Despite receiving lukewarm reviews, Magicka sold very well and there are certainly a lot of good reasons to get it, I certainly don’t regret playing it, but it fails because of things that would be so easy to solve. There’s DLC already available and an expansion coming out in the form of Magicka: Vietnam. However, the game still sports so many bugs that makes going through an entire chapter only for the game to bug out at the boss battle (for me, that averages once a day) or having everyone bar the host get stuck in cutscene mode a nuisance, and while we are here: what is it about the beds in the inn at chapter five that makes it impossible for wizards to sleep on them properly?
These are just examples, there are more, but the game is no where near as bad as it used to be. If it was in its current state upon release, I imagine the reviews would have remained lukewarm and the mention of bugs would have still been there, but at least the game is playable. The Arrowhead team, however, had best tread carefully with this new expansion as they need to keep squashing bugs as well as adding content and that new content must not add new bugs itself.
There’s the deal breaker and what really determines whether or not Magicka will really be worthwhile in terms of continued investment for players. I think it’s already missed the opportunity to become a real gem of indie gaming in the same way Darwinia, Braid or World of Goo have, but I will admit possibility of error here. I just imagine it will take its place amongst games like And Yet It Moves, as a great B-list member of the indie games menagerie.
Still, despite all its problems, Magicka shines brightly through the murky problems and that is where it differs from Dungeons (reviewed in the last entry). Dungeons’s problems are such that the game feels like it’s made by programmers who aren’t the most committed of gamers. Magicka feels like the reverse and so the charm really is there behind the lacklustre coding. I’m normally the first to want to string up games companies that release buggy software, but something here makes me think Arrowhead deserve a second chance.
But they do need to work on a few improvements and here is my short list of things I think they really should do.
1) Check points
A lot of people were bemoaning the lack of a sufficient number of these and while I did find it irritating to get past a particularly tricky part only to die shortly afterwards and have to go through it all again, I found those moments fairly rare. What I did find especially irritating was that if your game crashes, you have to finish or you click restart thinking it will take you back to the start of the boss fight then you are propelled straight back to the beginning of the chapter. Many games, like Braid or NightSky, have the ability to select levels within chapters and there’s no reason why selecting a chapter in Magicka shouldn’t send you straight to a checkpoint selection screen.
The problem is that games obviously provide a level of frustration and irritation. These are often vital parts of the enjoyment of the game as long as they remain in the background of the overall experience most of the time. I was fighting the boss at the end of the Murky Swamp level, I’ve reached a point where I can see that I’ll win too and then an explosion sends us both flying. Before we land, the screen blanks then I see my desktop. If I could load up the game and resume my battle from the boss then I would have kept playing, but the thought of all the effort I had to put in getting through the swamps being for nothing just left me with the frustration and that just leads to a sense of burnout. I tend to turn to other games after those moments happen and I doubt I’m the only one who does that.
2) Single player games and difficulty
I learnt very quickly that Magicka was a multiplayer game. The game feels a lot emptier when playing it by oneself and what detracts from that experience is the frustration of being swamped and cornered by a vast array of opponents that would be a lot easier for multiple wizards, but just chew you down and don’t really give you much opportunity to counter them. This is actually a bit annoying in multiplayer, but it’s something the players can potentially use to their advantage.
One possible solution is AI-controlled wizards a la Left 4 Dead. The AI of enemy magic-users leads me to believe that this would require quite an overhaul of the AI, so maybe the solution is just allowing a difficulty slider in the options. If it can be dynamically adjusted in-game then all the better.
3) More bugfixes
I understand that they must be busy creating more content for Magicka but I don’t really think that Vietnam should be released with a lot of these bugs still remaining in the core game. Personally, I would be more likely to buy Vietnam a month later with all the bugs that really hinder the game squashed.
Of course, I can’t really blame developers for this rush to get out content. It seems that a model favouring earlier release dates and increased DLC and content does sell a game more successfully that one of methodical QA. Given this, I can’t really expect that all the bugs will be gone by Vietnam’s release, but what is ultimately important is whether or not Vietnam brings more bugs into the mix or the game remains a relatively stable, playable experience with it.
Developed by: Nicalis
Published by: Nicalis
Reviewed on: 6th March, 2011.
Presentation: NightSky has a nice appearance, minimalist on colour except the silhouette in the foreground contrasted with the ambient colours of the night sky and the few colours in the lights that some objects emit. The music is smooth and laid-back, appealing to the more casual mindset
Atmosphere: NightSky is a gentle, soft game in its atmosphere. There are no real threats or even a plot as such. What is there is a collection of physics-based puzzles ranging from the very casual up to the very tricky.
