After more than three and a half years in development, Malice is finally available to the gaming public. And what a long, strange trip it has been for Argonaut's oft-delayed platformer. Not long after its initial 2001 announcement, Malice essentially disappeared. A few news tidbits would pop up here and there regarding shifted release schedules, but no real news or concrete word on the game's status surfaced--not until May of last year, when VU Games, Malice's publisher, announced that it was dropping support for the game. Flash forward to this January, when budget-title publisher Mud Duck announced that it would be bringing the game out in the US. Of course, by this point, Malice had practically been deemed vaporware, and when the game quietly found its way onto shelves earlier this month, those keeping score were simply amazed that it actually existed. Well, it certainly does exist, though after playing through Malice's dull and disjointed six-hour quest, you can't help but wonder why.
It has taken more than three years for Malice to find its way to stores, and after playing it, you won't be able to understand why it took so long.
Malice begins with an exceptionally exposition-free introduction that features the game's title heroine, Malice--a doll-eyed, candy raver-looking goddess--being beheaded by Dog God, a fiery, oversized canine who looks sort of like a cross between the devil and a schnauzer. Malice was apparently working to stop Dog God and his evil armada from taking over the world (obviously, that didn't quite work out). After being sent away from the afterlife by a rather cross grim reaper (who explains that goddesses aren't permitted in the afterlife), Malice hooks up with a big talking clock called the Metal Guardian, who sends her off to collect a bunch of keys from various minions of Dog God for no particularly well-explained reason. This is about as much plot as you'll ever get out of Malice. Random side characters and plot points are occasionally brought into the fold, but what exactly is going on, and why any of it is going on, pretty much takes a backseat to a lot of hammy one-liners. Whether or not there was ever supposed to be more to Malice's saga is unclear, but the end result isn't interesting in the slightest.
This is basically because Malice never finds a way to make you care about any of what you're doing. The plot is so shoddily set up that the story becomes meaningless very quickly, and none of the game's characters have any personality to speak of. Malice is essentially just a valley girl with "attitude," and though she's chock-full of one-liners to deliver during cutscenes, she is never a character you grow to like in the slightest, visually or through her dialogue. The side characters you encounter, such as the Metal Guardian, aren't any better. Here and there they'll spout off a marginally amusing joke about one vague pop culture reference or another (MC Hammer jokes anyone?), but beyond these few moments of humor, there's nothing to latch onto with these characters. This problem isn't just relegated to Malice's plot, though; it plagues much of the gameplay as well.
Malice's gameplay essentially consists of the simplest and most rudimentary of platforming mechanics, with absolutely no unique spin of any kind. This is bare-bones platforming at its most mediocre. Basically, Malice can jump, double jump, and wield one of three different types of hammers. With the hammer, she can do a basic sideswipe or a more powerful slam move. Malice also can use a few different magic abilities, which you acquire throughout the game, such as the ability to speed up, to slow down everything around you, to glide through the air, to create an antidamage shield, or to just nuke everything around you. While the various magic types aren't bad by themselves, they are ultimately too useful. Magic is gauged by a small meter near your health bar, and you deplete it as you use magic. However, throughout every world is a veritable treasure trove of magical crystals that power your magic meter back up. You never really have to worry about running out of magic, and in the instances where magic comes in handy, it makes whatever task you're performing almost stupidly easy.