The Majin looks pretty intimidating in the wrong light. He's humungous, with arms like tree trunks and a frame that would put the Hulk to shame. Grass grows on his forearms and back, and two colossal horns sprout from his boulder-like head. One look at his face negates any sense of danger, however; his tiny glowing eyes emit only kindness, and the teeth living in the huge chasm of his mouth are round. Everybody knows nasty monsters have sharp teeth. No, the Majin is one of the good guys - a legendary guardian who wouldn't harm a fly. Unless, that is, you ordered him to.
Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom is a game that revolves around partnership. You could compare it to Enslaved, if you liked, or – more appropriately - Ico. The game is developed by Game Republic, a Japanese studio formed from several members of the original Ico and Shadow of the Colossus teams, so the comparison is just. While it seems to have flown under the radar of the entire industry, forty-five minutes with the game was enough to make me take notice. There's an atmosphere and charm to it that struck a chord with me almost immediately. It's cute, funny, intriguing and thoroughly enjoyable.
The story is traditional: an evil sweeps across the land, swallowing civilisations and plunging the world into darkness. The survivors band together, fleeing to the bordering desert to start the world anew. One day, the strongest of these survivors leaves on a mission to reclaim the land but is thwarted in their efforts by warriors born from the darkness. These creatures drip with viscous black ooze, the kind of monsters children might imagine lurking in the dark corners of their bedroom at night. One hundred years down the line, a lone thief manages to slip past the warriors unnoticed, and heads into the heart of the Forsaken Kingdom. This is where the adventure begins.
Our thief is an attractive blend of Jak (Daxter's pal) and a Gelfling (of The Dark Crystal fame). His competency as a hero is brought into question almost immediately, however. In a scrap against several shadow warriors, he manages to lose his sword and is thrown into the depths of a rather uninviting hole. Lying at the bottom of some dark and mystical ruins, the young thief is spurred back into action by the distant sound of snoring. Hoping that it will lead him to the legendary guardian that is said to sleep within its depths, he pushes forward. The music sets the mood fantastically; sitars and violins giving the place a whimsical feel. The snoring gets louder and louder, until the beast creating the awful din is revealed.
The Majin also looks as if he was born from the mind of Jim Henson; not for a second does the thief think the creature could do him any harm. After releasing the beast from his shackles, the unlikely duo decides to escape the desolate ruins they've found themselves in and return to the outside world. No longer a hostage of the darkness, the Majin declares our Gelfling-esque hero his new master and the seeds of a strange and compelling relationship begin to germinate.
The Majin carries out his new master's commands with child-like glee, smashing enemies to a shadowy pulp as if it were a playground game. He laughs and jeers, shouting his trademark 'yay!' every time he sends another one to the grave. He's obedient to a fault, and won't do anything without being asked. This, as you might imagine, gives rise to all manner of puzzles and combat strategies - you're the brains and he's the brawn. Often your path will be blocked by huge stone doors, which the Majin must be ordered to open in order to progress. Shadow warriors will hamper your advances at every turn, but with the Majin at your side there's little to worry about.