What if elements from Mega Man, Gravity Rush, Bayonetta and Demon’s Souls were meshed together into a single package? Enter Malicious, a PSN exclusive developed by Alvion. Releasing roughly two years ago in Japan via PSN, is it still a title that should be experienced?
You’ll take control of a Spirit Vessel (you get to choose between a male or female), a powerful being that is summoned by the great prophets, to defend the kingdoms being overrun by evil giants known as “Holders”. Imbued with the Mantle of Cinders, you will have the ability to form weapons or shields to defend yourself against these Holders and their subordinates. The premise of the story is basically set up on that but should you want to explore the mythology of the characters, there’s an in-depth backstory that you can read up on as well. The story is a neat premise but is nothing deep or engaging by any means.
What Malicious aims to be is essentially a fast-paced, boss battle rush mode. As you begin, you’ll be introduced to the hub where you’ll choose which kingdom to enter and defend. It’s here where I drew comparisons to Demon’s Souls and Mega Man. The hub itself reminded me of the aspect of the Nexus from Demon’s Souls, where you’ll move around to access the pedestal depicting an image of the kingdom to enter. In terms of the Mega Man comparison, you’ll be on a non-linear path to choose how to go about tackling your bosses in whichever order you want. However, each boss defeated will net you new abilities that may be more powerful to utilize on particular bosses. Discovering which bosses to tackle in a particular order is part of the fun and memorization aspect of the game, giving it a somewhat old-school feel.
Malicious is primarily about combat, and it has a pretty interesting system. As you begin, you’ll be restricted to a weak, yet effective projectile attack and fists which are formed via the mantle hovering behind your character’s head (similar to how Bayonetta’s hair forms fist attacks). You’ll have your weak and strong attack buttons to switch up between while forming combos for your up-close attacks. Thankfully, as you upgrade your mantle with new abilities and weapons, the combat becomes more intuitive. The massive sword you’ll obtain may be sluggish to swing around but is prime to taking out a wave of enemies surrounding you. The lance you’ll obtain after a specific boss allows you to thrust forward to wherever you point the analog stick and attack. Using the lance’s strong attack allows you to hover in the air, aim anywhere in your distance and lunge down on enemies to clear a small radius of the area. Your fists will even receive a substantial upgrade at a certain point that will allow you to throw an endless amount of punches in rapid succession, unless an enemy disrupts your flow with an attack.
The game contains five boss battles to tackle in any order, with a final boss battle awaiting once the five Holders are defeated. The game can be completed in under an hour on Easy difficulty, but choose Normal and you can expect a much stiffer challenge that will demand your full attention to guarding and dodging. Boss battles will take a solid amount of time, so don’t feel discouraged if you notice the boss’s health bar barely going down. Learning the boss’s tactics and building up your Aura gauge is all a part of the showdown. Aura is absolutely essential in succeeding in your battles as it allows you to repair your armor and increase your attack power. Chaining together kills while using the aura abilities will net you even more aura than normal, which you’ll learn is integral. While you’ll be spending aura points to use these abilities, you’ll be able to turn it around by earning more than actually using it up. Your health consists of the character’s appearance, whether losing parts of armor or certain ligaments. Every time the screen freezes for a second and shows lit up veins surrounding the edge of the screen, you’ve lost a piece of armor. Utilizing your aura ability, you can repair yourself at a cost and the more pieces missing, the more it will cost you both point and time-wise.
Now there are a couple of problems the game has. First off, the game lacks a proper tutorial, leaving players in the dark when starting off. You can access the game manual or ask one of the prophet’s in the hub about the game’s mechanics, but it’s strange that no “proper” tutorial was provided for players. The other issue is the camera. While you can choose to lock-on to enemies and/or bosses, the camera usually gets in the way of the chaotic action, leaving you wondering who the real boss is, the Holder or the camera. Also, this can be taken as an interesting premise or a very poor one…leaderboard functionality. Leaderboards are great for those who want to compete with friends or strangers around the world, yet Malicious approaches it a bit differently. In order to access the leaderboards, you need to actually complete the game on Normal in under one hour. The game is by no means a walk in the park on Normal mode and proves to be a solid challenge. It seems as if Alvion wanted players to “earn” the right to be placed on leaderboards, which is neat but many may find questionable. Lastly, while each boss has specific strategies, the final boss initially has an odd strategy that will leave players wandering aimlessly, scratching their head as to what to do. It just doesn’t do the finest job with a sense of direction during certain boss battles.
Earlier I mentioned that the game was part “Gravity Rush”, which I meant in terms of visuals. Malicious is a beautiful looking game that looks reminiscent to Gravity Rush’s visual style. The wonderfully crafted art style is rich with detail and color that truly pops out. Battles get intense and the game runs at a solid framerate the entire experience, with no hiccups and no screen-tearing, helping keep the immersion intact. To heighten the game’s experience is the incredibly well composed soundtrack that truly stands out. Malicious boasts a fantastic, powerful orchestrated score that perfectly nails the both atmosphere and intensity of the battles.
Overall, Malicious is a solid title for the PSN that ranks among some of the more unique ones available. While it may have its issues, the elegant visuals, outstanding soundtrack and intriguing combat system will keep players returning for several playthroughs to try and perfect the mechanics. Malicious is a great new IP and one that should return sooner rather than later.
Overall Score: 8.0 out of 10 = BUY IT!