When Nintendo launched the spectacularly successful Nintendogs in 2005 a few things changed for the Japanese company and gaming in general. It suddenly became profitable to release software that wasn't necessarily goal oriented. Last year the floodgates opened with Brain Training, Talkman, Passport To.. entertaining gamers on various platforms. This year titles like My Word Coach have also blurred the line between game and learning gadget. But is Nintendo's Master of Illusion worth picking up or best left in the magician's hat?
Master of Illusion is best described as a portable magic shop, containing ideas akin to a kids magic trick book, and is a game that can be used to trick, amaze and dazzle your friends. It also comes with a pack of specially marked cards, which will come in quite useful as you play through the game.
From the main menu there are three distinctly separate modes; solo magic, magic show and magic training. Solo magic is a mode where the Nintendo DS takes on the role of the magician and you watch the magic unfold in front of you. Like with all magic tricks some of the tricks are fantastic, whereas others just seem gimmicky or are far too easy to work out. It is worth noting that the first trick absolutely blew us (and several of our friends) away. In the first trick (called Vanishing Card) you have to look at five cards and mentally picture one of the cards. After you've done this the Nintendo DS will remove your card from the pack...every single time. We were racking our brains for a good solid day before we found out exactly how it was done. We'll honour the magician's code here, so much like Master of Illusion we won't be giving the tricks away.
The magic show option puts you in control, and makes the Nintendo DS your assistant. There are a variety of tricks and first you will learn how to dupe your unsuspecting audience (which is generally done by just holding one of the L or R buttons on the Nintendo DS or saying a certain phrase). After you've learnt what to do you can pull the tricks off relatively easily. The instructions can be a little long and thus overwhelming, but once you've gotten the hang of things you will be fooling your friends in no time.
The magic training mode is the closest you will get to 'gaming' in Master of Illusion. It features several mini-games, some are card games, but others are a little more creative. There is a mini-game called 'mirrored letters' where you have to try and write an upside down version of the letters that appear on the top screen, which while it sounds easy is actually rather challenging. There is also an internal clock mini game where you need to mentally try and judge when ten, thirty or sixty seconds have passed, once again you will walk into this mini game expecting it to be a cakewalk, and it is anything but. While continuing to practice these mini games will make you better at them, we just still aren't entirely sure why they are training magic, in fact we're pretty sure they are just included so there is some 'game' part to Master of Illusion.
You won't just be able to jump into Master of Illusion and be dazzled by all of the magic tricks immediately. To unlock magic tricks you will need to earn magic points, which can only be earned by actually doing some of the unlocked tricks. Even if you do this the game will only give you a maximum of 100 magic points per day, so unlocking every magic trick will actually take a few days. If you are amazed by the tricks so much that you just cannot wait you can edit your Nintendo DS's clock, but that's cheating and we're sure the magic gods wouldn't like that very much at all.
Giving Master of Illusion a score is purely for those who scroll to the bottom of this review, but summing the game up with a single numeral is just about impossible. As a magician's tool Master of Illusion is fantastic, there are some brilliant magic tricks and using the Nintendo DS to fool your friends is strangely satisfying. However, Master of Illusion really does blur the line between game and magic kit in a cartridge. If the idea of fooling your friends with the Nintendo DS by your side is appealing then Master of Illusion is definitely worth your time.