A reworking of Malicious for PlayStation 3, Malicious Rebirth is an extended version of the title – including an entirely new chapter called “Rebirth” to extend your game-play. This new chapter includes new levels, bosses and moves; giving the player more of the jump-in-and-play type boss fights that the original was built around. Like Soul Sacrifice, this one can be played in long sessions or spurts – though you might want to practice a bit before you attempt any of the trophies as the learning curve reads like a cubed variable when graphed (think nearly vertical).
The story in Malicious Rebirth is fairly non-existent, throwing you into the game with little preparation or knowledge other than a few hints on the controls if you ask the right questions. The bottom line is that as a spirit vessel, you’re tasked with taking out the Malicious; a group of demons with dangerous amounts of power. You were chosen by the Prophets to reclaim this power , to keep it from spreading throughout the world. The kicker is that due to a lack of story, you can play through the “levels” in any order you wish – the experience changing in difficulty based on who you fight and the order you gain your abilities. The only “set in stone” experiences are the final bosses of the two chapters, only appearing once you’ve beaten the initially available Malicious foes.
The Mantle of Cinders is your only weapon; it’s an enchanted necklace which can transfigure itself into various deadly forms. In the beginning the mantle only contains the shield, fist and demon bullet abilities – but as you progress by beating bosses you can gain a few more attacks and variants. Upon defeat, each boss gives you a certain ability; this makes the order in which you progress through these bosses (and gain the abilities they give) something to consider. For example, you might want to have the spear before you fight on the battlefield level since it’s a good weapon to defeat that particular Malicious being – so you’d fight in the library first. There’s a strategy to be found in which levels to play in which order, based on your own particular skills.
Along with your skills, you’re going to have to farm some minion kills to win – as this will help you gain something called aura. Aura is the main “currency” of the game, allowing you to repair the damage to your spirit vessel (which is shown physically as missing body parts) or power up enchantments – it’s an important part of your arsenal.
To repair your spirit vessel you need to keep from being hit while holding the left trigger and circle; the cost in aura for the repairs depending on the amount of damage you’ve taken. It seems that each body part that has been destroyed requires four hundred aura points to restore, and if you run out of extremities you “die” – your body lysing into a million pieces of spirit.
When powering up enchantments, you can do so one of two ways; standard power up or an exponential increase. Standard power ups only need you to hold the left trigger while delivering attacks, offering a modest increase in damage to your opponent. Exponential increases are activated by holding the left trigger and X for a certain period of time depending on the strength of the increase. There are three increase levels you can hit, giving you a great deal more power each time – the third level being able to devastate early bosses in just a few hits. The downside to this exponential boost is that it eats aura constantly (instead of simply with each strike) and costs more to use, meaning you need to build a big reserve of aura to use it properly.
Aside from abilities and aura, there’s one more thing the game offers that can alter the outcome; costumes with benefits. With the costumes available in the game, you can boost either your offence, defense or aura gathering ability… or you can just stick with the standard look and kick it old school with a balanced scheme. Each of the alternate costumes comes with its own caveat as well, weakened defenses, limited extra abilities and weakening basic abilities accompany offence, defense and aura gathering respectively.
The levels themselves are self contained micro-mazes, offering a few places to run and hide as well as obstacles to maneuver – the perfect type of levels for boss battles. I actually preferred the way they set up the levels to that of Soul Sacrifice (the gold standard for boss battle games on Vita) – the detail and overall style being much more pleasing than an open lot with a few rocks.
The controls aren’t the greatest. There are a host of different combos, attacks and maneuvers but most of them just feel clunky or underpowered. I honestly felt like I could’ve gone through almost the whole game with just the sword or spear paired with the demon bullets – a disappointing conclusion regarding a game about attacking your enemies and gaining abilities. The learning curve for the controls is one of the most obvious things you’ll notice about Malicious Rebirth, as the first hour or more of play will be you getting your ass handed to you (almost literally, due to the body part destruction element). Most people who haven’t played this type of game before would find it hard to pick up and play; it requires almost complete knowledge of the control scheme just to make it through a few boss battles with the three continues you’re initially given – a faux pas for many unseasoned gamers. Most attacks you’ll be using are two-button execution and the standard attacks (single button, don’t cost aura) are pretty much useless. The camera also isn’t the greatest, offering a limited viewpoint (why can’t I look up?) unless you’re in the air. I honestly suggest trying all the available levels and picking the easiest, then learning the control scheme on it before attempting a full play-through as it won’t likely be as frustrating.
The graphics are actually quite decent, offering a fairly pretty view of the world even from the darkest of places. The frame rate is pretty solid, except for in a few areas when too many sprites/lighting elements are on screen at a time. It definitely didn’t seem to hamper game-play at all and I barely noticed it aside from when you’re caught with no shield in one of the big boss’ attacks.
The audio was… lacking. The sound effects didn’t seem right to me, both in timing (lag) as well as the actual sounds – I found it quite distracting. The fake language voice over (instead of using English/Japanese) was extremely annoying when hearing it for the fourteenth time in a row – and you’ll be dying a lot in this game so be prepared to hear it that often. For me, this ended up being another game which was much more enjoyable with my own music playing instead of the in-game audio.
To give a verdict on Malicious Rebirth is a bit of a hard task. As it stands, I’ve spent way too much time learning how to play compared to actually playing. Then again, I enjoyed it enough that I didn’t curse under my breath every time I picked it up – even though it was so hard in areas I was stuck for days and knew I’d be picking it up just to die. I think that definitely says something about what the game could have been; unfortunately Malicious Rebirth is a bit more of a missed opportunity than a must-have.
At $15 in North America, it’s in the realm of cheap but not quite there – a sentiment that seems to echo through the game’s content as well. In every area the game seems to have been created with valiant effort (aside from the audio department), though the overall presentation comes up short in almost every area once you get past the shine of it all. This gold plating hides a lead interior that weights you down; with a steep learning curve and hard/illogical battle components creating a game that’s decent enough to play, but hard to recommend. It’s not something you’d necessarily hate or think sucked, but it’s not a stand out either – the control scheme, boss design, abilities list and combos are pretty lacklustre as well as the story being practically non-existent. Game play is repetitive but not necessarily boring – definitely something they could’ve improved upon but definitely not the worst ingredient in this game-soup. It just seemed like they had something that could’ve been decent; a portable boss-fighting game with jump-in style play, multiple abilities and different “paths” to the end… and then thought “well, that’s too much work” and did the bare minimum to make it look good from the outside.
If you find Malicious Rebirth on sale for under $10 and you’re bored – pick it up. Otherwise, this one might be a pass due to its inability to stand out in a crowd.