[Review] Magicka/Magicka Vietnam – Great Balls of (insert element here)!
Available on: PC; Publisher: Paradox Interactive; Developer: Arrowhead Game Studios; Players: 1 – 4; Released: January 25, 2011/April 12, 2011; ESRB: Teen; Official Website
Without a large financial backing, indie games need to rely on innovation or simple, effective game design to get it critical acclaim. Curious gamers will always be on the lookout for that next Braid or Super Meat Boy, games that were able to capture the hearts of gamers and critics alike despite their humble roots. Magicka does a little of both, delivering an open-ended single player and extremely fun multiplayer experience.
Magicka‘s gameplay pretense is wildly simple. Players control a mage who has access to one of eight elements, all of which can be combined (unless if they clash, such as thunder and ground) to make devastating, or even some oddball combinations. Fireball? Check. Ice beam? Check. A boulder with mysterious healing powers? Check! The freedom is staggering and challenges the player’s creativity at every turn.
To think that the game’s sandbox gameplay ends at the spell concoctions is a big mistake. There are almost countless ways to beat the bosses; just for the first boss, players can either smash its head in with boulders, taking careful aim and sniping it out each time, or simply setting up shields then letting it run into and get damaged by them. It really is up to players how they want to take down some of the foes. Players’ imagination may be an even more dangerous weapon than some of the spells.
Multiplayer is where the most fun occurs. Oddly enough, most of the fun is derived from the mandatory friendly fire. Thanks to a revive spell and unlimited casting, friendly fire that would usually incite angry cursing only spurs on joyful cursing at friends. Out of the games I’ve played online, not a single one had gone a minute without someone breaking into laughter over miscast spells or shenanigans.
Difficulty is one of the perplexing problems in this game. The single player adventure starts off easily enough, but soon frustrates players to no end. With multiplayer, however, it becomes perhaps overly easy. The enemies are abundant enough where most will have trouble getting past the game by themselves, but never enough to satisfy a full party of questing friends. While it’s good that the developers didn’t go with either extreme, making it too hard or easy, it would have been nice to have either scaled difficulty depending on the amount of party members or an adjustable difficulty.
As with most indie movies, and unlike most games, Magicka has a strong emphasis on its writing. At every opportunity in the game, there’s an allusion that players are sure to recognize. 300, Star Wars, and even The Legend of Zelda are included in a variety of ways, ranging from in-game lines and weapons to trophies that players will have to discover for themselves. If you don’t enjoy these, most likely you won’t enjoy the game. Or you probably aren’t much of a gamer, either.
The recent Vietnam DLC only adds more to the whole package. The humor and references extend to war movies and other related genres that we wouldn’t otherwise see in the original Magicka. Spells and weapons get a nice Vietnam flare; grenades and RPG-7s feel right at home in the Vietnam levels and downright funny in the normal adventure.
As expected of an indie game, Magicka has its limitations. The game is chock full of glitches, whether it be graphical or disruptive to gameplay. Sometimes the mages will twitch around if surrounded by too many units and the game’s camera may freeze at points if certain conditions are fulfilled in the wrong order. Both could be solved easily, either by taking out the surrounding units or by redoing a segment, but it certainly takes you out of the experience. These shortcomings, though, are trivial compared to the overall experience.
With its gamer-centric humor, sandbox gameplay, and curse-filled voice chat sessions during multiplayer, Magicka definitely makes a splash on the indie game scene. The imagination from developers and required of players is one of the driving forces behind this game’s fun factor. Despite the lack of a prominent pedigree behind Magicka, don’t be afraid to make the $10 leap of faith.