The last couple of years have been amazing for gamers. And no, I do not refer to the plethora of blockbuster testosterone fueled action games starring one dimensional leads that have glutted the market. As good and fun as the Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War and God of War games can be, there can be little to no argument on the fact that these games have been greatly diluted from a gameplay standpoint, degenerating into shallow button mashing fests that require little to no thought, and choosing instead to focus on a story that is thinner than a broken condom.
No, it’s not these games that I’m talking about. I’m talking, instead, about the delightful, delightful new era of the emergence of the indie game, which has opened the gates for some truly wonderful and breathtakingly pure gameplay experiences such as Super Meat Boy, Limbo, Cave Story, the Bit.Trip series, Braid, Flower, Angry Birds, Minecraft, and much, much more. Even some of the ‘bigger’ games, such as Amnesia: Dark Descent, have been projects churned out by very small development teams with limited funding. It’s really great to see a return to the basics and the fundamentals with these games, because at their cores, that is really all that these games offer: pure, distilled, unadulterated gameplay, without being encumbered by any considerations about story, or the delivery of said story.
Happily enough, we have another gem to add to the list of indie titles that absolutely warrant a playthrough by everybody. While at first glance, Magicka may not look like much to the casual observer (unless you’re a fan of Diablo, in which case, you’re so totally already infatuated with this game), and the negativity surrounding its launch, which was plagued with a plethora of bugs, glitches and other issues, may have turned you off from even considering this game, Magicka is in fact one of the purest and truest role playing games we’ve had in a long, long time.
The game’s setup is simple enough- in a fantasy world that is clearly inspired by Norse mythology, you are charged with defeating the evil wizard. That’s about it. No, really. Remember the good old days of NES games, when the plot was an inconvenience rather than a necessity, and it was truly the gameplay that ultimately mattered? Magicka harks back to those days. With its paper thin setup, it seems that the developers decided to focus all their energies into making Magicka as much fun as possible. It’s really hard to fault the game for this, because unlike so many modern titles, the game makes no pretensions about delivering an epic story. It’s about the experience, and that is all.
However, the one good thing that can be said about Magicka that will probably please all you story whores is that the game has great, crisp dialog, that genuinely incorporates some laughs. With the story of the game taking on a decidedly light hearted and rather cartoony approach, the developers were free to make the dialog some of the wittiest and most self deprecating (at least as far as genre conventions are concerned) we’ve seen in a long, long time. The fact that the game is liberally peppered with references to pop culture- everything from Monty Python to Star Wars to Star Trek- is an added bonus, and makes this a nerd’s wet dream come true. Whereas the game and its characters may not have much to talk about, when they do talk, they do it in style.
But there’s not much point in talking so much about the story or the dialog- that’s clearly not what Magicka is about. Instead, as I’ve already stated so many times in the review already, the gameplay in Magicka takes centrestage. Playing a bit like the old school dungeon raiding games, like Diablo, you and your party must defeat hordes of monsters in your quest to defeat the evil wizard. But that’s about where the similarities end- there’s quite a lot about this game that makes it different a a breath of fresh air.
For instance, there’s the fact that there’s no mana bar, or any other equivalent, that holds you back from using magic. This means that you’re actually free to use magic as much as you’d like, without limits. And while this may raise a very (reasonable) fear that magic can be unfairly abused and spammed (in a game called Magicka, no less), I’ll address that issue in just a minute. For now, suffice it to say that removing any kind of limiting structure or system is liberating for the game.
And why is it liberating? Well, it’s because contrary to whatever the initial fears of magic powered moves being spawned may indicate, the fact is that the magic system in this game is structured so that any player who decides to button mash his way through will not only find the going impossibly hard, he is also, to put it eloquently and simply, doing it wrong.
The magic system in Magicka revolves around the use of eight primary elements- water, fire, earth, shield, arcane, coal, lightning and life. There are additional elements that you can create by joining the primary elements- such as steam, which is made by joining fire and water, or ice, which is made by joining cold and water. The point is, the game’s ingenious combat system relies on you chaining combos of these elements together to unleash successively devastating moves. A simple combination might have you unleashing, say, a fireball (fire+earth), but a slightly more complex one can be debilitating in combat. Thus, for the sheer pleasure and thrill of discovery, as well as for the joy that comes with the feeling of being a badass, it becomes almost impossible to spam a single move again and again. Oh, and also because you can’t play the game that way, it’s just kind of too hard.
Other changes from genre conventions include the total absence of any kind of character class system (since, well, you’re all gonna be using magic throughout the game…), and, in what is surely surprising for a Diablo like game, an almost total absence of loot or powerups… in Magicka, it’s all about the magic (go figure).
Of course, this does create the problem of the game sometimes becoming a tad repetitive. Make no mistake, the magic system of Magicka is a joy… it’s just that doing the same thing over thirteen different levels can get somewhat boring, and it’s an issue that Magicka fails to address properly. Whereas there is a modicum of melee combat involved in the game, it plays second fiddle to the magic, and generally falls flat.
To get the most out of Magicka, you must try and play it with friends. The co-op mode is wonderful, and a blast to play through with your friends. In a very weird way, it’s like playing Diablo with your friends, only this game is diametrically opposite to Diablo in its design philosophies.
Magicka is like a refreshing trip through old school gaming. Sometimes, frustratingly so. For instance, take the save system. The old school auto save system throws you right at the beginning of each level should you die, and it sometimes becomes maddening having to plow through an entire level repeatedly simply because you died at the very end. This old school philosophy often becomes a liability rather than an asset.
Magicka is a gem- it has its rough edges, sure, and its quirks, but what matters truly is the experience that awaits you if you look past all of those. True, there were a lot of bugs upon launch, but those have constantly been worked upon. True, the game’s focus on story is minimal, but it’s probably all the better for that. True, the game can often get cluttered and frustrating, but you’ve got to take it as it comes. The long and short of it is, if there was ever a game that deserved and demanded your full attention, Magicka is it. Get this game today- at $10, it won’t set you back much, and what you’ll have on your hands will be a whimsical, fun game that’s a blast to play through.
This game was reviewed on the PC.
The graphics are whimsical, and fitting to the general air of the game; the soundtrack is great; the magic system is a blast; great co-op; brings some truly fresh things to the table
Old school design philosophy often becomes a pain; the gameplay isn't varied enough; the game often gets very cluttered; bugs and glitches- lots of them; the save system is broken
Readers who just look at the score assigned to a game will probably dismiss Magicka immediately upon seeing the score awarded to it by GamingBolt. However, those readers will be missing out on what is undoubtedly one of the most fun and purest gaming experiences we've had in a long, long time.