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Published July 26, 2012

I’ve always said that Sony doesn’t get enough credit for their digital offerings, with Steam sales and the Microsoft’s Summer of Arcade typically garnering most of the headlines. For a major publisher, Sony’s catalog is pretty bizarre: Linger in Shadows, The Last Guy, Trash Panic, Datura, to name just a few. None of them are completely successful, but they’re novel enough that you can look past technical failings. This week, it’s time to add Malicious to that group. Sandwiched between critical darling Dyad and the Play promotional lineup, it’s bound to be overlooked, but fans of old school boss fights will find much to love.

Like Shadow of the Colossus, you’re singularly focused on defeating a series of boss opponents, and like SotC, the bosses are typically huge. I’m not sure why your “spirit vessel” character is tasked with doing so, as the game’s story is relegated to a separate static menu item, but the design of the “malicious” creatures and the promise of new weapons is enough of a draw. The creatures and costumes are all very colorful and otherworldly; there are a few monsters here that would fit right at home in Panzer Dragoon. The intricate details are all there – arenas packed with obstacles and ornate decorations, bosses armed with superfluous cannons and platforms, your spirit vessel’s trademark scarf. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the craftsmanship on display.

Though your focus is always on taking down those bosses, foot soldiers and other henchmen also patrol each arena, and defeating them through chained attacks nets you “aura” points. You can then use said points to deal heavy damage to your enemies, though they drain quickly enough when you miss to add a healthy risk/reward dynamic. The problem is that while you must switch between grunts and boss in order to stay in the fight, the camera simply isn’t up to the task. At all. You can point the camera in any direction and hit the lock-on button, only to have it target a random enemy behind you. This becomes a major liability when fighting some of the swifter bosses, and I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the least capable cameras I’ve seen in ages.

Malicious takes cues from Mega Man, too, letting you select levels in whatever order you prefer, and victory earns you new weapons and defensive capabilities. Sadly, this structural departure isn’t enough to mask how repetitive the combat is (or perhaps it even highlights this). Though each boss coughs up a unique addition to your arsenal, you never get the sense that there’s a strategic element at play. Like Mega Man 2‘s Metal Blade, once you get the knuckles, there’s no turning back. Almost all bosses succumb to the simple beat down, which is too bad given all of their personality and visual variety. I don’t foresee any score attack rivalries forming in my future.

However, even when the game falls short, there are enough interesting ideas and visual splendor to warrant the $10 asking price. At the very least, Malicious deserves to find an audience that will love its unique charms.

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