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Jonzor's Video Game Reviews (41)

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Batman: Arkham Knight 4.5/5
Magicka 4/5
Bravely Default 4/5
Awesomenauts 4/5
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon 4/5
Far Cry 3 4/5
Halo: Combat Evolved An... 4/5
Crysis Warhead 4.5/5
Crysis 4.5/5
Final Fantasy: The 4 He... 1.5/5
The Legend of Zelda: A ... 4.5/5
Borderlands 2 4/5
Final Fight 3/5
Command & Conquer 4: Ti... 1.5/5
Resident Evil: Revelati... 3.5/5
Bastion 4/5
Defense Grid: The Awake... 4.5/5
Borderlands 4/5
Mass Effect 3 4.5/5
Mass Effect 2 4.5/5
Mass Effect 4/5
Batman: Arkham Asylum 4.5/5
Ikaruga 4/5
The Legend of Zelda: Oc... 5/5
Mario Kart: Double Dash... 4.5/5

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Magicka   PC (Steam) 

Bork bork wizard bork bork    4/5 stars

People often talk about “easy to learn, difficult to master” video games. It’s a good ideal to strive for, because it indicates a combination of accessibility and depth at the same time.

Not as many people talk “difficult to learn, difficult to master” games. For obvious reasons. This generally just comes off as difficult and off-putting. To anything other than a masochist, it’s hard to make this sort of thing sound appealing.

Which, I guess, worked to my benefit. I had no idea what I was getting into with Magicka, and if someone had told me about it, I don’t know if I would have given it a shot. I’m going to try to toe the line between explaining the difficulty of the game to you without simultaneously turning you off from the game.

The essentials about Magicka are that it’s a top-down, cooperative action game. Moving around is accomplished by clicking where you want to go, and spells are cast with the keyboard and left/right click.

Here comes the “difficult to learn” part of the equation. I don’t know that I’ve ever played a game with a more complicated control scheme than Magicka. During fights, and maybe during some light puzzle-solving, nearly all of your available actions come in the form of a magic spell you dial up with your keyboard hand, and fire with a mouse click. Your hand sits on either the ASDF row or the QWER row of keys, but you’ll need both. Each of those eight keys represents some sort of element like fire or earth or arcane. Casting a spell involves calling in up to five elements like some sort of recipe.

The spell is then cast via the mouse. While the keyboard will determine the type of magic, the mouse will help determine how said magic is expressed. For example, a targeted spell would be via a right click, while area of effect spells are shift + right click.

At first, the controls seem certainly a little quirky, but nothing too crazy. But once you get into a fight, it dawns on you exactly how quick you need to be punching up a spell and using it. Eight elements with five potential inputs for a spell equals an awful lot of options, especially when you begin combining elements for when you want a spell to behave a certain way. Certain elements will add effects of their own to a spell, so if you want a fire/laser-beam spell, add a pinch of arcane to your fire magic, and if you want a flaming boulder spell, add earth to your fire spells.

There are certainly plenty of options for the experienced wizard. You can cast spells that build shields, drop mines, power-up your sword, get dry people wet, get wet people dry… any number of things. It’s pretty daunting and pretty overwhelming for a good chunk of the game.

But, this is not a game that is merely “hard for hard’s sake”. It’s not just a matter of better reflexes or learning enemy patterns or memorizing the level like most “hard” games. This control scheme has a very real learning curve to it, and as you play with it more, you’ll get much, much better at it. Having to make your own spell on the fly (as opposed to just pushing a button for the “fire spell”) adds a sense of frantic urgency to battles that makes winning just a bit more satisfying than normal. And there’s something to be said for being good at something complicated.

Then there’s the “difficult to master” part. I sort of breezed over the point earlier about the game allowing coop play. This is (as always) the “real” way to play the game. Imagine the carnage from you fumbling wildly with the controls… now add a few extra people having the same issues as you and then TURN ON FRIENDLY FIRE.

The game takes the frantic mayhem of you playing alone and morphs into UTTER CALAMITY. The insanity of a coop game where you are at least as big a threat to your team as the ogres and goblins you’re trying to fight is absolutely ludicrous. Every misstep is almost guaranteed to kill someone.

- Launch a flaming boulder at a monster? Super great idea! It obliterates the monster, hits the stone wall behind him, and bounces into a teammate.

- Call for help from a friend to get a heal spell? Works like a charm! Except where he accidentally misses the “heal” portion of the spell and just dials up a death laser and kills you.

- In true Ghostbusters form, you and a friend coordinate enough to fire the same beam spell at monster (which multiplies the power), and when a third member joins the crossed-streams, his spell is accidentally is charged with the opposing element, and the whole spell literally blows up.

There’s just… so much that can go wrong. After the second session playing with friends it still felt like we were getting nowhere fast.

But then, something wondrous happened. We all got a little better at the game, and just kind of… embraced it. See, the creators KNOW you’re going to blow each other up. They probably even HOPED you would. So, they made the resurrection spell extremely simple to pull off (even in a total last-man-standing panic). Fights aren’t about everything going perfectly (though it’ll happen sometimes, and it feels AWESOME), they’re about making sure you don’t all get wiped out at the same time.

When you stop fighting the system, stop getting annoyed at getting team-killed, and get the hang of bringing teammates back to life this game becomes HILARIOUS. Instead of groaning when I’d get lit on fire instead of healed, I started laughing at the absurdity of what just took place. Suddenly, one of the most complicated and frustrating games I’d ever played became one of the most comically fun and unique games.

And the chaotic slapstick of combat isn’t the only source of humor in the game. It’s also a genuinely funny game with some funny writing. Also, the game leans fairly heavily on Norse mythology, which I think was just an excuse to make every villager talk like the Swedish Chef, which I will never stop finding funny.

The story is fairly standard fare. Group of good wizards have to stop an evil wizard. Nothing special, it’s just an excuse to be on an adventure. But the characters you meet are boosted by the humor enough that at least they can be entertaining.

Graphics and sound are nothing incredibly original, but they’re well-executed. The one exception is the spells, which can look pretty spectacular. With all the combinations of things to cast in the game, it does a good job with visual cues of showing people know what’s been cast. The screen occasionally flirts with being a little too busy and cluttered, but it’s never a persistent problem.

There’s a difference between a game being hard because it’s unfair and a game being hard because it’s complicated. Magicka has a fairly steep learning curve because of the controls and friendly-fire, but it’s so refreshingly unique that I found it more than worth the effort. Complicated games rarely take themselves as lightly as Magicka does, and if you’re also willing to keep it light-hearted, there’s something really fun waiting for you in this game.



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Jonzor- wrote on 04/07/15 at 07:20 PM CT


Didn't even know about controller support. I don't know if I even had the Xbox controller adapter for my PC when we played. Honestly, I think I still would have played with a keyboard if the other option is selecting elements with a thumbstick. It might be more visual (and less prone to mistakes?) but sounds way slower. I'm curious how it works for you.

The Gauntlet remake that came out last year on Steam had a similar playstyle for the Wizard (using an Xbox controller) that I really enjoyed, specifically because I had so much fun on Magicka. But it was slimmed down quite a bit.

Nelson Schneider

Nelson Schneider- wrote on 04/07/15 at 06:10 PM CT


It's disappointing that you didn't even mention that the game includes native Xinput (read: Xbox) controller support. This review had be terrified, as Magicka is up next on our online coop list. I had no idea how I was going to map that cluster-eff control scheme you described with Xpadder, but it turns out I won't have to!

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