Majin and The Forsaken Kingdom is good. You’d never know from looking at the box, watching a trailer, and maybe not even from playing the first hour. To experience Majin, you need to dive in - to have “aha” moments with a dozen or so difficult puzzles, or slay your first gargantuan Zelda-style boss. So when a talking rat introduces you to gameplay elements with a squeakier voice than a prepubescent chew toy, we encourage you to have some patience and rest assured he’ll be gone in a few minutes.
The story starts simply enough: the black sludge guy from Fern Gully is back (don’t pretend you don’t get the reference) and he’ll take over the whole world if the Arabian-looking American-sounding thief, Tepeu, doesn’t stop him. Problem is, Tepeu can’t do jack without the mystical Majin, who alone possesses the power to swallow the darkness. Once you save the big ogre-venusaur-hybrid-thing, you realize he’s stupider than two walruses stapled to a park bench. Hilarity ensues as your ragtag team sets off to save the world, and in the process – become friends.
Hokey as it sounds, it’s a buddy-buddy action adventure done right. Scraps of story are fed to you overtime so that by the end you’re dealing with a multifaceted and rewarding plot. Pacing is everything in M&TFK, and the wealth of enemy types are gradually introduced throughout the game and you’ll earn new special abilities just as the old ones get a bit dull. Majin’s appearance even changes as he grows stronger. By the end of the game he still looks like a Sesame Street reject, but a dangerous one with large crystal shards growing from his arms.
Luckily you can help the PBS-channel horror swing those beefy arms and directing him to attack or by selecting from the special abilities he’ll accrue throughout the game. Nearly all enemies in the game are difficult to kill without his help. The Majin might look and act stupid (like “turkey drowning in the rain” stupid), but he’s much stronger than you. In fact, it’s impossible to fully kill any enemies without him around. If he gets too far away from you, the goop monsters will resurrect themselves infinitely, so you need him more than Lady Gaga needs a sex change. That’s the bad news.
The good news is the Majin’s AI is awesome. You don’t have to tell him more than once to wait around a corner or attack a specific enemy. He’ll use his ultra-powerful abilities wisely in battle. But even with the deck stacked in your favor, fighting the hoards of oily Twilight Princess-esque monsters is no cakewalk. As you take more and more damage, your body will become black and glisten with the otherworldly darkness. As you run, you’ll leave slimy black footsteps. If you fall in battle, the Majin will try to heal you. If he falls, it’s game over.
You’ll die a lot, but fortunately there are more save spots in the Forsaken Kingdom than ugly women in the Jersey Shore. The save spots can be a bit of an annoyance if you’re an anal-retentive saver (like having 400+ saves in Morrowind), but at least when you die you’ll be right back in the thick of it. There’s a bit of backtracking through the maps to get to new unlocked areas, until you unlock a teleportation room about halfway through the game – about 6 hours in – but even then, you’ll still have to backtrack too much for our taste.
The real problem with the game is the voice acting. It sounds like they hired those terrible theater majors you went to school with and gave them free reign to voice every talking animal with whichever accent they thought they knew. Oh look a Scottish parrot – that makes sense! Majin’s voice in particular is so frightfully foolish passerbies will undoubtedly think you’re watching a remedial version of Barney and Friends instead of embarking on an excellent adventure.
Ultimately, the entire game could be voiced by Fran Drescher and Ray Romano and it would still rock. The beautiful settings, excellent puzzles and killer boss battles easily make up for the game’s few shortcomings. If you can get past the cover, you’ll find an adventure worth taking – one that might just be the sleeper hit of the year.
Nov 23, 2010