This game was reviewed on PlayStation 3
Called upon by the Prophets, you are the Spirit Vessel. You have been tasked by them to serve as a slayer of the Malicious. However, before you can defeat the Malicious, you must defeat the Mad Queen and her Slayers, warriors who took an oath and the power of the Prophets to fight the Malicious, and instead betrayed the Prophets and use the powers bestowed upon them for their own purposes.
Malicious is a third-person action game from Japanese developer Alvion. The game sports some gorgeous graphics, throws out a linear story in favor of selectable levels, and takes you straight to an epic boss fight in each round making the game sound like an exciting gem to play. Unfortunately, this PSN exclusive doesn’t have much else going for it.
Gameplay is fairly simple. When you start the game, you’ll be presented with a number of levels to choose from. Each level contains an enemy “boss” that needs to be defeated in order to progress further in the game. Once defeated, your Spirit Vessel will absorb the enemy’s powers to use, much like you do in the Mega Man series. In order to defeat the enemy boss, you must build up your Aura by killing the never-ending waves of lesser enemies which allocates you Aura points (to a maximum of 9999). Your Aura can then be used to charge your attacks to make them increasingly powerful and deliver more damage, or, if you have taken damage yourself, you can use it to restore your Spirit Vessel back to full health.
While the gameplay aspect on paper seems exciting, Malicious unfortunately suffers from poor execution. For one, the camera controls are absolutely unmanageable. Attempting to manually control the camera results in odd angles that prevent you from getting a good look at your surroundings in a scenario where situational awareness is a must (you’re constantly swarmed by enemies on all sides). Of course, configuring the camera to automatically center on a locked on target can often make things worse due to a dodgy targeting system that seems to have no good sense of prioritization whatsoever. While battling the enemy bosses and their minions, you’ll occasionally get a prompt to press the R1 button to switch to a higher priority target, which usually turns out to be some solider standing in the corner somewhere that’s of absolutely no threat to you at all – or even better yet, some enemy cannon that’s sitting up in the rafters that you can’t hit from your location anyway. Not only can you not hit the target, but then the camera has to center on the target (because you told it to), and you get a fine view of the bottom of the protagonist’s shoes while the perspective bounces around like a kangaroo trapped in a bouncy castle to try to resolve the conflict between centering on the target and clipping through the floor.
Manually targeting an enemy is so cumbersome that it’s just as useless. By holding the R1 button, using your camera to center over a target, and releasing the R1, you are theoretically supposed to be able to lock on to the desired enemy. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work as well either, as you’ll often find that unless you have the camera almost perfectly dead center to what you want to attack, the lock will get a mind of its own and go elsewhere. To make things worse, the game really offers no hints as to strategy on how to take on the enemies, or in what order they need to be eliminated. While the same is true with the Mega Man series, one thing that Malicious doesn’t share with the aforementioned game is the ability to defeat an enemy using your most basic attacks in every case. For example with the Mad Queen, you’ll find that your basic attacks will do damage for only so long before she gets tired of toying with you and puts up a barrier that will deflect all of your attacks unless you have defeated a certain enemy prior to that and absorbed their power to use against her. Trial and error are part of what make games like this so challenging, but in the case of Malicious, it also means that you have to spend more time battling the different bosses until you get a positive result, all while fighting a control and targeting system that is essentially broken.
The significance between your standard attacks and Aura attacks are very minute in terms of how they look. Simply holding the L1 button charges your attacks with your Aura and does deal additional damage, but other than the fact that you’re holding the shoulder button and seeing your Aura points diminish, there’s no visual cue to indicate that you are, in fact, dealing a heavier blow. The animations are the same between the two forms of attack, with perhaps a slightly increased glow, making you want to occasionally check your controller to see if the button is actually working or not. You can switch between different types of attacks such as a long-range magic missile type of attack, or a melee style attack where two gigantic magical fists appear around you to allow you to pummel your enemies. These are the two basic types of attack that you have out-of-the-box, with more added as you defeat bosses and absorb their powers.
Additionally, the AI suffers greatly, with the lesser enemies often standing off to the side in clumps, waiting for you to come charging at them. While normally this would make things easier for you by targeting the bad guys at a distance, with the useless camera controls and lock system it only adds to the frustration.
One of the saving graces of Malicious is the visuals. The toon-shaded, anime-style characters are truly astounding to look at. Each level boss features a distinct and imaginative look to them, from the Keeper of the Wing (who dons a suit of armor, wielding a shield, and sporting a chain gun) to the Mad Queen in her flowing robes and wielding a menacing red glowing sword. The environments too are absolutely gorgeous in their art and design. Each level stands out on its own as an absolute visual marvel. From a steam punk style airship high in the clouds, to dark, cavernous cathedrals draped in gothic décor (just to name a few)are simply stunning to behold if you can make your way through the muck of a control scheme.
The music is quite enjoyable, featuring a beautiful mix of light orchestral and harp music playing during the in between moments when you’re with the Prophets in the level select area, bringing a sense of serenity and calm, while the action is bolstered by an exciting mix of trumpets, horns, and tribal drum beats that can really get the blood going. Voice acting is also featured here and there in the game; however, the audio is entirely in Japanese and there are no subtitles available, making whatever is being said rather meaningless for those that don’t know the language.
The story of Malicious is richly detailed, but not so much in-game as it is in the Back Story selection available at the main menu. While well-written, it is an exceptionally long read to get through, clocking in at 37 screens of text, which in my book is a bit much. It would have been better if they perhaps implemented cutscenes between levels to give you the back story as the game progressed, rather than a half an hour’s worth of homework to do. Alvion apparently realized that this would be a tough read to get through, as there is a bookmark function so when your eyes do begin to glaze over, you can come back to it at a later time.
If you can get around the frustrations that go with the targeting and camera controls, Malicious can be a pretty decent game to play. The problem is that it’s really hard to throw out these two critical components of gameplay in order to make it through the game unless you’re absolutely determined, or, if you’ve already ponied up the $9.99 USD to play it anyway.
Alvion has done a fantastic job of bringing a stunning work of art to the console. If they could figure out how to apply good gameplay mechanics, they could really bring up some real contenders for consumer dollars. With Malicious, however, the developer unfortunately has fallen far from the mark of excellence.
Malicious receives a 2.5/5.0.
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