Set in an enchanted world of monsters and mysticism, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom brings together exotic locations, plenty of puzzles, platforms, and a large chunk of bonding between a boy and his big furry muppet monster.
At its heart it is a whimsical but familiar fable of a young thief, Tepeu, who becomes a hero in a desolate and desperate land. For a hundred years the forsaken kingdom has been possessed by darkness and is the home of a vast range of evil and monstrous creatures. In the depths of a forgotten castle, the young thief stumbles on an imprisoned creature. More than twice the height of a man, Majin is a slow-speaking, moss-covered creature that has lost his strength and magical powers, and is left with only fractured memories of a violent past and a lost companion. What Majin knows is that he must free the kingdom and save his friend, a girl he encased in crystal years ago to protect her from being taken by the darkness.
Tepeu frees the shambling beast form its prison and together they set about fighting the creatures of darkness, regaining their lost powers and discovering the truth about the forsaken kingdom.
The hook with the game is undoubtedly the relationship between Tepeu and Majin. And it’s a relationship that is important to both the story and the gameplay. While you control Tepeu in the standard fashion - attacking, jumping, sprinting and using objects with the face buttons - pressing the right trigger will let you issue commands to Majin. If you hold down the trigger and then press a face button, you can command Majin to wait, follow or attack a specific enemy. But, you can also get him to use his special powers like his roar or lightning, or you can get him to crouch so Tepeu can climb on his back to reach high ledges.
For the most part the relationship works well, and when fighting it allows for a few tactical choices. If you want, you can let Tepeu and Majin wade headfirst into any of the many button-mashing battles. This works fine because Majin has fairly strong attacks that will break through defensive guards and easily knock down many of the smaller creatures. If Tepeu follows up with a series of fast hits, the fallen creature can be stunned - initiating a finishing move. Finishing moves, which can be collected as you level up, are co-op attacks such as Tepeu vaulting off Majin’s back or Majin throwing Tepeu in for the kill.
The co-op finishing moves are a good idea that work well. However, they do highlight a problem with the game’s camera. When Majin is between you and Tepeu he becomes invisible - except for his disembodied yellow eyes. And since Majin is always following Tepeu around, usually the eyes are floating in the air somewhere behind him. It’s all a bit distracting. During fights it is particularly off-putting, as you often get caught behind the invisible Majin.
The game is basically laid out like a typical adventure / role playing game, sometimes feeling very linear and retro. You’re always jogging along narrow pathways connecting open areas with two or three locked gates. And once you have dealt to all the monsters in a location there will usually be a puzzle element to the gameplay to open up the path to the next area.
In the familiar environments, which range from jungle, to desert, to ancient ruins, the gates need to be either unlocked, or magical seals broken, for you to be able to move forward. In one area Majin has to collect water to start a waterwheel that raises a platform that lets you reach a switch that opens a door that… well you get the idea. As you progress Majin gets powers that are used to both fight and solve puzzles. His magical breath can not only unbalance enemies in a fight, it is also used to move swinging cages and barrels around for Tepeu to climb and jump across. His lightning power can also be used to get gates and lifts working again, as well as zapping flying monsters and some of the bigger bosses. The puzzles are well done and mostly hit that nice balance where they are a challenge at the time but seem obvious when you work them out.
The maps on the other hand are a bit frustrating. Especially early in the game before you find the teleport rooms that can quick-travel you from the far north to the desert gate in the south-west corner. While it is not a massive open game, it does take a bit of hunting around for all of Majin’s power-ups, lost abilities and forgotten memories. So there is a fair bit of retracing over the same areas and paths.
Also frustrating is the way the story is told. Majin’s lost memories, while kind of important to the game’s melancholy story, make the whole thing pretty difficult to follow. His memories of the coming of the darkness and the loss of his first companion are played out in cute little shadow puppet, fairy tale vignettes. While flashbacks sometimes work in film, in a game, where it can be hours or days between seeing each one, just what exactly is going on is very difficult to follow.
All of which is not helped by the voice acting - which is terrible. From the stilted generic Tepeu, to birds and mice sounding like one person doing a series of lame baby voices, to Majin who sounds like a cross between Mr. Snuffleupagus, the Luck Dragon and Mongo from the old cowboy comedy Blazing Saddles, it‘s all pretty bad - even compared to the usually laughable translations of Japanese games.
Overall Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is not a bad game. Although there is no two-player or online play, the game is enjoyable and looks just fine. The puzzles are clever and while there are not many boss monsters, there is always a nice twist to the way you defeat them. Developed by Game Republic, the team behind the original Folklore, Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom has the same tone and sense of whimsy. Unfortunately, it also has the same sense that it could be much better. It sticks to old formulas (sometime very old) and only hints at something bigger, better or more original.
But Majin is a big, slow and likable, despite looking like a muppet and talking like he’s been hit with a big bag of stupid - all in the nicest possible way. As a character he is engaging. He’s kind and caring, friendly and very loyal, and can kick ass with the best of them.