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Majin and the
The storyline does not quite work as it did in those games – whereas Team Ico’s games are renowned for their minimalist style that leaves much of the story open to interpretation, Majin over-explains certain plot elements while leaving others underdeveloped. The game does build the same relationship with an A.I. character, like Ico did with Yorda and Shadow of the Colossus did with your horse. In this case, it takes the form of the giant-like “Majin.” And speaking of Colossus, the Majin looks a lot like one of that game’s titular creatures if it had been designed by Jim Henson. He has a wide grin on his face, little trees grow out of his back and he happily licks his chops whenever you approach with one of his power-granting fruit that are scattered across the game world.
Commanding the Majin, which the player does as the human thief Tepeau, is the highlight of the game. He responds quickly and intuitively to a series of commands given by holding down a shoulder button and pressing one of the face buttons. “Attack,” “Wait,” “Follow” and the all-encompassing “Act” commands are always just a few button presses away. The same ease of control cannot be said of Tepeau, unfortunately. His main defensive move in combat is a dodge roll, and he will only go in the direction you want about half the time. The game also asks you to pull off a lot of acrobatics as Tepeau, which is a daunting task since he has platforming skills on par with a piece of driftwood. A quick tip – treat all ledges in this game as if they were about a foot shorter than they actually are as Tepeau is much too eager to plummet off them.
The game revolves around Tepeau and the Majin working together to solve puzzles with the ultimate goal of defeating the darkness that conquered their ruined kingdom 100 years ago. While the puzzles in many areas boil down to “throw this switch, then have the Majin open this door,” there are some genuinely clever ones involving the use of the Majin’s different elemental abilities, which you unlock over the course of the game. The lightning power is put to especially good use, allowing the Majin to restore power to derelict machines, sometimes with the help of cleverly placed conductors by Tepeau. Other puzzles include using the Majin’s wind power to blow swinging platforms or having him breathe fire to ignite bombs.
Once you hit the halfway point, though, you stop seeing a lot of new puzzles. Conversely, the further you get in the game the more emphasis is placed on combat which is not the game’s strong suit. While the Majin’s elemental powers are fun to use against small groups of enemies, combat devolves into huge battles towards the end. This results in the Majin getting swarmed by foes which means his attacks get interrupted easily. There’s not a lot the player can do as Tepeau either, as his strategy comes down to just mashing the attack button over and over. Also, there is no reliable way to deal with long-range enemies which become very frequent in later areas. They’re typically located up high on narrow walkways, which means you just have to bum rush them as Tepeau and hope the Majin can take care of himself.
The flaws in Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom are all the more frustrating because there are some legitimately good things about it. There’s some great music, the game’s characters and enemies look great and there are really clever visual cues, such as Tepeau becoming covered in darkness the more damage he takes and blue lightning bugs that hover over important objects. And though the architecture can be repetitive in places, the game’s ruined kingdom inspires the same sense of fairy-tale wonder that Ico and Colossus’ worlds do.
For all the game’s problems, I found that I enjoyed exploring its world, especially finding all the items to improve the Majin’s stats. What can I say, I took ownership over the big, goofy guy. Even with his dopey voice (the best, marginally, in a pretty horrid voice cast), I found the character and the ability to control him endearing. And, without giving too much away, I did choke up a bit at the ending. It’s the Majin’s charm which pushes this game above the rank of average, though just barely.