I know it might sound like utter nonsense, but don’t go in to Malicious expecting a fully formed single player adventure, as you’re not going to get that. What you are going to get, however, is an addictive and satisfying take on the Boss Rush mode, with enough depth to the combat to keep you coming back for repeated sessions, in the hope of improving your time and finally unlocking the leaderboards.
You did read that sentence right. In order to unlock the leaderboards (accessed through the time trail mode) in Malicious, you have to complete the game on Normal in under one hour. Now, I’m not the best at action games, so beating 6 bosses, ever increasing in difficulty, in under an hour is currently right up there on my possibility list with “growing wings and learning to fly”. I’m not going to be doing either of those things any time soon, unfortunately. Beating Malicious on Easy doesn’t yield any rewards apart from trophies, so unfortunately it’s Normal or nothing if you want to compete with your friends’ times online.
However, even if you never manage to get that time, Malicious is still an awesome experience from start to finish. Each boss is unique, and the methods for defeating your foes vary from one to the next. Their techniques also change depending on the order you tackle them in, which was pretty cool to see when I fired up the game for my second and third playthroughs. Every time you defeat a boss, you gain something of theirs, in true retro game style. You’ll end up with an arsenal of 4 different weapons, a ground pound and the ability to fly. By the time you make it to the final stage, you’ve had enough time to get used to all of your powers, and even if you haven’t quite gotten the hang of the timings you can always practice in the stage selection room. Malicious is deliciously retro in its design, right down to the tutorials. If you were hoping on long and detailed explanations, you’ll find none of that here, unfortunately. The game leaves a lot of the guessing up to you, leaving me to discover exactly what context it meant when it told me to press a button at a certain time. Indeed, the story the game presents adheres to this pattern too. You’re some kind of spirit vessel, and you have to defeat an evil invading force. There really isn’t much too it, but the real meat is in the gameplay, and thats satisfying enough to make up for the game’s poor excuse for a narrative.
Malicious isn’t a slouch visually though, with a well executed art style found throughout the game. Levels, while all taking the form of arenas of one sort or another, are wonderfully decorated and constructed, with little details like blades of grass or cities below an airship not going unnoticed. The enemies are visually distinctive, and your character looks great from every angle, even when they’re missing a limb or two. The same can’t be said for the framerate, however, which fluctuates wildly between “rock solid” and “10″ when things really start to heat up. Unfortunately, that’s the one place where I needed the game to be precise most. Malicious controls well, but when you’re trying desperately to evade enemies from every angle, you need those controls to be as precise as possible. The game also sounds great too, a sweeping orchestral score underpinning the action, and a fictitious language emerging from every character’s mouth. It all comes together wonderfully.
Malicious is a love letter to the days where good boss design was everything. Every enemy in this game is a challenge, and every encounter an exercise in pattern recognition and exploitation. Learn your enemies’ moves well, and find that weakness to exploit. I found myself going through the game multiple times in order to get better and better at the combat, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon, as I’m still learning various ways to improve how I go about vanquishing those bosses. If you love a good action game, you certainly won’t find one quite as deep as Malicious anywhere else on PSN.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here. This review is for the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
What I Like:
- Impressive soundtrack and presentation
- Deep and involving combat system that grows with upgrades
- Great visuals...
What I Dislike:
- ...as long as the frame rate holds up
- Doesn't do a great job of explaining things
- Crazy unlock requirement for leaderboards