When a game arrives on PSN with little to no fanfare, you have to wonder if it’s really something worth paying attention to. Malicious, released back in October in Japan, has only just made its way to Europe whilst completely avoiding North America. From afar the simple logo and the hand drawn aesthetic implies that this is nothing more than your ordinary platforming game, however upon starting it up you’ll find an unrelenting and exciting action game that is literally unparalleled by any other digital download title in the same genre.
Taking place in a world threatened by the dark and mysterious Malicious, you take on the role of the ‘spirit vessel’ who has been tasked with thwarting the impending danger by the equally mysterious Prophets. Essentially, Alvion have left story out from the forefront of their game, instead allowing those who wish to learn more the chance to via a backstory option from the main menu. It’s a great way of providing depth for those who wish to involve themselves in the world more, but it also allowing those who want to get stuck in and have fun do so without being bogged down in lore and storytelling.
If jumping right into the thick of things is what you want to do, then this game knows exactly how to challenge you. Featuring five stages that can be played out in any order, each stage gets incrementally harder as you defeat the Malicious within, and upon defeat you gain a new ability to assist you in your fight. Stages play out with one central, and usually huge, boss trying to attack you alongside their many minions. You have the choice of going in headfirst and clashing right with the boss straight away, or instead you can take out the infinite numbers of minions and build up your aura gauge, allowing you to perform more powerful attacks and combos, as well as repairing yourself, and thus saving yourself from death.
It’s a nice way to design a game, giving you a choice of how to handle a situation, and it fits in very well with Alvion’s idea of creating a game that can be played in bite sized chunks; allowing more experienced players to jump right in for a quick blast against a boss, whilst newcomers can work their way up in a lengthier battle. To ensure that the quick blast mentality of gameplay is adhered to Alvion have placed a thirty minute restriction to all the stages, meaning that if you fail to defeat the boss within the time constraint you’ve failed the battle. It’s rather neatly explained by stating thats as long as the spirit vessel can withstand being materialised for, and honestly the half hour play time is more than generous enough for a battle – usually because you’ll end up dying before you run out of time.
Combat itself is done via your typical hack-n-slash style interface. You’ve got a heavy and a light attack as well as a dash and guard, and you can change weapons you’ve unlocked on the fly. It’s certainly a familiar control scheme, and so anybody who’s played the likes of Devil May Cry or Bayonetta will feel instantly at home with these mechanics. As with other action games, combos are key to securing the highest grades and to gaining the most aura from enemies, and so intimate knowledge of the move-set is crucial for those aiming high.
Replay value wise this game is full of reasons to jump back in. The aforementioned bite-size nature of each stage means that it’s perfect for killing a ten minutes or so with some intense gameplay – something that its PS Vita port will suit even better when on the go. You also have the online rankings to negotiate, as well as hitting the elusive S rank on every stage; and if all you want to do is have some fun and hone your skills you can indulge in a Free Mode which has unlimited time and unlimited continues. It may be lacking in the story department, but it certainly provides when it comes to giving you some accessible fun.
However, there are some problems to deal with. Even though it boasts the ability to change weapons mid combo, it is in fact quite slow to switch – meaning only if timed absolutely right will it change mid combo. It’s a small gameplay niggle, but it is enough to break the flow of combat for those who decide to utilise the ability. Most annoying of all is the camera and it’s incredibly erratic nature. When not focused upon any enemy, the camera moves in conjunction to your actions rather nicely, however when enemies begin to overwhelm it never finds a great position to rest so you can clearly see the onscreen action. This becomes an even greater problem when you are locked onto an enemy or a boss as, with the bosses who move around swiftly, you’ll end up becoming incredibly disoriented in the play arenas. With a game that regularly throws everything it has at you, and provides a massive challenge for you to surmount, it’s incredibly poor to layer on even more difficulty due to a dodgy camera.
Overall though, Malicious is a triumph of both gameplay design and visual design. It’s lush hand drawn style fits perfectly with the hectic gameplay that permeates Alvion’s title. It may have its foibles, and its difficulty is certainly not everyones cup of tea, as it is ridiculous at times, but for a downloadable only title, and one that is as low cost as this is (£6.49) it’s a delicious package that deserves to be played by everybody who owns a Playstation 3.
Final Score: 4/5