Originally published in The Daily Toreador.
I tend to keep a pretty close eye on the video game industry, and I’m usually pretty good at spotting what some of the biggest and best games of the year will be long before they come out. But sometimes a game comes out of nowhere and really surprises me.
“Magicka” is one of those games, and it came from some students in Sweden.
As a $10 PC game that is currently download-only in the U.S., “Magicka” sort of snuck onto the marketplace and has started developing quite a cult following. It’s a one- to four-player fantasy adventure that’s reminiscent of the old “Gauntlet” games in some ways, in part because you play from an isometric view and kill a ton of monsters.
You can pick up some new weapons, similar to “Diablo,” but you don’t spend any time leveling up or making your character stronger, really. In fact, you start out with most of the abilities right off the bat. The catch is you have to teach yourself how to use them.
As the name implies, “Magicka” is all about casting spells. You do this by combining eight different elements, each mapped to a different key on your keyboard, in whatever way you see fit. You can mix up to five elements at a time, repeating some if you want.
This is where most of the fun in the game comes from. I personally spent well over an hour in the first level of the game just combiningelements to see their results.
Some combinations don’t require any finesse at all. If you combine five lightning elements, you get (surprise) a lot of lightning.
Some are fairly obvious combinations. For example, if you only cast a shield element, you get a rather basic shield in front of you. But if you combine the shield with earth, you’ll form a barrier of large rocks that will come between you and any enemies that may wish you harm.
And some are a little out there but ridiculously cool to use. With a little arcane magic, two parts steam and two parts lightning (conjured up by quickly hitting S-Q-F-Q-F-A-A on your keyboard), you’ll get a lightning beam that absolutely destroys anything in its path.
What’s amazing here is just how many different ways the elements interact with each other and with you as the player. Say you performed an advanced spell in order to make it rain. Unless you dry yourself off with some fire or shield yourself another way, you don’t want to cast a lightning spell while soaking wet. The resulting burnt wizard isn’t very pretty, but at the same time, failed experimentation with spells can still be wildly entertaining.
The other best aspect of the game is probably the humor. The story in “Magicka” plays out like a fantasy parody more than anything serious, and it’s full of great jokes and fantastic pop culture references that made me laugh out loud more than once.
But the game definitely isn’t without problems, which is unfortunate.
The issue that almost stopped me from playing altogether is a lack of optimization. The game doesn’t look like anything special (it certainly won’t rival “Crysis” on your computer or anything), yet its system requirements are surprisingly high. The developers outright advise against attempting to play the game on a laptop (as I did), in fact, because the integrated video cards on most laptops just won’t run the game.
I personally got the game running by turning all the settings down and not playing in full screen. Still, the framerate gets choppy at times. I would strongly advise trying the demo to make sure your computer can handle the experience.
There are also some gameplay issues. One thing that will drive a lot of people crazy is the way saved games work. As it stands now, you can only save your game at the end of each of the game’s twelve chapters, some of which can be quite long.
Even then, checkpoints are sometimes few and far between, meaning that if you die for any reason (such as a spell gone very, very wrong), you might find yourself set back quite a bit. It doesn’t help that there are many situations in which you may feel you were killed in a cheap manner.
You also can’t replay chapters you’ve completed without starting the game over entirely, which can be a big problem when trying to go back to get an item or just to replay a fun section of the game.
Online multiplayer has also been an issue for most people, making playing with others difficult. This is a big problem considering that “Magicka” is best enjoyed with friends. You can play locally if you have access to some good gamepads (a wired Xbox 360 controller seems to work best), but not everybody is so well equipped.
On the upside, the developers at Arrowhead Game Studios and their publisher, Paradox Interactive, have been extremely supportive of the game and its community since its release. They’ve already patched the game many times, fixing a ton of bugs that more or less broke the game for a lot of users. They continue to address concerns players have, and are also working on new content — both free and to be charged for — for download later.
Especially if my above concerns are addressed in the near future, “Magicka” is an extremely easy game to recommend at its mere $10 price tag, even though the game itself isn’t extremely long. The only caveat is that you should make sure your computer will run it smoothly, and you should really make sure you have a friend or three to share the experience with.