Malicious Rebirth is unlike any other action game out there (save the original version of Malicious, in case you were readying your snarky comments already), and if you try to play it like one, you’re asking for trouble.
Both of Malicious Rebirth’s stories put you in control of an entity known only as “the Slayer,” who resides in the Spirit Vessel and wields the Mantle of Ashes. He or she is tasked with destroying the Malicious, a being made up of mankind’s collective malice and discord. Before the Slayer can face the Malicious, he or she needs to restore the Mantle of Ashes’ power… which is done by killing those who have been granted the power and misused it in a way that’s corrupted them.
That’s basically a jargon-y way of saying that you’re a spirit in a false body that needs to fight monsters and gain new powers for your magical scarf before you face a final boss. The game allows you to fight your foes in any order a la Mega Man, but the encounters themselves are very strange.
There’s a unique rhythm to the fights in Malicious, since they’re almost just as much about allocating your resources as much as they are about pattern recognition and reflexes. Each stage pits the Slayer against a (usually giant boss) and fills the room with their army. These ranks of these armies will range from small, easily-killable drones to moving towers toting cannons, to heavily armored knights. You start with only a couple of abilities: a laser shot that can be used to fire straight ahead or fire a spread shot at a number of painted targets and a couple of scarf-based punches, but the more bosses you defeat, the more formidable your movesets become. Before you know it, you’ll be able to septuple jump, grow wings and chainguns, and spin your scarf in blade mode around like a buzzsaw. The Slayer is more than capable of tearing through armies, bosses take a bit more than just weaponry.
While the Slayer has unlimited access to all of his or her available weapons, on their own, they won’t do a ton of damage to a boss. This is where Aura comes in. To increase your power, you need to start releasing Aura at one of three speeds. Releasing Aura constantly drains your supply, but the more quickly you choose to lose Aura, the more powerful your attacks become.
But that’s not the only use of Aura. If you’re hurt in battle, the Spirit Vessel will start to lose limbs. One limb lost only costs 400 Aura to repair and will rebuild itself in about half a secodn, but lose a second and the cost will increase to 800 and the process will be slower. If you get beaten to within an inch of your life, the Spirit Vessel will be missing three limbs and part of its torso, and a slow, several second repair process will be necessary, during which you can easily be killed or be knocked out of your healing process, requiring you to relocate and start the whole thing over again.
As helpful as Aura is, you need to put yourself into danger to get it. Each small enemy you defeat will reward you with some aura and blocking attacks at the last second with your shield will net you more, but both of these things can be dangerous when you’re missing limbs. This also plays into the risk-reward system of Aura-powered attacks. Holding L as you perform an attack will allow you to increase its damage and, should you destroy an enemy, nearby enemies will explode in a spreading chain reaction that leads to huge Aura boosts.
This means your average battle in Malicious might begin with you playing things safe, holding back and keeping your guard up as you watch the boss’s attacks. By the time you start to get a feel for that, their army should have filled in the entire arena, so you start flying through the air and painting targets to see if you can get any additional aura from enemies who can be taken out in a single shot. If you’re feeling bold, you might spend some Aura on these shots and see if you can build up your chains (which you’re graded on at the end of each stage) and Aura pool early. From here you might jump into the fray and start cutting through their ranks with your wider, slower attacks to build up a bit more Aura, or start unleashing it to deal with the boss.
Now a full Aura-Release Slayer is a powerful beast, capable of taking of probably an eighth of a boss’s health with a well landed attack, but part of the challenge is simply landing the attack. While getting up close and personal to a boss is a good start given how many attacks they have that will shatter the Slayer’s limbs and send them flying, some of them have armor that needs to be shattered or will leap from wall to wall and layer to layer of the stage. While the screen is full of enemies, this is what Malicious is truly about: the Slayer versus a single twisted Beast. Both of them are capable of destroying the other in a matter of seconds if the other drops their guard and both will run if they’re in danger. Combat becomes a push and pull of you pursuing your foe, and, if you start running low on aura, escaping them to heal and build up your reserves again as they do the same to you.
This interplay will have you escaping by dashing through enemies, running up the sides of walls to regrow any lost limbs, and peppering the boss with ranged shots as you build yourself up again before basically going Super Saiyan and tearing through as much health as you can. Although this sounds repetitive, there are enough surprises in each boss’s movesets (which change when you’ve dropped their health by about half) and enough encouragement to do things quickly that it doesn’t feel that way. Tearing through armies and chasing down your target to land the final blow feels great when you’ve figured out the proper way to do so.