There’s a saying that goes something along the lines of ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’, which probably came about one day when someone bought a book that featured an awesome cover filled with flaming dragons and giant swords cutting through the heavens. It turned out to be a story about an old lady and her prize winning roses, or something like that.
In the videogame world, games are usually judged on first glance by their screenshots, leading to them usually being pegged squarely into a particular genre. Take Magicka for example, one look at the screenshots and you will immediately think that this is a colourful action-RPG along the lines of Diablo, or the more recent Torchlight. Top down viewpoint? Check. Fantasy world with goblins and monsters? Check. Staff-wielding wizards shooting fire and ice at said goblins and monsters? Check.
But in actual fact, the gameplay in Magicka has more in common with the classic side-scrolling brawlers of the arcade, like Final Fight, than the standard fantasy spell-driven RPGs that the screenshots allude to. Not in the punch the other guy in the head repeatedly sense but in the mutual focus on frequent combo driven combat. This realisation quickly turns Magicka into something that feels original, albeit something that looks like one thing and plays like another. So even though its perspective and controls mimic those of an isometric action-RPG, the button combinations, action, and battles play out more along the lines of a co-op brawler, but with magic spells in lieu of muscle-y punching arms.
All combat and puzzle solving in Magicka is done via spell-casting, through the use and combination of various magic types. With the various schools of magic mapped out over eight keys on the keyboard, the game gives players some basic spell combinations to play around with that start off very simple and get quite complex as the game progresses. With the introduction of basic elements on a single key and a beam projectile on another, this inevitably leads quite naturally to various fire, ice, and lightning beam spells that can easily be punched out on your keyboard. With plenty of room for experimentation and consequently various key strokes to learn, Magicka is very much an action game, but one that is steeped in combo driven spell-casting.
Without the standard RPG elements of levelling, loot drops, inventory, and so forth, you may get the feeling that the overall gameplay may be simplified, but this simply heightens and strengthens the spell-casting gameplay that is itself quite deep, and when played in co-op can lead to hundreds of different attack spell combinations, and area effects. This makes the single-player prospect a little bit underwhelming, as the various shield, healing and resurrection spells prove to be of little worth when playing alone. It also makes experimentation when playing alone a risky endeavour, as with no resurrection spells there will be a lot of premature wizard deaths to deal with, leading to some understandable frustration.
Couple this with a fairly ho-hum storyline that although somewhat amusing does try a little too hard to be funny, and you can see why Magicka is best played online. That’s not to say that the game’s visuals and setting are not without their charm, and when the Magicka opts to parody adventure games, RPGs, and other fantasy fare it can be quite funny, but more often than not falls way short of the mark. However, when you team up with other wizards to take on goblin hordes and huge bosses whilst combining ice beams, meteor showers, and laying down electric shields, Magicka truly comes into its own. That is of course if you can play on-line without having the game crash on you.
Sure buggy game releases are nothing new, and with the numerous combinations of hardware out there, it comes as no surprise that “0 day” patches have become an industry standard. Magicka is no stranger to random crashes and disconnections, but when it is stable there is definitely a lot of fun to be had with the game’s surprisingly lengthy 13 levels. And thankfully the daily bug fixes and patches seem to be making the game more playable with each passing day.