This is why they have gift receipts.
Video games have always been about the experience. Most of the time, that experience is tailored to a solitary player, an interaction between software and the individual. Multiplayer-focused titles alter the role of software to give you a focus on other players. Between these two styles, Ico ignited a fascination with creating software that gives the player a relationship with an AI partner. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom does the same by pairing you with an oversized, slow-moving, constantly hungry tree-baby with an inability to use the verb "to be".
[image1]Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom's threadbare plot invokes Hayao Miyazaki at every turn. The player speaks with animals, releases and plays around with a benevolent god of nature, and battles ink-blot creatures that look way too much like that goopy No Face from Spirited Away. The struggle behind the dark forces and the natural world are also about as blatantly representative of "industry vs. nature" as they are in Princess Mononoke.
These connections between Majin and Japan's Walt Disney wouldn't be so bad if they were implemented in a less half-assed and less advertent way. The only elements alluding to Miyazaki that is worthy of the name are the enemy designs and the way the player's character is covered by the ink-goop as his health diminishes.
The hero has the ability to talk to animals throughout the story. These parrots, mice, and other wildlife seem almost proud to have such horrible, grating, and loathsome voice-acting. It's too bad they usually clue the player on directions and information, because you'll feel like you can't skip these bits of dialogue fast enough.
[image2]Wrapped in this half-baked aesthetic is a mix of gameplay that wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the annoying level of poorly-done gloss. As you progress from area to area to find and destroy the darkness that's plaguing the kingdom, you're challenged to sneak past enemies when separated from the Majin and fight your way through when you're together. There's also a hefty amount of platforming and puzzle-solving that evolves as you progress and grow your Majin's skilltree. You can issue commands inside and out of battle; telling the Majin to blow in combat will knock enemies down while the same command outside of combat will start a giant barrel-swing with which the player can use to reach new platforms.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom reminds me of The Hobbit, a game I received for Christmas from my grandparents. I was too eager to play a new game to question the quality of the game I had just unwrapped... to my chagrin. I predict Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom will also be received by a lot of gamers this holiday, but if you have an opportunity to ask for a gift receipt, take it.
It's not that Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a bad game, but it isn't a good game either. The overall gameplay is on track, at least with a forsaken kingdom filled with a balanced mix of puzzling, platforming, sneaking, and fighting. But stretching the aesthetic elements, the toddler-hand-holding relationship that will grow between you and the Majin, or those damn talking animals will wear extremely thin. Still, if you can look past these elements or focus on the rare details that actually work in the story and art style, you might find something to like.