Magicka is a game which has crept up on myself and my game-playing friends, and taken us all completely by surprise. It isn’t a perfect game, but it is one of the most innovative – and definitely the funniest – games I’ve played to date.
This Arrowhead Studio project was released on Steam at the beginning of the year. Were I forced to fit it into a genre or theme, it would be something of a ‘fantasy adventure shmup’. Take bits from World of Warcraft and dungeon-crawlers like Baldur’s Gate, smother in a Monty Python glaze, and you’re getting close to a recipe for this delightful oddity.
The game allows you and up to 3 friends to pick up wizarding staves and don colourful robes, and embark upon a quest to rid the land of marauding orcs, led by Warlord Khan. In fact its entire premise is summed up within minutes by the game’s delightful narrator, Vlad – a mentor who literally hands you a bullet point list and shoves you on your way to play the game.
Following a short introduction, in which we learn of the corrupted wizard Grimnir and his wish to unite the world’s magicks, we are ushered through the halls of a wizarding academy in order to attend a party in our honour. Jocularity has its pitfalls when wielding arcane forces however, and the party is accidentally dropped into the castle’s dungeons. An obstacle course follows, in which on-screen popups and handy switching devices teach the new wizards their craft.
It is at this time – in co-op games of Magicka at least – that all hell breaks loose, and the game designers are well aware of this. Grant four players some cartoony avatars and the power to set things aflame, and chaos can only ensue. Indeed my party of 4 had to replay the tutorial 4 times, simply because we kept ‘accidentally’ destroying each other.
To the game’s real credit, its formula does not change from here on out. Ever the lurking mentor, Vlad (who assures us that he is most definitely not a vampire) guides our valiant wizards from village to city to forest, most of which run rampant with goblins and other foul creatures. Rid an area of its foes, recover, and move along; its formula leaves the game experience very open to player input, best sought through voice chat.
The players are quickly given a full suite of 8 elemental forces (water, life, shield, cold, lightning, arcane, earth and fire), which can be combined to form different spells. Some of these ‘magicks’ can also be learned later on, often after defeating certain groups or bosses. By encouraging us to experiment, the game further establishes its light-hearted and laid-back approach, making for some spectacularly gory battles indeed. It’s hard not to learn a valuable lesson in crossing opposite forces, when attempting to heal someone who’s casting an arcane spell. I didn’t think seeing dismembered chunks of wizard spatter across the battlefield could be so funny.
Above all else, Magicka is a game experience, and its writing acknowledges this. The FMVs are short but hilarious, and its characters and parodies are truly memorable. It is, however, an experience to be shared, and while group play can be a tricky environment in which to learn the game’s nuances – in which case a solo run through the tutorial might be wise – the game is very tough upon a single player.
Its challenges do not – as far as I can tell – scale depending on the number of wizards present. Indeed, having so many criss-crossing magic beams on screen at once may lend further difficulty to the game, but it’s as nothing compared to the overwhelming difficulty curves a solo player will have to climb, even early into the game. Indeed I would struggle to recommend this game to anyone looking for a comical, solo game; try Psychonauts instead.
We as a group also had some difficulty with the game’s default controls, and as I understand it, a patch which allowed users to alter these key bindings does not always come bundled into the Steam download. A verification of files later, and I was able to fix the developer’s controversial choice: to place self-healing functions on the middle mouse button of scroll-wheel peripherals.
Pre-empt the control issues however, find some friends to play with, and you’re set for a laugh a minute. Magicka manages to be technically impressive game indeed, and its magic abilities are delightfully complex, but simple in their logic. They and the other gameplay elements allow players to have their own fun with a game rich in cult parody and memorable battles.