The kingdom was overtaken by a dark presence 100 years ago that transformed all the inhabitants into tar-like creatures. A young thief, Tepeu, with the inexplicable talent for communicating with animals sneaks into the castle in hopes of halting the encroaching darkness, and ends up freeing the captive Majin – the kingdom’s ogreish guardian. After a hasty retreat, the two must travel through the kingdom and gain power in preparation for the final showdown.
The story of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom wades through the shallow end of the pool, and instead, relies on the dynamic between Tepeu and the Majin to create an emotional attachment. Tepeu, whom you directly control, has the agility and size to maneuver the higher reaches and crevasses of the kingdom, while the Majin’s strength and magical abilities makes him a combative powerhouse. This partnership wouldn’t be possible without the Majin’s precise obedience to Tepeu’s commands.
The Majin will move, wait, attack, and use special abilities at your command. Although Tepeu is nimble, his role is to create combos with the Majin; an arc of lightning between the Majin and Tepeu’s weapon, a blast of wind to topple opponents, and team-up attacks when prompted. The more you work together, the more the friendship builds toward unlocking new combos. In no way does the combat pose a threat to Castlevania: Lords of Shadow or God of War 3, but it is fluid and, occasionally, visually exciting.
The kingdom is divided into numerous, puzzle-filled sections, or rooms if you will. It’s much to Game Republic’s credit that I never walked into a room and instantly knew what to do. From mundane levers to complex alignments of moving platforms, and catapults to bombs, new elements are constantly being introduced. Some puzzles can be downright devious, but never unfair or too obtuse, which makes the eventual epiphany that much more fulfilling.
Taking a cue from The Legend of Zelda and Darksiders, many rooms that you come across are inaccessible until you have acquired one of the Majin’s four powers – fire, lightning, wind, purification – or you have beaten a specific boss, so be aware that backtracking is unavoidable, to put it lightly. Transport rooms for fast-travel do exist, but they are so poorly placed as to be nearly useless in their current locations. While it is rewarding to solve a puzzle from earlier and uncover a new piece of armor for Tepeu or fruit to boost the Majin’s abilities, much of the backtracking is travel for the sheer sake of travel.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom easily draws comparisons to numerous games, including Namco Bandai’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. The two games certainly have visual similarities, with greenery creeping through the cracks of the broken city, but the most poignant visual comparison is to Shadow of the Colossus, which some of Game Republic’s employees worked on. The experience shows through evocative textures and lighting, but on the negative side, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom also shares the blocky, rigidly geometric aesthetic of Team Ico’s respected game.
If one element is bound to hinder your emotional investment, it’s probably the Majin. He’s one of the most endearing characters of the year, and reminds me of Miyazaki’s Totoro, until he opens his mouth. Then he reminds me of a mentally challenged Barney the dinosaur clapping his hands while saying, “Yay! That great!” That’s actually a direct quote. It isn’t limited to the Majin either. The numerous animals around the world feature atrocious voice-acting. By that I mean, ‘so bad I have no comparable analogy’ bad. At least the music is pleasant.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom thrives on the power of clever puzzles and the enjoyable simplicity of combat. Awkward moments of backtracking and horrible voice-acting are nearly forgotten in the ensuing moments of pride and the excitement of uncovering hidden items. If you can look beyond the dialogue, or turn it off, there is a charming game inside with the makings of an adventurous fairy tale.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]