Command the ‘spirited vessel’ in this action-packed downloadable from Alvion.
Some games have a knack for sneaking onto the PS Store to little or no fanfare at all. One such game is Alvion’s PlayStation exclusive, Malicious. If the name sounds familiar, beyond the adjective associated to malware of course, it’s because it was released nearly a year and a half ago in Japan and only crawled onto European (and ME) stores in February (with no North American release date in sight). What is especially odd about Malicious’ clandestine release is that it has nearly all the ingredients of a sleeper hit. That’s not to say it is without flaws, but its fast and varied action sequences, along with its boss rush format, strike me as crowd-pleasing attributes, from a marketing perspective at the very least.
Malicious is a 3D action game and a very Japanese one at that. It’s short, focused and extremely fun once you get the hang of it… or if you get the hang of it. Your character commands a ‘spirited vessel’, which is a humanoid model wearing a shapeshifting cape that doubles as everything from weapons to shields. Your mission is effectively to slay a series of guardians. You can access these guardians via an in-game stage select arena. As you defeat each of the guardians, you gain new weapons, powers and moves to help you along your way (a bit like the Mega Man system). Some weapons are more effective against some bosses so the order does matter, but essentially, with enough skill, any boss can be defeated at any given time in the game (barring the final boss of course).
Malicious’ battle system is largely hack‘n’slash but with a distinct edge. Your character can alternate between long-ranged projectiles and close-combat melee, neither of which are really effective without infusing the attack with aura. You can gain aura by defeating enemies, chaining combos or blocking an attack at just the right time. What enemies you say? Each boss arena is scattered with hundreds of enemies that respawn infinitely. This means, while battles are naturally more challenging since you are obscenely outnumbered, you always have a source of the all essential aura. There is also no health bar to speak of and so to monitor mortality, you’ll need to count your vessel’s limbs. Grim as that may sound, it is actually executed quite elegantly, supporting the premise of your character model being but a mere hollow vessel. If you are without arms and on one leg, then you know it’s time to heal…and how do you heal? You guessed it – aura.
As I’ve stated repeatedly in this review, Malicious is a lot of fun but it is often let down by a number technical issues and general inconsistencies. While the camera is always on cue to spoil the fun, the game’s lock-on system is truly the main culprit. It is easy enough locking-on and off in general, it’s an impossible task cycling between targets or even specifying targets. With anywhere between 10 to 100 enemies on the screen, there is no fool-proof way to specify targets. The system chooses the enemy closest to you by default and also prompts quick target swaps when certain enemies are about to attack but neither solution is convincing or helpful in dire situations. Even the camera behavior when locked-on to targets is far from optimal. For example, if you are locked-on to a fast moving or teleporting target then confusion is the best you can hope for, with an epileptic seizure being amongst the worst. I cannot say that camera and targeting frustrations have little impact on your experience, because they will test your patience. However, if you are willing to persist and adapt, you will find enough to appreciate and move on.
That said, Malicious is by no means a long game. Boss battles are timed at a maximum of 30 minutes and with 6 battles to boot, you are looking at a game that forces you to complete it in less than 3 hours. However, considering that it retails at a modest sum of around 37 AED, there is just about enough content to justify the price. Leaderboard enthusiasts will also try to up the style and hit crazy online score records, if the skills permit. Most of us however will not, settling for a casual night of mass eradication.
Malicious is not a perfect game but more deserving of attention than it currently gets. I suspect that has as much to do with lackluster buzz generation by the publishers than anything else. Perhaps it’ll get more attention when its Vita iteration launches, if online rumors are to be trusted. However this brings me to another point: Japanese game developers have come under a lot of criticism of late and while I maintain my belief that a lot of this criticism is unjust, I do believe some studios’ general lack of faith in their products appealing to western markets is hindering their reputation. As I stated already, Malicious is by no means perfect, but it is one of the most entertaining downloadable PS3 games I’ve played in a while.