Control and Mechanics: The game has a few controls that require both hands and, as challenges get more complex, quite a dexterous manipulation of various keystrokes can be required to pull off some solutions to the more tricky puzzles.
Who should buy this: Those who want a casual physics-style game where the challenge focuses on the dexterous rather than the cerebral. Those who want a game that pulls one in with more complex puzzles while remaining rooted in its casual aesthetic. Those who like a gentle slide into increasing difficulty.
Who should avoid it: Those who want a more serious game. Those who want a game that has a lot more replay value. Those who want a game with more cerebral puzzles. Those who don’t want to pay for a game with a controversial sales practice (see below).
If I have to give a score: Not exactly ground-breaking or all that innovative, but an enjoyable addition to the indie and casual markets. 3/4
Note that: Before the review, I wanted to bring up one problem I have with Nicalis’s pricing of the game. On their website, the game sells for a flat rate of 10 regardless of whether the units are pounds sterling, euros or dollars (whether American, Canadian or Australian). They have been informed of this several times, to my knowledge, but will not respond to anyone I’ve asked or correct the problem. Further, where the currency is significantly weaker than those (like the Danish krona), they have adjusted the price. This all strikes me as a low marketing practice. Steam have a more adequate pricing policy (despite similar problems in the past), but presumably they were not able to do the same there. Get this on Steam rather than their website or you will be paying more than you should be. The review below is despite this and the overall score I gave was not with this problem in mind.
NightSky is a nice little addition to the array of indie puzzle and physics-based games available to modern gamers. It performs admirably well and is a very solid and enjoyable experience. This is all well and good except that such games in the indie movement are as plentiful as stars in the night sky and this is still behind Crayon Physics Deluxe or World of Goo. None the less, at a decent price, it does what it sets out to do but I cannot help but feel that there are a lot of other minor gems within indie gaming like Obulis that I would turn to first.
The story starts with narration from a man explaining how he found a strange orb on a beach, glowing with some sort of life-force. He takes it home with him only to begin dreaming of strange places and events involving the travels of the orb. This is where the player takes over and guides the orb through a series of puzzles and traps of increasing complexity. There are three abilities that the orb can use to help surmount these obstacles. It can break or speed up (which is represented by an orange-red and blue glow from the orb respectively) and also, on a few levels, reverse the gravity (represented by a purple glow). These abilities are level-dependent and on some you can break or speed up and, on another, reversing gravity replaces speeding up and on a third, you get one or none of these abilities. Conversely, sometimes these abilities are locked on and you must complete the level under their effects.
The game sports 11 levels that divide into smaller chapters which themselves divide again into a selection of screens. Getting stuck or falling off the screen normally requires you to go back to the beginning of the chapter, but sometimes there are save points within the game that mean you don’t have to go all the way back. It never tells you when this is happening, nor is there any special indication of the fact that you are rewarded for completing a chapter without having to restart except a star faintly outlined in the chapter menu of a level. This is something they could easily correct, but it’s not too much of an annoyance.
The game offers a quite a few different styles and architectures throughout the levels, but I found many of the differences in style were somewhat obscured by the silhouetted nature of the foreground. The fact that almost everything is silhouetted does leave it confusing what you can go through and what will block you, but it’s something players pick up in a very short time. What is does offer is a nice contrast between the soft ambient colours of the background and the dark foreground.
But the visuals are well-designed as are the puzzles and the game presents itself in a style that is very easy on the eye. The music adds to this relaxed, casual impression and it’s an easy game to pick up and put down after a few chapters. In normal mode, it’s very easy to fly through the few hundred screens offered in a few hours, but you’ll probably want to pick it up and put it down a few times if you’re of the casual mindset.
If you are not, however, the game offers a more advanced “alternative” mode which changes the game in a variety of ways, making the game much more difficult. On this playthrough, most screens are changed in sometimes subtle ways and the normal solutions fail. Sometimes you cannot use an ability you used before or sometimes there’s an object that was not blocking you before.
My overall problem with the puzzles is that they are never all that cerebral, despite what the game itself advertises. I never found a situation where I really had to think or experiment like in Crayon Physics Deluxe or Obulis to find the solution. Normally, after staring at the screen for a few seconds, I had the solution in mind. The challenge was more pulling off the combinations required to complete each screen than working out what I needed to do.
Overall, it is not hard to recommend this as a solid piece of casual indie gaming, but it doesn’t really stand out midst the pack and I felt no need to return to it after I had finished. For a game with an interesting mechanic, lovely visual appeal and soundtrack, you won’t go wrong here but I would wait until a deal comes up unless it really appeals to you.
NightSky is out now and available via digital distribution on Steam and through the developers. It costs £5.99 on Steam, I recommend avoiding the developers site due to their pricing practices.