Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
Platforms: PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
Publisher: Game Republic/ Namco Bandai
Age rating: Teen (animated blood, violence)
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a new game with an old soul - a fresh adventure that for good, unflattering, and arbitrary reasons is a welcome throwback to 3D gaming's more experimental formative years.
The premise of Majin is a bit too winding to summarize properly in a few sentences, and the game's cutscenes do a much nicer job than text ever could of making sense of everything. In a nutshell, a kingdom has succumbed to darkness, and the guardian of the kingdom (known henceforth as the Majin) has been hidden in captivity long enough to achieve mythical status. Then along comes Tepeu, a human gifted with the ability to talk to birds and animals. With their (and your) help, he rescues the Majin, and together they set out to restore the kingdom to its glory.
Beyond that initial rescue mission, Majin plays like an escort game with a twist: Instead of being helpless and in constant need of protection, the Majin - a powerful, monstrously large creature with a sweet disposition and grasp of language that rivals that of Sloth from The Goonies - is the one doing much of the protecting. You control Tepeu directly while giving commands to the A.I.-controlled Majin, who can use his strength and other special powers to alter the environment and fight enemies Tepeu is too weak to take on himself.
As a total package, Majin has its flaws. The world is artistically pretty but a few years behind the curve in technical visual polish, and while Tepeu is a capable character, his jumping and climbing aren't as fluid as those of his counterparts in other adventure games. The combat offers some cool opportunities for the two characters to team up, but it's still overwhelmingly a case of "mash X to swing weapon," and you'll spend much of the game fighting the same enemy types in a pretty predictable puzzle-fight-puzzle-fight pattern of events.
A discussion of Majin's modest production values would be incomplete without mentioning the voice acting, which ranges from kind of silly (the Majin) to unbelievably hokey (most of the animals, who talk in a kaleidoscope of hilarious accents one normally expects from an episode of Family Guy instead of a grandiose adventure game).
Whether the crazy voice acting was a product of a low budget or a sly sense of humor is debatable, but so is the effect. Some will find it off-putting. But if the rest of Majin's world charms you (and there's an excellent chance it could), it's entirely likely the goofball voices will simply add another feather to that cap. Majin's characters are deeply likable despite how weird they generally are, and the reverence they show for their former kingdom - to say nothing of the friendship that develops between Tepeu and the Majin - gives the story the kind of heart most games don't even comprehend, much less achieve.
And the best news of all? The one area where Majin must succeed is where it shines brightest. The expansive overworld is loaded with intricate environmental puzzles that Tepeu and the Majin must team up to overcome, and the game tests that teamwork in some inspired ways. Majin's puzzles hit a perfect difficulty note - never needlessly opaque, but elaborate and creative enough to make completing them satisfyingly fun. And while some so-so combat always punctuates these puzzles, the game rarely makes you slog through too many enemies before serving up another challenge - or, during its very best moments, making the enemies part of the puzzle.