Review / Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom (PS3)

Here’s a little gem of a game. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a single-player cooperative adventure, set in a fairy tale land of shadow warriors and mythical beasts. With colourful environments, endearing characters and an enjoyable mix of puzzles and combat, it’s a wonderfully unpretentious romp. It has its problems, sure, but there’s enough heart and charm on display that you’ll be willing to overlook them.

You are Tepeu, a wide-eyed, pony-tailed thief who wouldn’t look out of place in one of Jim Henson’s darker creations. Sneaking his way into the Forsaken Kingdom, Tepeu sets about returning light to the land, freeing it from the inky black clutches of the shadow warriors. Trouble is, he won’t be able to do it alone.

Good thing he stumbles across the Majin then, a huge and fearsome beast. Like a mossy version of Ludo from Labyrinth, he has limbs like treetrunks and wild flowers sprouting from his back. With paving slab teeth jutting out of his giant jaw, he cuts quite an imposing figure.

Except he doesn’t really. Though capable of brutal physical attacks, the Majin Teotl is a big softy. When you first discover him, he is cast in chains, snoring away and dreaming of a happier time. When you free him, he jumps up and down clapping with a child-like, “I free! Hurr hur hurr!”

He’s a lovable lump. Once the guardian of the Kingdom, capable of devastating elemental magic, his time in captivity has stripped him of his powers. From the moment you release him, you’re inseparable. Together you trudge off to restore both the Kingdom and the Teotl to their former glories.

The game itself follows a broadly Zelda-esque structure. Exploring the land, you’ll discover magical fruits that, one by one, restore the Majin’s elemental magic. These powers can be used to unlock new areas by way of inventive little environmental puzzles. You might have to zap some long dead motors into action, for example – “I make lightning!” or hoover up firey barriers to gain access to new parts of the map.

You control Teotl by holding a shoulder button, pointing the reticule and selecting the desired interaction. Smoothly implemented, it works well. One click and he’ll plod over to do your bidding.

But Teotl isn’t just useful in using his bulk to lift heavy gates and tumble boulders, he’s pretty handy with his fists too. The shadow warriors are all but invincible to Tepeu alone, so you have to command your big brute of a companion to stomp them until they are weak enough to kill. With the flash of an on-screen indication and the flick of a button, Tepeu and Teotl combine for an athletic combo finishing move.

Tepeu’s strength and stamina can be levelled up through the collection of shards, but the elfin thief will never be able to compete with his enemies toe-to-toe. What he can do, however, is sneak up behind them. At times you are separated from the Majin and are forced to tip-toe around out of sight of the shadow forces. If you can get close enough without them seeing you – which you can because it’s terribly easy – you can thrust your weapon through their back and watch them melt into a satisfying puddle of tar.

Coupled with the charm of the characters, it’s this breadth of gameplay mechanics that makes Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom such fun. Expertly paced, the game shifts from puzzle-solving, to combat, to stealth, to inventive boss battles – and even some light platforming – with nimble ease.

Technically, it isn’t great. The graphics, for example, aren’t the best. But it’s enlivened by a lovely art-style that sees you traversing flower speckled fields, dusty deserts and mossy castles. At one point you’ll even explore an old warship. Its vision far outweighs its technical grunt.

So let’s hope this one doesn’t get buried under the flood of Christmas releases. A game this enchanting deserves better. Give Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom a chance and, just like Teotl himself, it may just melt your heart.

+ The adorable Majin
+ Fun puzzles
+ Expert pacing

– Some dodgy voicework
– Zelda-like backtracking can become a chore
– Graphics could do with a polish