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Bev Chen
18 Feb, 2011

Magicka Review

PC Review | Are you a wizard?
With the heavy emphasis on social gaming nowadays, it isn’t any surprise that there has been a large increase in the number of games that feature co-operative or competitive multiplayer modes. One such game from the past generation is Zelda: Four Swords, which sent up to four colour-coded versions of Link on various adventures in the Zelda universe. At first glance, it’s likely that Magicka, the debut game from Arrowhead Studios, will remind gamers of Four Swords, but Magicka proves to be much more complex.

Magicka’s story may seem like a fantasy cliché, (wizards go out on a quest to fight an evil sorcerer, yadda yadda), but it makes up for it in spades with numerous pop culture references and its humorous dialogue. There are also several instances where it outright mocks the genre, such as the moment when we received a machine gun as a reward for defeating a boss. The campaign can be played by up to four people, but we found that two players is probably the most optimum number of people to play the game with, for reasons described later.

OBLIGATORY! 300! REFERENCE! HERE!

OBLIGATORY! 300! REFERENCE! HERE!
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Magicka’s gameplay focuses around the use of magic. Your little mage is equipped with a staff that allows you to cast elements (as well as other more abstract things, such as Arcane). Each element is assigned to a key on your keyboard and casting at a target is as simple as clicking the right mouse button. It sounds relatively simple, until the game tells you that you can combine elements to achieve different effects. For example, combining Cold and Water will create Ice, and adding Stone into the mix will give you the ability to shoot ice bullets.

There’s also room for lots of fun and mischief, as you are able to combine a healing ability with the Fire element to, rather obviously, set people on fire while healing them. It’s a very interesting and well thought-out system where the action is concerned, and further compounding this is the fact that spells can also be applied to your character. This adds several more options to how you play the game. You can cast shield on yourself so that you can roam freely around the battlefield, or you can use the same element but apply it differently so that it is a physical barrier in front or around you. The game also takes your environment into consideration, which adds a little more brainwork into the equation. As you can imagine, it’s really not a good idea to cast Lightning while you’re soaked in water. So the easy way to work past that is to dry yourself off (using Fire) first. Elements can be used to harm yourself and allies too (think about what happens when you cast an area spell with your friend in the way), but it’s an enjoyment to combine them and see exactly what kind of effect they can have on you.

Not pictured: the part where your friend aims just a little bit too far to the right.

Not pictured: the part where your friend aims just a little bit too far to the right.
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As you can tell, there’s quite a lot of experimentation to be done, but the game does offer a few spellmaking hints in the form of spellbooks which are found scattered throughout the game. These are usually quite complicated and the elements needed also have to be input in the right order, but the game reminds you which elements are required and what each spell does, with a set of grayed-out icons sitting just below your element input bar. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that the icons are so small that it is often tricky to figure out which element is which. Add to the fact that there isn’t any way to cancel an input with undesirable effects, and this can lead to a whole lot of cursing and swearing, especially during some of the battles.

Other than messing around with elements, Magicka really plays much like a Diablo clone, save for the fact that there are barely any roleplaying aspects we are used to, like experience points and statistics. Really, you’re just a wizard with a fancy-coloured robe, and the only thing that can really make a difference to your abilities is the type of staff you have. It’s a pretty neat idea nevertheless; you can find all sorts of staffs that enhance your physical attack power or your health. But fair is as fair goes, and dying means that unless you manage to spot the staff that you had equipped on you at your time of death, you can forget about ever seeing it again.

This could get ugly.

This could get ugly.
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Disappointingly as well, the genius of Magicka’s spell system is also its downfall. Such a fascinating gameplay mechanic would surely lend itself well to a great puzzle system, as demonstrated in the tutorial, but the game seems so focused on pure action that it seems to ignore that aspect entirely. Still, as far as action adventure games go, it’s pretty good at what it does, save for a couple of other issues. There is the occasional battle that is fond of pushing your character in a corner directly behind your UI, making it impossible to know what you are doing. Secondly, the camera tracking can be frustrating at times, which is especially obvious if you are playing co-operatively. We also ran into several moments where the game would crash for no reason, booting us out of our co-op game and leaving us unable to rejoin the party.

For US $9.99 though, Magicka is well worth the price, despite its faults with the element input bar, the funky camera and the random crashes. But what really adds value is the ability to play co-operatively with friends (or even just random strangers on the internet). It’s a game tailored towards that sort of market and there’s so much fun to be had that really, you’d be silly not to play with other people. Long live co-op gameplay.
The Score
Magicka is a solid action adventure title with a clever spellcasting mechanic that will provide hours of entertainment for gamers, especially if they play co-operatively. 7
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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3 Comments
3 years ago
Thanks for the review Bev. I'm going to hold out for the retail release before picking this up.
3 years ago
Wow I really love the environments and style of graphics they have here, can't put my finger on it but it reminds me of Diablo 2.
3 years ago
Yer I think I saw this on Steam at some point.. as a co-op game it looks like it could be really fun. The graphics remind me more of Baldur's Gate.. like a real-time, dumbed down (action oriented rather than RPG/micro-management) version of Baldur's Gate.

I just feel that a game like this seems more suited to a touch-screen interface, either iPad or tablet PC; rather than using mouse and QWER/ASDF keyboard input. Although maybe a proper arcade gamestick (like those used for fighting games) might also be suitable..

It seems like there are some great ideas here but just not fully developed into the full experience it could have been.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  26/01/2011 (Confirmed)
Genre:
  Action
Players:
  4

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