People have been comparing Namco Bandai Games’ Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom to Ico. There are some strong similarities to the classic PS2 game: Majin takes place in a faraway fantasy kingdom with crumbling architecture and beset by shadowy creatures. And the player controls a human character who’s linked to a partner character, just like Ico and Yorda.
But the differences between Ico and the title being developed by the Tokyo-based Game Republic studio are huge. They start, obviously, with the partner character. While Yorda was wan, weak and a bit spaced-out, Majin is a monstrous, kind-hearted giant. Tepeu, his human buddy, is a thief who wanders into a kingdom under siege from black magic. Tepeu frees Majin while plying his trade–and grabs a glowing staff weapon and finds out that the big guy’s lost his memory.
During the demo, I got to see how Tepeu and Majin will work together during combat and puzzle-solving. You’ll be able to issue commands to Majin and he’ll crouch so you can climb him for platforming challenges. Majin can either attack with his fists or with the elemental powers he earns as the game proceeds; he’ll be able to project fire, water and electricity wherever you direct him. One sequence had Tepeu snatching a bomb from one part of the environment, having Majin light the fuse and scurrying to the entrance that need to be blasted open. The combat has some lite RPG elements, too, that required Majin to suck up energy from defeated enemies lest they come back to life. But it won’t always be Majin bailing Tepeu out of trouble, though. The bigger member of the pair can get overwhelmed by enemies and will need you to take out the bad guys who can swarm and climb all over him. When they face down larger antagonists, Tepeu and Majin will have combo attacks where Majin throws Tepeu the bigger bad guys. And the environment becomes a weapon when you’re rolling with a guy as big as Majin. You can have him shove a wall down on top of unsuspecting enemies, with hilarious and deadly results.
Stuff like this isn’t all that uncommon from games where you have to steer a partner AI, but the thing that grabs you with Forsaken Kingdom is Majin’s gentle demeanor. When he speaks, it’s with a gruff voice and LOLcat-style grammar. You immediately feel that you need to protect this moss-covered galoot and it drives the urgency of the gameplay. I remarked that Majin reminded me a little bit of The Dark Crystal and seemed like what a Jim Henson video game might look like. It’s also reminiscent of Where the Wild Things Are, especially in Majin’s hulking character design.
It’s been a long time since Ico and we don’t know exactly when expect the Team Ico dev studio’s next effort since The Last Guardian no-showed at E3 this year. But, despite all the name-checking of influences, don’t think of Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom as a Ico knockoff. Rather, think of it as a new opportunity to take an emotional journey through a storybook environment with a super-strong traveling buddy. Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom will be hitting PS3 and Xbox 360 this winter.