When I saw that Malice by Malaysian game studio Nimbus Games had an overwhelmingly bad rating on Steam (a staggering 84% of reviewers thumbed it down), I knew I had to try it.
“It can’t be that bad,” I thought, looking at the beautiful art and reading about the unique concept. It felt like the reviewers were just being a bit too, well, malicious.
A two-player co-op horror title that’s filled with escape rooms, Malice was released in November 2022. Players are one of two travellers visiting a temple in modern-day Japan, but have fallen through a sinkhole into a foreboding mansion.
Keen to judge the game myself, we requested the developers at Nimbus Games for a key, which they graciously arranged for.
Beware, there are major spoilers ahead regarding the puzzles and plot!
Off to a rocky start
As a compulsory two-player co-op game, I recruited the help of my managing editor, Sade. To play the game, we had to download the game and add each other on Steam.
Then we tried to play it after work one night in our own homes. However, we sadly couldn’t stay connected to the game and kept being kicked from it.
Thinking that it might be due to my shoddy home Wi-Fi, we tried again on our strong office Wi-Fi, and were able to connect without any issues. Either being on the same network helped or my home Wi-Fi really is that bad.
But the connectivity issue was only the start to five hours of struggling, as we would soon encounter a whole new level of frustration.
As the legends (AKA the reviews) foretold, the first of three chapters was challenging—and not in a way that was satisfying.
If it weren’t for our colleague Matt, who had played the alpha demo, we wouldn’t have been able to figure out the knocking system.
For some reason, we had to zoom out of the door knocker to lock in the number of knocks. This would’ve taken us a long time to figure out ourselves, and this was only the very first puzzle.
After that, we had a delightful screaming session as Sade and I ran into each other in the game. Here, we faced a plethora of more confusing puzzles that tested our sanity.
As someone who can read Chinese characters, the clues were a little easier to deduce, but I can imagine they’d be much, much harder for those who can’t.
I say this because there was a part that required us to cross-reference some Hiragana, and that was honest to kamisama so tedious. I had to scribble down the Japanese text in the most terrible font IRL to keep track of it all.
There were also way too many things we could pick up in this first chapter, with multiple repeats of some of them. It could be because the developers were worried that we’d lose them (we were throwing stuff around while figuring out the puzzles), but it was also mighty confusing.
After a not-so-rousing duration of walking around in the semi-darkness, trying to get to the next portion of the game, we finally worked out that the cubes were supposed to go into the padlock by the trapdoor.
And I’ll be really honest, we kind of cheated a little bit, as Matt had looked up some playthroughs and fed us a tiny, tiny hint.
The rest of the chapter was pretty uneventful. The puzzles were confusing and didn’t feel all that logical to me. Not to mention, the only time we felt co-op was necessary was when trying to solve the very first puzzle.
There were a couple of jumpscares, but nothing that would keep me up at night. The scariest moment was still when Sade and I met each other for the first time inside the mansion.
Things get better. No, really.
Maybe it was because we finally got the hang of things, but things took a turn for the better in the second chapter.
Don’t get me wrong, there was a part where I kept being chased and pushed by some a ghost lady that didn’t make much sense to me.
Part of the chapter required some heavy teamwork, which Sade and I excelled at (go team!). I loved that the game implemented these parts as it justifies the compulsory co-op nature of the game.
I hadn’t felt that teamwork in the first chapter, save for the first door knocker puzzle, and even then it was a bit illogical and contrived (as in, I don’t get how the numbers of the fan connect to the knocker).
Having played the alpha demo, Matt explained that the first chapter was originally designed without needing a second player, so perhaps that’s why it felt like teamwork wasn’t really needed (except for the renewed first part).
The puzzles in the second chapter are a lot more doable. Without spoiling too much, the part with the butcher was infuriating, but there’s logic behind it if you’re patient enough. Don’t give up, because the third chapter is my favourite.
In the final act, the puzzles were super satisfying to figure out. Part of it was because we were a bit more used to the mechanics by, but I also felt like the puzzles got increasingly more rational as we went along.
The only qualm I have for the third chapter is a bug we encountered. One of the boxes hadn’t opened for Sade, so we had to restart the whole chapter as we were left in a stalemate. Thankfully, we were able to speedrun the playthrough and got back to our previous point in a few minutes.
Like the second chapter, the third one makes good use of the co-op nature of the game, particularly at the instruments portion.
The instruments corresponded with the layout of the rooms, something that Demon Slayer fans might find familiar. For example, playing a specific string on the shamisen would shift the room and its objects around.
Initially stuck for quite a while, we tried looking for guides online but found none. I’m glad it worked out this way, though, because when we figured it out, it was all the more satisfying.
The ending had been a little bit unsatisfying, but all throughout the game, we didn’t think it deserved such a negative rating at all.
With that said, we do have some pointers for the developers.
Some objectives or hints would be nice. They could even include some stakes for getting the hints, such as a jumpscare perhaps, so that players don’t immediately resort to hints without trying.
Dialogue skips could also be implemented. For example, in the butcher scene, we had to wait for him to finish his whole spiel before we could cycle to the next one, and not paying attention properly or understanding him meant restarting the minutes-long dialogue again and again.
Due to the way the graphics are, it made it a little difficult to see smaller objects that blended into the background. Thus, it’d be nice if the developers implemented a highlighting feature when the player hovers over an interactable object.
Another quality-of-life addition could be adding some save points within each chapter, especially for those who are taking longer with the puzzles and want to take a break from the game in between.
The real achievement was the friends we made along the way
Although it seems like the Japanese-themed plot was a key point of the game, the narrative was not its strongest suit.
We didn’t feel any connection to our avatars at all. Who were they really? Why were they even here? The idea that we just fell through a sinkhole was a bit deus ex machina—a contrived way to make sense of why we were in the Japanese mansion in the first place.
As someone who loves a good plot, this killed the immersion for me a bit.
We had gone into the game fearful and squeamish, but soon, our fears were replaced by frustration and a need to just finish the puzzles.
One of the saving graces about this game for me was the company of my colleagues. Even the challenging parts were made humorous because of our collective exasperation.
As such, here’s a shoutout to my colleagues.
To our biz dev lead, Rikco, who lent his occasional support by languidly telling us to “try walking here and there”, then left to go home when he realised we were getting nowhere anytime soon.
To our writer Keegan, who backseat-gamed and stepped in every now and then with a “I think I got this”, and, to our surprise, actually did “got this” (most times).
To our head of content production, Matt, who lent us emotional support and Google Translated VTubers’ playthroughs to dole out clues here and there.
And to our managing editor, Sade, who agreed to play this with me in the first place.
If you’re open to trying out this game, we recommend you have good company who like puzzles and communicate well, something that’s all the more important if you aren’t playing in person.
Despite all the frustrations along the way, I still think Malice has grown into a solid game for those who love escape rooms and difficult puzzles, and we’d honestly be down to see an even better chapter four sometime in the future.
Featured Image Credit: Malice