What would the Wild West have been like if Sundance had never met Butch Cassidy? What would Bay City have been like if Starsky had not been teamed up with Hutch? What would have happened to Mad Max if Danny Glover hadnt stepped in? Where would the universe be if Palpatine had not made the fateful encounter with that guy from Jumper? Seriously though, where would any of us be if Doc Brown had not befriended Alex P. Keaton (and you thought the 60s were messed up in our timeline?)?
Team ups have been the bread and butter of nearly every major media project, most are immensely successful (Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin) while others have produced moments wed all like to forget (Milli Vanilli). The video game world has its share of stellar teams including Mario and Luigi, Ratchet and Clank and now, Xbox is getting into the action with Tepeu and the Majin with Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (MFK) comes courtesy of Tokyo based game developer Game Republic. Beginning operations in 2003, Game Republic is the brainchild of Yoshiki Okamoto after numerous and successful years spent at both Capcom and Konami. Game Republic has had a strong relationship with Sony and MFK marks only the forth Xbox offering from the studio (other offerings include the lackluster Clash of the Titans, the Japanese launch title Every Party and the upcoming Knights Contract).
The story nor our heroes are entirely unique but the delivery is what makes this title memorable. You play as a young thief that the Majin refers to as Tepeu. The Majin is a powerful, if simple, beast that used to protect the Kingdom but has since lost many of his powers during his many years of captivity. Thus begins our odyssey into this puzzle/platformer; our first task is to find and free the mystical Majin so as to bring brightness back to the Kingdom, that is engulfed in an ever expanding black ooze. When you find the Majin you realize that without his memories he is not much more than a very large oaf. However you quickly realize the advantage his strength can offer the quest, such is the start of an unlikely friendship.
As the Majin begins to regain his memories so to does he regain many of his awe inspiring powers such as the power of lightning, wind and fire among others. Each of the 'element' powers are unlocked in keeping with the overall story and the discovery is much of the reward. As a welcome addition, many of the Majin's strenghts are made available along with stunning 2D graphic storytelling. These stories bring to light the hardships the Majin has had to endure to keep his Kingdom safe and we discover what/how he was able to be trapped deep within the fortress.
While the look and feel of the game will have you wanting to dive in with your sword/magic staff, you will quickly realize that this is actually a cleaver puzzle game. Tepeu can dive in staff-a-blazin but that will only get you so far. Early on in the game you come to notice that access to many of the goo-imbued baddies (and in turn, completion of your quest) is mired by seemingly impenetrable obstacles. This is where the buddy genre really kicks in! Sure you will utilize the Majin to battle side by side, weakening your opponents until you can attempt one of the team attacks and finally driving the dark enemy from the kingdom. But, figuring out how to direct your new found giant of a partner is where the real teamwork shines.
I get that it would have been a tremendous amount of fun actually controlling the Majin and taking swipes at all of the evil; however, we are simply left with the option of instructing him to complete single tasks that, in turn, combine to complete puzzles. Have him open large doors, arm a catapult, actually feed himself, you know, all the things you expect from a pal. That being said- every friendship has it rough spots and this is no different; just because you want the Majin to come and revive you after youve been pummeled, doesnt mean hes going to stop trying to beat up the last enemy just to save your sorry #%*. And just because you can run from point to point doesnt mean that hell try to catch up in a timely manner. And everybody has that one friend that cant seem to follow simple commands. Luckily these issues are limited and most go off without a hitch.
The game is very well put together aesthetically. You will clearly recognize evil and sneaking up behind said baddies has true stealth qualities. The surroundings are lush and many of the puzzles use the visuals nicely to convey senses of urgency or foreboding. The characters are well designed although Tepeu seems to have a number of body image issues. The minor flaws of the main character are overshadowed by the range of motion utilized within the game. Dont get me wrong here, the range is one thing, the ability to use that range effectively is quite another. While Id enjoy blaming the harried camera, it is not solely to blame.
Moving Tepeu through the different areas, especially during some puzzles and combat is not very intuitive, you will miss ledges, you will spend a countless amount of time backtracking (note to developers, backtracking incessantly is not cool), you will get pummeled when trying to perform simple attacks and the controls will frustrate you time to time. However, it is not often and its quickly set aside as you hear the Majin shout out words of praise as you complete tasks.
My only real complaint regarding Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is the sound. Such a stellar job was done conveying the simple minded nature of the Majin with the sound. From the broken grammar to the child like wonder coming through in the tone there was clearly a considerable amount of time spent fine tuning this big lunk. However, thats where the effort stopped. Any of the other characters you encounter are not enjoyable to listen to and the animals Tepeu communicates with (yes, thats right he talks to birds and rodents, go figure) are downright annoying.
There has clearly been a lot of dedication put into developing this title and I for one encourage the developers to put together a sequel of sorts. Address the minor issues and cut back on the battle elements because the games strength and its core is clearly the puzzle solving. Oh, and dont forget to put aside room in the budget to bring together a strong sound team. The game is quite enjoyable but the backtracking, sound work, finicky control scheme and unnecessary fight sequences drained much of the enjoyment I experienced.
Now Im off to meet up with an old friend.seems without me around hes forgot to eat (life imitating art comes to mind).