The Forsaken Kingdom is a land that’s been taken over by darkness for 100 years. Water is disappearing, trees are dying, and the great guardian Majin has been held captive by dark soldiers. As a thief, it’s your job to save the Majin, then travel the land searching for the great fruit needed to restore the giant Majin’s powers to what they once were. It’s the only hope against the darkness.
Welcome to Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom. The gameplay is made up of platformer, stealth and puzzle elements, with a bit of combat. You control the human thief Tepeu, and the Majin follows you around while you issue him commands by holding the R trigger and making selections. He’s mostly useful for attacking enemies, but can also use his different Majin powers of wind, lightning, fire and purification to solve various puzzles and get to new areas. You don’t start off with all these powers, but that’s ok because his biggest asset is his huge strength. Many doors can only be opened by the Majin, and you can’t defeat most enemies without him. His size also helps as you can jump on his back to reach higher places.
Combat is pretty satisfying. You basically send your giant Majin in there to knock enemies off their feet, then run in and finish them off when they’re down by slashing and using combination attacks. Enemies are STRONG, you can’t defeat them with a human alone; there are many tales of brave men going into the Forsaken Kingdom and never coming back. Blobs of darkness roam the levels, in human shapes equipped with swords and shields, others made up of various oversized animals. Some have projectile weapons, some can fly; they don’t make life easy. The only survivors here are tiny birds and rats that talk in movie trailer accents and recite clues over and over. Truly terrifying stuff, this darkness.
When your Majin isn’t around, and you’ve crawled into an area only Tepeu can access, it becomes a stealth game. Unless you want to get involved in a messy brawl where you need 100 hits and spastic jumping to down an enemy, you have to be sneaky. Enemies will spot you easily unless you crouch out of sight, and if you get close enough behind them without them noticing, you can do a one hit stab move to kill them instantly. It’s extremely satisfying picking enemies off one by one as you sneak around corners, the animation is nice and flashy too.
Teamwork is essential, and there’s a lot of options here. Tepeu has the ability to throw rocks, from a seemingly endless supply he must have in his pocket, and this can often be used to distract the enemy or start explosions. The bigger enemies take some creative problem solving, like hiding your Majin somewhere and luring the enemies under a rock that’ll squish them, or locking them in a room. As you progress through the game, enemies will often outnumber and overpower even the Majin, and this is when you have to outsmart them. A lot of the situations are about getting the enemies attention in the right place, while you pull a switch somewhere or grab an item.
Each area usually requires some kind of strategy to get through safely, so it’s smart to tell the Majin to wait while you go ahead and scout the area, or hell could break loose. Thankfully, the AI for Majin is pretty solid. Throughout the entire game I never encountered a single glitch commanding him, which is quite a technical feat for the developers considering how complex some of the environments are. He picks fights with enemies sometimes without being told to, usually in self defense, and his attacks in direct combat are pretty slow. I admit I swore a lot at him, but it’s a love-hate relationship. “Dumb fuck” was just a nickname we had going on, it was cute. Moving him around some stages feels a bit like Mario vs Donkey Kong in 3D: you pull levers and open paths as he walks along, making sure you tell him to wait at the right time and use his powers in particular places.
Progression itself is fairly basic. You go through Path A to get a power you need on Path C, to get through Path B. It’s linear with quite a bit of backtracking, similar to a Metroid game where you’d find places early on that you can’t access until later. Each area is like a strategic setpiece, and the levels feel very constructed and forced rather than a natural landscape, all in the name of gameplay. Straight corridors and basic block layouts are needed for a lot of the puzzles.
The graphics are a mixed bag; it’s extremely colourful and there’s a good variety of environments. Some of the graphical effects are a bit dodgy, for example the water looks really fake and rubbery, and the rain effect is downright bad – it looks more like the TV is melting. On the other hand there’s an effect I really loved in the desert area where there’s sand going around the corners of the screen for no reason; it made no sense, but made everything feel more mystical. The game doesn’t take itself too seriously when it comes to realism.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the ground stops and rocks start – the textures can be a bit of a mess. Normally I don’t care about this but it’s hard to see ladders and switches sometimes, especially in dark areas. The draw distance is bad as well, things even 10 meters down the road can turn into a blurry mess. No problems with the framerate, all the action is very smooth. Overall the game looks fantastic, and there’s some great “wow” moments in terms of how things look, but the graphics definitely take a backseat to gameplay.
The whole game has an overproduced 3D movie vibe to it, it feels like one of those kids movies that makes millions. Majin talks in a typical “me so silly” dumb giant voice and is always optimistic. The story is quite contrary to this however. As the Majin recovers his powers he also recovers his memory, and this is how the story of how the darkness took over unfolds. It tells of mans corruption, and how the darkness started out as an energy source. It’s a pure message of dark energy being misused, told through the Majin’s interactions with the kingdom 100 years ago. The messages are subtle: it doesn’t explain itself and treat the player like an idiot in great Metal Gear Solid-style detail. If you use your imagination, you can relate it to high petrol prices or big budget pharma companies, but the game doesn’t bog itself down with any relation to real world problems. Instead, it plays off emotions through great music, characters and events, and it makes you care about the land in the game.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a fantastic game, with its biggest strengths being clever level design and great gameplay. The game opens up nicely as you progress and the Majin learns new abilities. I found myself exploring a lot of places I didn’t need to, just to find hidden treasure chests and areas;, it’s a cool world. To top it off, the game has almost no flaws. The difficulty is just right, it makes you think and challenges you, but it’s never too vague or frustrating. One other thing I’d like to mention, the game only takes up 2.3GB when installed on the Xbox 360 hard drive. That’s some damn impressive coding and compression, most games take up double the space. It’s not a short game either, with a good 15-20 hour journey to the end. The whole game is littered with examples of great programming and impressive design.
“No matter how many times the warriors of Darkness are knocked down, they just stand up again. And they never get tired. What’s more, if they get you, you become one of them. It sure makes you lose the will to fight. The humans sent troops in so many times, but it was all useless.”
– The most depressing thing you’ll ever hear from a parakeet.
Here is where I’d say i’d love to see more games like this, but sadly, the developer Game Republic has gone out of business, officially closing down last month. I had never heard of this game until I bought it cheap a few weeks ago; it launched in November 2010 and bombed hard enough to kill the studio. In today’s crowded videogame world, there was no room for poor Majin, but the game is absolutely fantastic and one of the very best this generation. I encourage everyone to give it a try and make a bit of room for Majin in your gaming collection. He very grateful.