There’s a point in the Magicka tutorial where it becomes clear that the tone of the game is wholly irreverent.
It comes when you are confronted with a multi-eyed ‘Watcher’ called Behold at the gate of a dungeon. Shortly after slaughtering this beast, you bump into it’s kindly owner, mumbling with worry, who chases off into the dungeon to find it.
It’s moments like these, combined with the drippingly sarcastic voiceovers, which set this up as one of the best examples of videogame satire out there. Not since the days of Pyst has a game so fully taken the mickey out of it’s forebearers. Even more surprising is the realisation that not only does Magicka have a brilliant streak of sardonic wit, it also has an ingenious spin on the genre.
Up to four players take control of newly graduated Mages (with coloured robes of their choosing) who find themselves setting out on a quest to rid the land of the scourge of Grimnír. Although considering the side of good consists of a motley crew of crazies, including a badly disguised vampire and a demented Professor, it’s touch and go whether you should worry about such pithy definitions of morality.
What sets Magicka apart from the competition, as it harks back lovingly to the days of Baldur’s Gate and other isometric point and click RPGs, is the simplicity yet ingenuity of the combat system. It comes in two flavours: melee and magical, which are aided by the series of ever more powerful weapons found throughout the game. Melee is good at close quarters while the staff provides a puff of wind that knocks foes back like stuffed playthings. Then there comes the proper magic. You have eight ‘elements’ to build magic from: Fire, Frost, Water, Rock, Shield, Life, UnLife and Lightning. Each of these can be used individually as a weapon or combined to create new effects.
This opens up the ability to build a whole bevvy of different spells, some of which are brilliantly realised. There are even scope for further combined elements; as fire and Water give steam, water and frost give ice, and depending whether they are cast on the player, a foe or a large area, the effects will be different. In fact, it’s great fun experimenting with the different powers to see what odd combinations will give a useful weapon. There is however also a very real chance of doing damage to yourself. To increase the fun, there are set spells hidden around in spellbooks. These vary from a humble spot of rain to full meteor showers, which are usually a lot harder to cast but are worth the effort.
Unfortunately, there is the odd boggart lurking in all of this fun. Magicka, upon release, has been plagued with bugs, thankfully most of which have been fixed, but seeing as the game has no mid-level save points, a badly timed crash can lose you vital progress against an army of foes. Furthermore, the difficulty level is horribly steep, as hordes of evil often swamp you, and if you have no friends and play alone, the game still throws out ridiculous amounts of enemies. While the Magicks are enough to cope with this from the offset, the unusual nature of the spellcasting means that most players will struggle early on until they memorise enough combinations to make themselves a force to be reckoned with.
All in, the game is a great giggle. Enough to entertain new players and full of references which will have old hands chortling away. While Paradox are still patching the game with minute changes, there is every chance that it will soon be fixed to completion, but even at this stage we can recommend that people put on their robe and wizards hat and have themselves a spot of fun.