking. As the Majin gains new powers, youíll be able to explore new areas and claim the goodies contained therein. And, naturally, every area has a boss to be defeated using whatever new power you gained there.

The exploration-heavy design conceit itself is certainly nothing special, but fortunately, the eponymous Forsaken Kingdom begs to be explored. In short, the place is beautiful. Strictly speaking, Majinís graphics arenít going to impress anyone; geometry is basic and some textures are muddy and repetitive. But like other graphically-limited games, such as World of Warcraft or any number of indie hits, Majin leans on its artistic advantages. The lighting and colors of the world are stunning. Often, I found myself stopping just to watch a waterfall or admire a ĎTree of LifeíĚ glowing in the moonlight.

Regardless of the gameís beauty, Majinís exploration does become a chore, if only due to the gameís reliance on its awkward and broken platforming. Tepeuís jumping is floaty and most of his animations are too long, making timing a frustrating fight with the controller. Often, thereís no way to tell if Tepeu can or canít grab on to a particular ledge; even when he can, thereís no telling if he will. Itís a shame that the game falters in such a big way, in such a crucial area.

Fortunately, combat controls much more responsively. While combat is about as basic as it can get, really only requiring the player to button-mash and execute combination moves with the Majin when a prompt appears, I didnít feel the lack of control that I felt when platforming. Besides, as Tepeu, your only real role in combat is to set up the Majin to deliver the pain, whether by having him execute traps or ambushes by pushing things onto enemies, unleashing a stunning roar or devastating flame breath, or by old-fashioned punching and kicking.

Thereís no denying Majin and the Forsaken Kingdomís status as a budget title with a slightly higher budget than most. While its world is beautiful and its melancholic soundtrack is one of the best Iíve heard in a while, its design is familiar, its mechanics are straightforward and its execution is flawed, though fun. But if youíre looking for a way to combat big-budget sequel-itis this holiday season, then Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a safe -- not to mention, charming, sweet, beautiful, fun and endearing -- bet.


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