When a big budget blockbuster game is released, it is usually surrounded by all manner of celebration, the availability of the game being shouted from the rooftops and gamers being tempted by it’s well known gameplay at every turn. It does not necesarily mean that the game is actually any good, but it at least guarantees decent sales, justifying the amount of money spent on the games promotion.
Then there are great games, games that spark the imagination and even, sometimes, offer a tale that has meaning beyond killing everything that moves, that fade into the background. These overlooked games have, for whatever reason, not been hyped to the same degree as the blockbusters, preferring to sit back and watch the circus safe in the knowledge that they offer an experience that satisfies beyond the usual, run of the mill games. Whatever it is that makes these games special, it is often missed by the general gaming public, enjoyed only by the few that can see beyond the hype and take a chance on a lesser known game.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom from Namco Bandai is one of these games. Having been completely overshadowed by a series of massive releases, Majin will likely never get the sales it deserves. But what makes this game so great?
Well, the story may not be anything special, telling the tale of a young thief, his quest to save his world from an evil darkness, and his friendship with a giant creature known as a Majin. As I say, the story is not that special and not really anything that we haven’t seen before, but the way it is told, the visual style with which it is portrayed and the relationship between the thief and the lumbering, childlike Majin, is magical.
The young thief, Tepeu, is confronted with the reality that his world is being overwhelmed by the evil darkness and comes across the Majin, a magical guardian of the world called Teotl. He enlists Teotl’s help in saving the world and thus begins the adventure, with the player having to restore the Majin’s powers and return him to full strength. Being a huge rock-like creature with foliage, Teotl is not exactly powerless to begin with, but by restoring his powers of Wind, Lightning, Fire and Purification, they may finally be able to rid the world of this threat.
In a similar way to the recently released Enslaved, the player controls Tepeu and indirectly controls Teotl by issuing him with orders. It is through this co-operative gameplay that the player will overcome the majority of puzzles found within the game. The entire world within the game is made up of a number of areas, with most of the areas being unavailable to begin with. Otherwise, the player is free to choose their own route. Whilst not exactly open world, the player will find more freedom than in most linear games and will indeed find themselves having to back track on occasion to solve certain puzzles and unlock new areas. This exploration is rewarded with a variety of collectibles, preventing it from getting too annoying.
The co-op, almost symbiotic, relationship between these two characters is evident throughout the game. Simple things like health are dealt with in a co-op manner, with Teotl being able to heal Tepeu, and even bring him back from the dead, whereas Teotl must be healed by eating fruit found by Tepeu. As the Majin becomes more damaged, he becomes overwhelmed by the darkness, gradually displaying this in a visual way.
Combat is another way in which this co-op relationship is displayed. Whilst Tepeu is no weakling and able to deal with the threat of the soldiers of darkness, he cannot actually kill them. Teotl must absorb their dark energy for the threat to finally be over, otherwise they will just get up and keep coming. On the flip side, Teotl is a powerhouse and is more than capable of putting the smackdown on any enemies, but leaving him to do it all will result in him taking damage which is far more difficult to rectify. But all out combat is not always the best way to deal with any enemies that present themselves. Players can use the powers of Teotl and the stealth of Tepeu in various inventive ways to avoid combat, such as luring the soldiers into traps. The enemies are not too difficult to overcome, at least until the player comes face to face with one of the games impressive bosses. These huge minions of the darkness will take some work to defeat, although the solution generally shows itself early on.
Then there are the puzzles themselves, which mostly revolve around reaching seemingly unreachable areas to flip switches and such, or using Teotl’s powers in some imaginative way. The puzzles are a lot of fun and whilst they may not require a huge amount of brain power to solve, they will invariably require a fair amount of trekking back and forth to make sure that everything is how it needs to be for the puzzle to be solved.
The game is not without it’s issues though. I found that on occasion things were overlooked and resulted in my getting stuck later in the game, requiring a backtrack that could have been avoided. There is an emphasis on exploration that not everyone will welcome, and they are the gamers who will have the most trouble with this game. If you are the type of player who likes to rush through and not bother trying to collect all of the goodies, then you may well miss something important and find yourself stuck. Another issue, although relatively small, comes from the platforming sequences, where I found that things were slightly lacking in accuracy and precision. In reality, failing to make a jump does not result in death, just a repeat of the sequence, so it is not too much of a hindrance to the games enjoyment.
The games visual style lacks the polish of the most graphically impressive games of recent months, but still manages to be absolutely, breath-takingly gorgeous. The setting for the game is a post-apocalyptic world that has a distinctly fairytale feel about it, with moss covered ruins and evidence of civilisation that has been all but swallowed up by nature. The surroundings generate an atmosphere that goes some way to encouraging the player to continue playing. In fact, the game is very hard to put down once started, for me at least.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a beautiful game that should not be dismissed on the basis of it’s largely overlooked launch. The co-op mechanics work really well, the tale is engaging and the game generates a feeling of happiness, rather than the aggression that can be found in most modern games. It does have a couple of small issues and players who rush through games may find themselves frustrated at the exploration required. But Majin is a true gem of a game and an experience that should not be overlooked.