Malicious very may well go down as the surprise of the year since the game has literally come out of nowhere and has subsequently blown the minds of those who have played it. Keeping things somewhat basic on the gameplay side of things, Malicious is a title that’s very easy to appreciate since it’s affordable and it offers an incredible amount of bang for your buck, or Yen in this case. Malicious isn’t going to go down as the greatest PSN game ever made, but it is incredibly fun and has stunning production values which are shocking considering its affordable price tag.
While it takes a while to get used to, the combat is really fun and addicting. The paint like visuals and art design really sold me on the game and the world of Malicious. The levels never overstay their welcome and the boss battles are all thrilling. The price of the game is cheap as hell.
The camera is pure utter garbage. With only five stages, it would’ve been nice if there was a bonus mode of some sort to extend things. At times the lock-on can be a bit problematic especially in some of the small levels.
By now most of us are accustomed to awesome video games coming out exclusively in the land of the rising sun that is Japan. In a way it makes sense for a few exclusives to either hit the PS3, PSP, Wii or even the Xbox 360 whether it’s due to obvious cultural differences or if it’s based on a property that big there but is nothing but a niche in the West. But still, at times it’s simply gut punching to see a cool game come along that gamers can’t purchase because it’s bound to stay in Japan for the foreseeable future. Thankfully for PS3 owners, Japanese exclusives aren’t that big of a deal even with the obvious language barriers and the new PSN game Malicious is a good example of that. Those who don’t know a lick of Japanese can still appreciate the simple yet hardcore enjoyment Malicious offers and best of all, you don’t need to spend more than $20 to play it.
Even for a hardcore PS3 fan such as myself, I didn’t know a lot about Malicious before I actually committed to the purchase and got some hands-on time with it. I’ve heard about it briefly via message boards and on a Japanese centric podcast but beyond that I was totally in the dark. In some respects I’m still in the dark after playing it since I have no clue what my slightly stoic looking main character or any of the villains are saying. But I didn’t let such an obvious barrier get in my way of the shear enjoyment Malicious offers as it’s a game that in a way lives up to its name.
Upon some perusing to find out why I’m a dude in blue & white garb that just happens to be floating whilst battling dudes in Knight Armor I came across the basic plot of Malicious. The basic lowdown is that you play as a spirit who’s given the mission to destroy the Malicious, a bunch of baddies causing the oh so standard mayhem and destruction on Earth. Since you play as a spirit, I had the choice of choosing either a male or female character, both of whom have that somewhat familiar anime style look and design to them, if only a bit more empty than usual in the face department. From there I proceeded to get into the fun, yet simple and slightly gut punching experience that is Malicious.
To sum up the gameplay of Malicious is a bit tough to nail down as the game is somewhat in the Dynasty Warriors genre. But even saying that is underselling the game as Malicious doesn’t offer massive maps that take close to half an hour to complete after you’ve killed 5,000 Chinese soldiers and a bunch of generals with awesome sounding names. Instead, Malicious offers only five maps all of which are rather small in their size. But there’s a catch, right from the start each level has a massive boss that you need to take on all while you deal the standard enemies who at times can be challenging upon themselves. So in a way, Malicious is like an odd smash-up of Dynasty Warriors and Shadow of the Colossus in the WTF boss factor with a little dash of Devil May Cry in how bone crushing the bosses can be.
As interesting as the combat may sound, there’s actually a lot more to it than it may appear. Malicious of course features the standard long range and close range attacks that accompany most combat games, but how does a bullet ability sound as a long range weapon? Yeah, one of the four moves available in Malicious is a long range attack that looks like it was ripped out of a shmup. Hell, there’s even a multiple lock-on ability in which I was able to lock onto around 10 or so enemies and unleash a hailstorm of purplish/black bullets at them. Along with the bullets, my other abilities included conjuring two giant magical fists to unleash a whupping and a long range lance. All of the special abilities are earned after beating a boss so in a way it is important to decide which stage you tackle first since all five are available from the start of the game.
