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Review: Magicka

On its surface, Magicka comes off as a humorous take on hack-and-slash role-playing game, where players can come together, combine their skills and spells, and overcome any challenge the game has to throw at them. The game is all these things, but can also deceptively tricky to play. This is mainly due to its unique control system, where players manipulate eight different elements to combine into spells of varying effects. Wizardry takes a lot of memorization, speed and coordination to ensure a spell that won't blow up in your character's face. Things become even more exciting when more players join, as crossing the wrong spells might wipe out the entire team, but that's really part of the fun.

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It takes a certain kind of gamer to fully enjoy Magicka. For the most part, what you see is what you get: players take the role of a wizard and embark on a linear 12 chapter adventure to save a fantasy world from destruction. There are no side quests, except for one that's designed to make fun of side quests, and no inventory system to manage outside of the weapon and staff the character holds in either hand. However, even though the game is generally light natured and humorous, its fundamental gameplay can be quite complex. Each of the QWER and ASDF keys are assigned to a spell element such as water or fire. Elements can be used by themselves or combined with others (up to five in total) and cast in a variety of ways for different effects. Players that enjoy this kind of creativity will probably love experimenting with different combinations, but they also have to be careful, since some elements cancel each other out. Explosions occur when two opposite elements come in contact, causing everything nearby to be flung back. Players can also pick up spellbooks to learn powerful spells called Magicks to aid them, although about half of them are likely to kill players if they're not careful.

The gameplay by itself isn't difficult but it can be really tricky, especially for first-person shooter players that have the WASD keys firmly ingrained in their muscle memory. Players will oftentimes have only a few seconds to accurately tap out a spell before enemies close in and there's no way to cancel a spell if you input the wrong element. Gamepads are supported, but the control scheme is practically unusable. In Magicka, you have to be fast or you're a goner. It's very easy for enemy creatures to back characters into corners and lock them into place with knockdowns, making it extremely difficult to cast a spell to get out. That's when player's aren't worried about being knocked off a cliff, or into lava, or water where they'll drown. There are lots of ways for wizards to die in this game, including frequent friendly fire.

As entertaining as Magicka is when playing alone, the game really picks up when a couple of friends join in. Having a buddy nearby to rescue you before you get locked in a corner and resurrect you after you die takes away a lot of the game's frustrations. The added danger of potential friendly fire is balanced by how players can combine their spells to create a more powerful one. Two or more players working together can blast through the adventure in short time and it makes a fun game even more exciting.

However, there's a number of multiplayer issues that get in the way, chief among them being major stability problems. Magicka generally worked fine for us in single player, but we experienced sudden crashes when playing with others. It seems like the more players we added, the more frequent the problem would become. In one instance, an exploding barrel caused all players except the host to crash. During a different session, everyone's game simultaneously stopped during a big boss battle. This by itself is frustrating enough, but it becomes compounded along with the game's other oversights. Players can't join or rejoin games that are already in session, so all the remaining players have to quit to the lobby and start all over again. Checkpoints don't actually save the game, they simply provide a return point if the character dies. Quitting the game and coming back means having to replay the current chapter from the beginning.

There's also the issue of keeping or losing items, which is puzzling to us. In the best case scenario, if you die, you can be resurrected and you'll retrieve your items from your corpse. If you're knocked off a cliff, you'll be resurrected with items in hand. But if you drown or get burned up in lava, you lose the items permanently. If you consider how frequently you can get blown into water or lava, this little quirk can quickly become very frustrating. The game could really benefit from some kind of system that warns players when a protection spell is about to wear off, since they only last for twelve seconds and don't always stop knockbacks.

Magicka also has a long list of bugs and quirks that extend outside of multiplayer, but despite all of them, we can't help returning to it. This is the near perfect multiplayer game. There's a lot of appeal to its spellcasting system, even though we ended up hitting ourselves with lightning half the time, and some of the Magicks are both unpredictable and unreliable.. In some strange way, the bugs compliment the theme of spells going wrong. Working with friends to create a super powerful spell to that will either stop an oncoming troll in its tracks or blow everyone to oblivion has an inexplicable appeal that goes perfectly with the humor found throughout the game.

Although the stability problems hurt the game a lot, Magicka is still a great game for $10, and well worth bringing a couple of friends into it. Cautious gamers will probably want to wait for a few more patches before diving in, and we wouldn't blame them, but they'd be missing out. Just practice on your typing skills before playing with magick.

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