The premise of Malicious is simple: beings with no real identity – but shall be referred to as Prophets – summon the playable character, known as the Spirit Vessel. As is happens, you have been summoned to fight against a great evil known as Malicious. To do this, you need to fight five holders of power to inherit abilities which will help you defeat the great evil Malicious. There is a back-story on the bosses you fight, which is told in four written chapters. It will give great insight to what’s going on and humanize the bosses that you’ll fight. Of course, it’s preferable to see cut-scenes (especially since the artistic style is so well done), but since it’s a small game, it’s understandable that there aren’t any voice overs, which is perfectly sufficient.
The game is very similar to Shadow of the Colossus, where there are no levels to progress through, but simply bosses to fight. You start in a white void, select any level (Bosses aren’t in order), and jump head-first into a boss battle. The levels are well done, giving great scenery to encompass the feel of a fantasy world. The bosses are creatively done, as well. Some are massive, making you feel like you could be crushed by one attack, while others are small and fast, making the fight all about speed. It isn’t just the bosses alone, but there are also infinite minions running around. This adds an even larger scope, making it feel like less of a one-on-one fight and more of a massive battle taking place during a war.
The controls are simple enough. The directional pad chooses one of four weapons that are manifested by the black mantle hanging from your neck called the Mantle of Cinders. It can form into a shield, giant fists, lance, sword, or shoot lasers for distance targets. Square does a light attack, while Triangle does a strong attack. The X button jumps and Circle blocks or dashes. There is a slight problem with the dashing. It should’ve been fluent – for example, if you’re running in one direction, simply tapping Circle should mean you dash in that same direction, but as it stands, if you’re already moving and hit circle, you stop and block. This means your character has to be still before dashing. It’s a small complaint, but the momentary pause is unnecessary and sometimes costly.
Now the most important part: everything revolves around Aura. The most common way to gather aura is by destroying the infinite minions. There’s an extreme pleasure in swooping down with mighty fists and annihilating the mere foot soldiers. Once you gather some aura, you head back towards the boss to resume the battle. You can spend aura on each individual attack to chain together combos or you can charge up your entire Vessel. When you do this, the aura will constantly countdown, but all of your attacks have a boost in strength and do some serious damage. Aura also helps you heal when you’re damaged, and damaged is an accurate description. Unlike a boring health bar, your body is your health bar. When you take a devastating hit, the screen cracks, making you aware of the harm your body has just endured. The limbs disappear, leaving a floating body behind. Since you fight with your mantle weapons, your actual limbs are extra, but it paints a great picture to see the wounded Spirit Vessel without legs and arms trying to survive.
Fighting in this game is extremely thrilling. The character responds well to controls and moves swiftly to keep the action fast-paced. The Vessel’s always hovering above the ground, allowing you to fly up walls easily and even hang on some ceilings, making any part of the level playable. The bosses have a lot of health, so you can either boost your attacks with aura to add more damage (which is risky because if you run out of aura, you won’t be able to heal if you’re damaged) or you can play it safe. However, there is a thirty minute time limit on every level. Thirty minutes is plenty of time, and if you’re running out of time, change your strategy, because you’re doing something wrong.
There have been complaints over the controls since there isn’t a tutorial. This isn’t true: there is a Prophet standing by at all times to answer and explain everything to you, and this includes every move you can perform. This game doesn’t hold your hand and walk you through the levels. You’ll need to walk on your own two feet in this game, because it certainly will smack you around. It’s a hard game, especially since you only have three continues throughout the entire story mode, adding tension to each fight.
There is one major problem, and that’s the camera. Click R1 once to target the nearest enemy; the problem is, at any given moment you could be surrounded by a hundred enemies, so which one do you target? Sometimes, the game really decides to screw you over and target something across the map: no idea why, but it could easily get you killed. Double tap R1 to target the boss, which works much better than targeting the nearest enemy. Hold R1 to manually aim; this would work if you weren’t constantly dodging attacks, leaving you with no time to aim. In the beginning of the game, you’ll be cursing the camera, but towards the end of the game, you learn to work with it. The other problem is the length: it will take about three hours to beat this game. This is fairly short, but there is some replay value. Once you beat the story, a Free Play mode becomes available and it doesn’t keep track of continues, relieving that extra stress. Each level also has a rank, so going back and attempting to S-rank every level will certainly keep you busy. You can also unlock Time Attack and Score Attack. This will give you access to the online leader boards. There are also trophies to unlock, and some are incredibly hard, but there is no platinum trophy, which lessens the motivation to try and accomplish those extra difficult ones.
Malicious is a wonderful game that’s short, but incredibly sweet. The fighting is smooth, and there is endless fun in obliterating all of the smaller minions surrounding the boss. When you gather more power ups, the fun fighting only increases. In the beginning, you’ll struggle, but towards the end, you’ll feel like a super hero flying around performing devastating moves. The visually appealing artistic presentation is accompanied with a good musical score to help increase the overall attraction and intensify battles. The few flaws like camera controls and length drag down this game, but it still shines as a unique experience that is highly suggested.
Final Verdict: For only $10, this is a cheap game to pick up. It may be short, but the fun gameplay and unique experience is well worth it.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PSN version of Malicious by Alvion