It's easy to be malicious in Malicious: Rebirth.
I'm being absolutely unfair to the rather dramatic-looking bosses for the umpteenth occasion. This time, I've baited one of them into trying to bulldoze the arch I'm standing on, a futile gesture given that destructible terrain isn't packaged with the port. He scrambles madly to get at me. I nod, put my laptop's power brick on the attack button, and go back to Pokemon Y. It's silly, it's exploitative, it's something I really shouldn't be able to do. But I can.
Malicious: Rebirth is a souped-up port of the 3D action brawler game Malicious, a game that knew exactly what it wanted to be: a catalyst for repetitive stress injuries. Much like with its predecessor, Malicious: Rebirth's narrative exists in a state of bony minimalism, enough to provide some reason to the mass destruction you will inevitably evoke but little more. Which is fine because combat is pretty much exclusively the focus here. More accurately, Malicious runs on boss battles. The usual conventions, like sprawling environments or a ponderous roster of collectibles or even linear level progression, are conspicuously absent. Instead, Malicious will let pick a stage before dropping you ("I'll pick you up in 30 minutes. Don't play nice!") at the big guy's doorstep.
Your only tool in the game is the Mantle of Cinders, an adaptive piece of attire that more than makes up for its raggedy appearance by being an entire arsenal rolled into one. In the beginning, you'll only have access to projectile weaponry, a pair of fabric-based fists and a primitive guard. But as you progress and put down more bosses, the Mantle will evolve, acquiring deadlier forms and functions. What's neat is that there's no restriction in regards to changing the Mantle's shape. You can switch active 'weapons' at any point and at any time without missing a beat.
Also of note, Malicious uses an easily obtainable resource called Aura instead of garden-variety paraphernalia like health potions or Mega Stones. Every stage in Malicious: Rebirth is filled with enemy minions of some variety, all of whom can be easily and swiftly harvested for the precious commodity. (I.E: You beat the carp out of them to gain Aura.) Using Aura is an even simpler pursuit; a few button presses and you'll have ramped up your damage capacity or healed yourself to full.
To give credit where credit is due, combat is spectacular to behold. Malicious makes no pretenses at realism. Effects are loud, flashy and excel at making you feel as though you're in a perennial state of Super Saiyan. You swoop, you fly, you run up walls. You discard limbs as you tak - no, no health bar. Just amputation to indicate damage. Yup. The problem with Malicious, though, is that in spite of the grandiose styling of its battles, the controls feel fiddly. Camera angles will test your wit and reflexes more than any of the bosses. Attacks seem somewhat floaty, feedback limited. Punches lack weight. By and large, your foes don't so much recoil as they produce fireworks, making it oddly unsatisfying unless you're looking to reproduce the Fourth of July celebrations on someone's back.
It doesn't help that the bosses are a little dense, a little prone towards glitching and running headlong into available masonry. Certainly, they're big and bad-ass but their most salient feature appears to be a monolithic health bar which can be tedious to whittle down. These hard-hitting attacks, unfortunately, are a mostly just a nuisance you can circumvent with your character's mobility. Constant motion and passing spatial awareness are usually enough to keep you intact. I didn't feel particularly challenged through most of my first playthrough; the final boss is the only one that had me really gnashing my teeth. Things get better after you've cleared the initial campaign, admittedly. The enemies in 'Rebirth', thus far, (Disclaimer: Just done with the second stage in the second playthrough) seem more competent at killing you dead. But, really, you shouldn't have to wait three hours (that's how long it took me to get through the first playthrough) to get the blood pumping.
Overall, the whole experience is repetitive but not terrible, per se. Malicious: Rebirth, I suspect, isn't a game you're supposed to binge on. Replayability comes in the shape of self-competition. You're graded based on the number of combos you've chained, the speed with which you killed the resident evil and so on. Can you beat your own time? And so on and so forth. There's a bit of exposition that you can busy yourself with if you take a moment to check out the Backstory option but it doesn't add terribly much to the overall picture.
I think what frustrates me most is the lingering sense that Malicious: Rebirth didn't quite live up to its potential. I liked being able to take the boss head-on. I like the fact the female character isn't an oversexualized nymph but simply a feminine version of the male protagonist. I liked the sense of movement, even if it gets ironically waylaid by the floatiness of the combat. For all of my complaints about the battles, some of them can be stellar. Again, that final fight from the first chapter? Totally epic. Malicious: Rebirth sits quite squarely in the realm of 'Okay.' Not great. Okay. Okay enough that I would recommend grabbing it if you're in the mood for a lightweight Soul Sacrifice and it is on sale. Okay enough that I plan to finish it, at some point.
Just, y'know, okay.
- Visuals:Graphics aren't jaw-dropping but certainly attractive enough. The environments are detailed, the bosses appropriately outrageous. Enemy design is, by and large, quite intriguing.
- Music:Both the soundtrack and the ambient noises feel spartan. Not grossly hideous to listen to but nothing extravagantly pleasing either.
- Interface:The controls feel floaty and occasionally unresponsive. To Malicious: Rebirth's credit, they're simplistic enough to make switching weaponry mid-combat a breeze but there's an awkwardness I could have done without.
- Lasting Appeal:Are you the type who just has to beat their own score? You'll love Malicious: Rebirth then. Otherwise, it's likely that it's just going to be an afternoon's diversion.
Malicious: Rebirth doesn't impress but neither does it disappoint terribly. Best in brief bursts, this action brawler is a short experience that could have used a tad more time in the oven. Bosses are surprisingly easy to exploit, which isn't necessarily a bad thing given the atrocious camera.
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