I can testify to how crucial it is making the proper decisions in level selection as upon first playing the game I got my ass whupped by a female warrior in a massive ornate room since my chap wasn’t properly equipped yet. But the choice of level selection wasn’t the only thing that provided a good amount of difficulty to me as the game as a whole has this almost hardcore difficulty vibe to it. The standard enemies I fought against were easy to handle but a few of the bigger foes and of course the boss provide a great level of challenge when battling. Sure, fighting against a giant Knight whose 35ft may be easy, but then when you need to fight a Knight with a gun and shield in an area with multiple cannons firing at you, things may become a bit too overwhelming.
But as I made myself through the various levels of Malicious, all of which are beautiful, I never got too annoyed. Yes, things can be hard as hell but the pace of the combat is rather fast and it’s often satisfying to shoot some bullets at a group of enemies and then go up close to get a few punches in before moving onto the boss. The bosses themselves are of course the showstoppers of the game and for the most part they don’t disappoint. Nothing in Malicious ever reaches a level of craziness like DMC or MGS in the boss department, but each one has their own characteristics and things are changed up a bit as not all of them are massive 150ft behemoths that belong in a Super Sentai show.
I also appreciated the level of strategy the game offered as the special moves, which are used to defeat the bosses, along with the ability to heal are governed by the amount of Aura a player has. Aura is obtained by defeating standard enemies, which in a way is a reason why there’s always 50+ enemies on the battlefield all while you try to fight a giant tank like fortress. So I always had to keep a close eye on my Aura while battling the bosses, not only to make sure my player didn’t shatter into a thousand pieces upon death, but to make sure I had the power to defeat the boss at hand.
The thing about Malicious is that it’s only 800 yen in Japan, which roughly converts to $10. With a price like that I was blown away by how damn good everything looked. Having played quite a few digitally distributed games, Malicious is definitely in my top five most visually appealing games. Not only are the levels diverse (a library, city square, floating fortress) but the art style is this really nice mix of almost steampunk sensibilities with a mix of standard anime and medieval visuals. Not only is the art style something that in the world of gaming looks original and inspiring, but the quality of the visuals themselves is also something worthy of praise. Slightly reminiscent of the upcoming El Shaddai, the visuals of Malicious have this almost painting like quality to them that looks really crisp in motion. There aren’t many games that feature enemies adorned in Knight Armor armed with bazookas or massive guns and despite as silly as that may sound, it just works in Malicious simply because the game has a look that’s unlike any other.
Malicious also performs quite wonderfully considering what’s happening on the screen as there game runs without a hitch. Even with combat arenas that are relatively small in scope, the game still throws a lot of stuff at the player which at times can be unrelenting. But thankfully Malicious doesn’t fall under its own weight and become a complete slow-motion festival due to frame rate problems as the game is buttery smooth throughout, something which fans of massive combat games should appreciate.
The only determent I had whilst playing Malicious laid in one all too familiar area: the camera. As is sometimes the case with action games, the camera in Malicious isn’t exactly as sharp as it could be in offering the best point of view to the player. To be honest, the camera in the game is often crap. It’s somewhat puzzling why the camera is so bad compared to the other aspects of the game, but the camera almost seems like it was ripped out of another game that wasn’t suited to display multiple enemies or giant bosses on the screen. I wouldn’t exactly say the camera in Malicious is a complete buzz kill, but it is something that I had to become accustomed to even with a little bit of tinkering via the Options Menu.
Experiencing Malicious I constantly had the feeling that the game was destined as a proper retail release but for some reason, perhaps to avoid cancellation, was thrown onto the PSN. I just can’t fathom how a game of this quality is released on the PSN for only $10. Not that I’m complaining at such a thing but it’s simply baffling since the game is something that would probably sell quite well at a $40-60 price point since the content is there. Yeah, it may be on the short side but Malicious just has this almost arcade style quality to it that like Vanquish had me going back for more in an attempting to better my overall score. Given how simple it is to make a JP PSN account and how easy JP PSN cards are obtainable (PlayAsia.com has digital codes) I can’t help but implore those who love crazy action games to check out Malicious since it offers a great mix of style, challenge and most importantly fun.