Boss battles. They seem to crop up in pretty much every game, even when they aren’t invited (Deus Ex, we’re looking at you) but when done well, they can turn a great game into an amazing one.
Just look at Bayonetta: giant tentacle-spewing cherub heads and oversized sea serpents stealing the show in what was already a technical masterpiece.
But not all games can be quite so overtly excellent and the long, hard slog between such gaming highlights can be a little draining. Someone at Alvion, then, has made a brilliant call – in removing all the trudgery and repetition of making your way between such epic encounters, the unknown studio has produced a boss rush of which any triple-A developer would be proud.
Each of Malicious’s six varied stages follows the same simple rule set, one by which games have lived for decades – mess up the big guy while smashing up his smaller friends to keep yourself alive.
Each level is effectively just a boss battle, albeit one where the small fry take priority over the guy who got his own cut scene at the start of the level.
Defeating these grunts in style offers a reward in the form of Aura points, which are needed to unleash most of the more potent attacks in your hero’s arsenal, though just working out how to employ these is no mean feat.
You see, Malicious doesn’t exactly explain itself very well. With five stages available from the off (each with a different boss to defeat and power to unlock for doing so), working out which order to tackle the initial set of levels is tricky until you’ve sampled the lot, though some bosses are noticeably easier than others with the right abilities under you belt.
Battles are relentless and require both smart attacking and defence.
With just the default weapons – a rapid-fire laser with a lock-on option and a pair of giant ethereal fists – some of the tougher enemies can prove problematic but there’s enough emphasis on skill that levels can be taken on in any order with enough dexterity and creativity.
Like the greats of the action genre, Malicious offers a move set that is deceptively simple yet deep enough to satisfy even the most hardcore of palettes, covering every base from those that just want to hammer buttons and watch things die to those that consider naked speed runs of Dark Souls a normal thing to do on a Friday night.
Bringing down a boss in the half hour alloted for each stage isn’t all that tough, for instance, but with a little practice and a lot of skill, most of the titans can be felled in mere minutes, with a little from on-the-fly weapon swaps and clever use of the many abilities that the Aura level governs.
As a retail release, Malicious would never have gotten away with being just a glorified boss rush. But as a digital release, it apparently has no qualms with bucking tradition and this works massively in the game’s favour.
It’s an odd hybrid of old-school shooter conventions and modern action mechanics but it works brilliantly, a perfect example of boiling something down to its most basic form and building from there.
It won’t be for everyone but for those that always look forward to boss battles above all else, Malicious is a dream come true.