Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom Review
During the holidays, we set aside the stress of the rest of the year and trade it for fun, fantasy and a well-deserved break. This season, Game Republic (makers of 2007’s beautiful, if flawed, fantasy action RPG, Folklore) brings us Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom, an action-platformer that also takes place in a fantasy setting and is similarly easy on the eye, but adopts a unique, puzzle-based approach that’s ultimately more successful.
Majin tells of a once-great kingdom fallen to the forces of Darkness. Its inhabitants having mysteriously vanished, the kingdom’s fate lies in the hands of a simple thief. Taking a break from his usual thieving activities, he sets out to free an imprisoned mythical creature rumored to have the power to save the kingdom, and it’s there your journey begins. You play as the young nameless thief, a guy who’s part Prince of Persia and part Disney’s Aladdin. In the tradition of these two characters, your cleverness far outstrips your brawn so your best bet when confronted by danger is to run, rather than jumping in headlong. Being a thief, you’re also a fair hand at sneaking so when the opportunity presents itself, you creep up behind your enemies and take them down before they even know you’re there.
Of course, this approach applies mostly before you free the mythical Majin. The Majin it turns out, is a huge, adorable muppet-like creature whose main attractions are a sweet disposition, a big pair of horns and moss growing all over his back side. In addition to this, his main claim to fame is that during the war against the Darkness, he’d fought alongside the good guys. Once you free this gentle giant, the game plays out like a Hollywood buddy movie – the two of you become a team, traveling, strategizing and kicking ass together. Aside from saving the kingdom, the main point of the game is to restore the Majin’s powers, powers that before he was captured, enabled him to control the elements of wind, fire and lightning, not to mention the ability to absorb the darkness. These powers having been stolen from him, he’s weak and it’s up to you to search throughout the kingdom and locate the magical fruit that will once again restore his strength.
Weak as he is, even from the beginning, the Majin is a good guy to have at your side--sort of like Patrick Swayze in Road House, only chunkier. The two of you can double-team enemies and perform powerful combination attacks. Generally, the Majin pounds an enemy, knocking it down, allowing you to come in and whack on it with your magical stake until an icon appears indicating you can press the B button to activate a team attack. (Oh right, I almost forgot. Your main weapon is a pointed metal stake with a ring at the end of it that you get upon freeing the Majin. When you find him he's chained to it, but once he yanks it out of the ground, it becomes a convenient sword-slash-bludgeon, imbued with blue, glowy magical powers.) Fun as combat is however, it’s not the focus of the game. This is even more evident when you reach the cleverly-conceived boss fights, which could easily have become exhausting exercises in button mashing but instead ask you to you use your wits as well as the environment in order to become victorious.
While teaming up with the Majin is the key to success in the game, you never have direct control over him. What you do instead is hold the right trigger and direct him to do things like follow you, attack, turn cranks, open doors or crouch so you can use him as the world’s lumpiest step ladder. The game is designed to take full advantage of this buddy system and nearly every area requires you to work together, using each character’s unique abilities, to get where you need to go. Granted, on occasion you’ll want to throttle the Majin for seeming to fight when you want him to follow or for moving too slowly when you’re navigating a complex space. These problems are minimal however.
For the most part, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a skillfully-designed game, and its art direction is no less skillfully done. The 2D cutout intro sequence and subsequent cinematics are fine examples of expert visual design and the in-game environments are varied and beautiful. Your adventure takes you to every corner of the kingdom, through deserts and jungles, mines and magical crystal lands. The character design by contrast is uneven; the Majin is a highly lovable creature (I want one, stuffed) but Tepeu is a little generic and his eyes are so big, they nearly take over his entire face. The creatures of Darkness too are odd, being somewhat over-designed and looking like collections of reptilian or insectile bones held together by big, sticky globs of tar. The sound design is less successful than that of the art, consisting of a forgettable voice for Tepeu and some outright annoying voices for the many talking animals you encounter. The music is pretty good though, calling to mind at times Fable’s fanciful soundtrack and at others evoking something from the Arabian Nights.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a polished and entertaining action adventure. While some gamers may see nods to previous titles in the genre (or to others not even out yet, like the upcoming The Last Guardian), overall it offers a unique form of puzzle-solving fun that’s all its own. For fans of games like Fable, Ico and the Oddworld series, it’s the perfect game to curl up on the couch with this holiday season.