It is always nice to see a game that is well put together. Far too often, especially with indie games, a game with a simple concept isn’t executed well or and others try too hard to be something more than what it actually is. To see a game get it right is so refreshing, that I whole-heartedly applaud Magicmaker for its efforts! The game offers a blend of styles I didn’t expect to see nor mesh well. It merges platforming games with ‘bullet hell’ shooters as player characters and enemies fire off hundreds of shots in rapid succession. Add in customizable attacks and Magicmaker seems like something destined to the novelty pile or worse, catch fire for being far too difficult or easy.
So why is it so good? What makes it withstand possible pitfalls it could have entered into? One thing. One simple thing that so many games seem to have forgotten about. It lets you have outright bloody fun! Oh my, did I have fun! And it wasn’t the ‘tee-hee, ha-ha, this game is so bad it’s funny’ kind of fun I’ve come to expect recently, but rather the kind of fun that happens when things just get so over the top you just can’t help but laugh at the sheer awesomeness of the spectacle! Before the game was half-over, I developed a spell that can only be described as ‘an omni-directional, ground-penetrating, multi-laser blast that sets everything it hits on fire… and is fired from the eyes.’ No. I am not kidding. This wasn’t even my most powerful spell, as I eventually ditched it in favor of one that let me fire an electric wall beyond the play area.
I have never, in all my years of gaming, sought to find a tough boss fight. Not to challenge myself, but to find something strong enough to withstand the sheer amount of power the game's spells unleash for more than a few seconds. This is why the game is awesome, and I honestly could end the review right here. But that wouldn’t be a very good review, now would it? I’m only telling you how awesome it is, not how it works or anything like that. So let’s break it down and get into detail.
The story is pretty simple. Things are not going well in the world as the economy is tanking. Jobs are near-non-existent and many places are actively firing instead of hiring. Not intent on being jobless, your character heads to a nearby temp agency to find work. The only job they declare you best suited to is a security guard at the local magic school. It isn’t long before you discover that a woman named Azazel is trying to teach goblins magic in response to the headmaster's goblin based discrimination. The goal is to stop Azazel before she completes her plans to destroy the school.
Gameplay is, surprisingly, very simple. You have a wand, two spell-slots, robes, and a magical artifact of your choice. An artifact and spells can be chosen before starting a level. Each level has a boss, four gems that can unlock items, and objectives that need completing. It all seems fairly simplistic at first. You shoot the bad guys and they fall down. Then the thing that makes Magicmaker so awesome comes into play: items and spell customization.
Your starting wand has no special effects and deals 10 damage points. At first it seems pretty lacking with a single-shot fire mode, but once the level is complete you are rewarded with a fire crystal. Without much thought you slap it into one of the three or four item slots on your wand and head out into the level again. Then you notice something. Every shot you shoot now sets the enemy on FIRE! Sure, the damage may not be much at first, but setting more items to weapon slots adds new effects, like your shots passing through walls or causes a small explosion when it strikes a wall or target. Suddenly the entire game has changed. Your attacks by themselves are not much stronger, but through customization your shots can bypass walls to hit a target, set them on fire, and then arc to nearby foes and set THEM on fire as well!
It only goes uphill from there. The sheer number of available options are simply immense. In one playthrough, you may utilize a spell that fires a laser-blast so strong it actually, physically, launches you across the screen to annihilate whatever poor foe that stands in its way. In another instance, fire off a swarm of shots that spawn an army of loyal minions that will destroy anything that gets in their way!
The most interesting and, in my opinion, best part of the game is that you don’t actually get stronger. Your character is limited to 100 points of health and mana for the entire duration of the game, but what turns a weak kneed mage who fearfully approached beehives with the upmost care into a being of pure power that annihilates things he can't even see on-screen is simply how you’ve managed and modified spells. At the start of the game you can't fly, but with proper combination and customization you'll soar around the world.
So few games get this. Magicmaker may not be the best game in existence, but far too often I see games that make progression linear or remove it altogether in favor of situational utility. This removes the freedom to tackle any given situation your way. I just fired off enough flaming lasers to set the entire screen on fire, but one moment later I utilized a field of bouncy-balls before switching to an ice-diamond so powerful it knocks me against the wall. I fire my shots through barriers and they explode on impact as I fly, reflect projectiles, and leave a flaming trail everywhere I go. And yet, I am not ‘technically’ stronger than the poor mage I started the game with.
So, why didn't the game score higher? It has three critical flaws. Flaws, I hope, that will be dealt with if this game is to succeed.
Firstly, the levels are short and limited. There are only a few zones with about four missions to each, and once you complete those missions, aside from freeplay, there is no reason to revisit them. Granted, free play offers a ton of challenges from randomized equipment to doubling the damage you deal and receive, but it’s simply not as sustaining as more story and missions would have been.
Secondly, the story is really lacking. Other mages you meet are either background characters with no real bearing or outright unsympathetic. The headmaster would rather kill you than give you a paycheck, the fairy girl/obvious environmentalist would see you die fifty times trying to clear a forest of monsters than harm one hair on a fairy's head. The character I found myself enjoying the most was the girl who WANTED me to commit mass arson as she didn’t care so much if I killed anything, just that I killed it with fire, and gave me a great reward on top of it. I actually wanted to side with Azazel at the end of the game. Sure, she trained a bunch of mage-goblins that tried to kill me constantly, but at least she treated me like an actual person. A person she had to defeat, but a person nonetheless. I was sad to find out that, at least for the moment, the only ‘win’ option is pretty much the worst thing I can think of.
Lastly, the game is simply too short. You can breeze through it in an afternoon and it feels more like a game for your iPhone or iPad that you would play in the moments on the bus than a full-on game.
But at the end of the day, the sheer volume of fun I had with Magicmaker overcomes my complaints. It may not be perfect, it may not even be ‘worth’ the launch price, but it IS something most definitely worth playing.