Xbox 360 Review

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom

Charming

Huge and hulking, the Majin is a fearsome monster. With a back the size and shape of a boulder and teeth like blunt tombstones, he's an imposing figure. Able to swat away shadow warriors with his giant, stone-carved fists, he has limbs like mossy tree trunks and a guttural howl that can cower armies.

But look into his eyes and Teotl reveals his heavy-lidded, weary sadness. Stripped of the mythical elemental powers that once defended the Kingdom, Teotl is a forlorn beast. He knows what he has lost.

Despite his brutal physicality, only the coldest of hearts could resist Toetl's charms. Expressing himself with baleful inelegance - "you me, friends" - while tripping his way around the behind you, it's hard not to fall for him. Should he die, he'll purr a mournful "I sorry" that will melt your heart.

Teotl is a lumbering signifier of everything that is great about Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom. Full of charm, heart and personality, it's a game with more than enough character to overcome its technical limitations. It may be a little rough around the edges, but that won't stop you loving it.

You take control of Tepeu, a wide-eyed, elfin thief who steals his way into a Kingdom steeped in darkness by an evil invading army. Once Tepeu has freed the Majin from imprisonment at the inky hands of the shadow warriors, you're inseparable companions. Together you set off for an endearing co-operative adventure to return light to the land.

It's a simple, fairy-tale narrative with a clearly defined good versus evil conflict. Set up with some lovely shadow-puppet presentation, it's spoilt only by a narrator that sounds like he was recorded in a particularly large aircraft hangar. Adding a little depth, there are also some intriguing narrative revelations about the characters' pasts, but it's best to leave those to discover for yourself.

Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom inverses the dynamic of broadly comparable games like Enslaved and Ico by leaving the heavy stuff largely to your companion. This time you are the vulnerable one, reliant on the power of your brutish friend.

As a result, you're better off sending Teotl clomping into action ahead of you. It's a simple, smoothly implemented process. A squeeze of a shoulder button brings up a range of potential commands. Point the reticule at a target and Teotl will interact with it, either by clobbering it into submission, or otherwise lifting, throwing or pushing the obstacle in his, and by extension your, path.

Tepeu can join in the combat, slashing away at enemies with a limited repertoire of moves, but the shadow warriors are all but invincible to your regular melee attacks. Your best option is to command Toetl to weaken them, before combining with him for an acrobatically lethal finishing move.

Meanwhile, you'll also need your child-like chum to negotiate the game's puzzles. Nicely varied and wonderfully inventive, you'll be instructing Toetl to do everything from lifting stone doors, activating catapults, winding rusty winches and - as the game progresses and Teotl regains his elemental magic abilities - a range of engaging environmental challenges.

But you are not always together. When separated from the Majin, Tepeu is forced into creeping around outside of his enemy's eyeline. Alert the shadow warriors to his presence and while you can stun them for long enough to flee, the only way to truly incapacitate them is to pull off a stealthy execution from behind.

Thanks to the shadow warriors' scripted movements, and their ultra-forgiving alert reset times, these stealth executions are easy, but incredibly satisfying asTepeu's weapon thrusts through their spine and they melt into thick, black tar.

In this way the game alternates between combat, puzzles and stealth, with a bit of light exploratory platforming and some fun boss battles thrown in for good measure. Wonderfully paced, it never labours on a particular mechanic for too long. It doesn't have to. The breadth of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom's various elements is enough to ensure your adventure remains fresh throughout.

There are only a few areas that niggle. As you progress, exploration can become frustrating, with a lack of waypoint indicators. If your sense of direction is as bad as mine, you'll often find yourself stumbling around in little circles for a while before chancing on the correct area. This is accentuated by the necessity of backtracking. Revisiting previous areas can get a little laborious.

By do you know what, I don't care. I don't care about the limited draw-distances either. Or the sporadically jittery combat animations. Or the less than convincing voice work. I don't care because Majin and the Unforsaken Kingdom is a little gem of a game. Overflowing with characterful charm, filled with lilac flower speckled fields, misty blue skies, creaky warships and crumbling, mossy castles, it's utterly charming.

The way Tepeu bow-leggedly staggers around when carrying a heavy object. The way the Majin's idle animation has him splurting out a giant sneeze. The thick, viscous blackness that crawls up Tepeu as he takes on damage. These are the kind of delightful details that help you to overcome the game's minor inadequacies.

So it may not have the gloss of a triple-A release, nor the marketing budget to accompany it. But you really should play this game. Overlook Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom and you risk missing out on a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Perhaps more importantly however, you also risk missing out on Teotl himself, one of gaming's most endearingly loveable characters.

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