Malicious is from that unique genre of games that rarely leaves Japan: like Shadow of the Colossus, it focuses on boss battles rather than exploration, and provides a very focused action experience. The plot is very simple, requiring you to retrieve some abilities which have corrupted the world and absorb them as your own. Despite its RPG-like appearance, it feels like a typical action game you would find in an arcade (albeit with better graphics and more mechanics). In between the button mashing, dodging, floating around, and painful resets, it actually manages to be a fun game to play and well worth the $10 PSN charges.
The actual gameplay can get frustrating—the game requires you to button mash quite a lot, to the extent that you can worry about your controller. After you learn the attacks or gain new abilities, this button mashing subsides, but the developers don’t exactly make that learning process easy. In order to learn what attacks you can use, how to attack in the first place, and how to heal, you have to look in the game manual. There is no tutorial teaching the basics of the game, and since chaining and combos are so essential to staying alive, this isn’t a plus for Malicious.
Once you get past those downsides, fighting the five available bosses becomes a fun experience. The flight ability was especially fun, along with the fact that you play most of the game in the air. You can choose the order you face the bosses, and that order affects how difficult they are and what abilities are available to you. Since each boss has multiple ways of defeating it, replaying with your new abilities is worth a try (especially if you’re trying to increase the grade for that level).
Graphics-wise, the game is beautiful. The style that the developers chose is perfect, allowing for flashy battles without seeming too cliché. The way that the scarf billows during the action is very natural and the different attacks flow seamlessly into each other. There are a few places where the graphics look odd—when you try to land on some higher structures, you will sometimes appear to be floating—but that might just be on the programming side of things. The creature designs can also be hit-or-miss—the boss of the library level looked amazing, while its minions…seemed out of place. The way that you defeat these enemies compensates for its strange design choices, along with the amazing battle animations. The main problem with the visuals of the game lies in the very poor camera. There were many times that the boss leapt up and the camera sank into the floor, making it difficult to dodge or play, since your character takes up the whole screen.
If you can look past the downsides, Malicious gives a good action-arcade experience and delivers it all in a nice, graphically stylized package. The difficulty is very hard until you master the controls—and then, it becomes a challenge. Replaying through allows you to increase your score or change your tactics, figuring out the approach that best suits you for each boss. If you know exactly how to play, it takes less than an hour to beat—but until you’ve mastered it, expect to spend a lot of time dying.