‘Majestic-12’ Review – Vibrant Extraterrestrial Violence

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Exis Interactive describe the experience of playing their game, Majestic-12, as something of an “instant OMFG cluster carnage, oh look there’s depth, nom nom sensation.” Honestly, I couldn’t have put it better myself. Trying to sum up this shoot-‘em-up, 3-D side-scrolling Contra/Castle Crashers hybrid is almost as disorientating as dodging the zillion and one bullets, lasers and rockets that the enemies in the game send flying your way.

The basic concept is the simplest of the simple: there are aliens wreaking havoc on Earth (what else is new?) and it’s up to you to set things right by blasting them all into next millennium. It’s pretty easy too, as it turns out – at least at first. Though there’s no tutorial, the first level starts off very slow in order to give new players time to warm up and learn the rules at a smooth, natural pace. From there, the difficulty gradually increases from introductory-level to bullet hell. The menu is unfortunately inaccessible during gameplay, but the key assignments are displayed whenever you load a new level and don’t require a whole lot of brainpower to remember. Aiming is simplified with a crosshair (on most levels), though occasionally it feels a bit off. Just remember: if all else fails, aim for the feet. It’s strangely effective.

The brain-baffling aspect of the game, however, is neither the concept nor learning how to play, but in the surprising quantity of bells and whistles decorating the basic package. From the beginning you’ve got options, as there are several player-characters to choose from. (Only one of them is a woman, though. Sigh.) This is mainly a cosmetic choice, as there seems to be no tangible difference between playing as one or the other.

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There are eight levels, each with a different environment complete with hordes of new and unusual enemies particular to each area, including unique (and sometimes downright ridiculous) bosses and mini-bosses, like the all-powerful Sentry and an extremely militant dolphin. That’s right – a dolphin. Aside from variety in scenery, some levels also change up the gameplay a bit. For instance, while most levels have you traveling on foot, around Level 3 you find yourself commanding a small spacecraft. Though undeniably cool, the downside of this is that for some reason you no longer get a crosshair, and aiming is limited to shooting dead ahead; this achieves nothing except to make combat more difficult and less enjoyable.

The game allows co-op for up to four players, and in addition to campaign mode, the game includes survival mode, which involves defending a weapon of mass destruction from several waves of enemies until help arrives, and versus mode, in which you enjoy beating the tar out of your so-called friends. The game features online gameplay as well, which suffers from a bit of a lag problem but is otherwise a good time, provided you can actually find someone else to play with.

In addition to forty total achievements to unlock and a vast array of weaponry, there are more power-ups in Majestic-12 than I know what to do with – literally. I have no idea what most of them do, but they sure are shiny. There’s no indication in the menu or the first level of what anything you collect does, and while it’s possible to learn as you go, in the end I found I was too busy fighting and running to really bother paying attention to what I was picking up. Luckily, there are no anti-power-ups, so a basic “collect ALL the things” philosophy will serve you well.

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Happily, Majestic-12 isn’t just a quantity overload – there’s some real quality beneath all that pretty wrapping, too. Of course, the humans-versus-aliens scenarios are definitely nothing new in the gaming world. But the story of Majestic-12, presented in text format during level loading screens, is imbued with decent enough writing and a healthy sense of humor that it’s both easy to follow and entertaining to read.

The graphics are by far the least impressive aspect. On first glance, I assumed I was going to be playing some sort of 90s-style kid’s game with a bunch of wannabe virtual LEGOs. The look of Majestic-12 is purposely cartoonish, with lots of bright colors and snazzy sound effects. While it fits the overall tone of the story (after all, gun-toting land-sharks can only be taken so seriously), a little more attention to detail definitely couldn’t have hurt.

On the other hand, the rock/synth soundtrack corresponds well to the sci-fi adventure flavor of the game. The menu music is appropriately heroic-sounding, and in-game tracks serve as epic accompaniment to your alien-smashing exploits.

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While Majestic-12 isn’t breaking any extremely new ground, it does what it does well. Family-friendly, cooperative and stuffed with content, it’s good for a few laughs and more than a few hours of fast-paced, action-packed fun. If your trigger-finger is itching, you can check out the free demo or buy the full game for just under $10 from the official site. Majestic-12 is also currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight.

[review pros=”Vast amount of content, easy-to-learn controls and fun, engaging gameplay, good variety of enemies, environments, weapons and power-ups, entertaining writing, solid soundtrack” cons=”Graphics are underwhelming, online co-op has lag issues, aiming is sometimes awkward – especially in flying levels” score=86]