Published by Paradox Interactive
Developed by Arrowhead Game Studios
Throughout the year there are always a few games that manage to catch the eye for how surprisingly enjoyable they are. Such games always seem to do something in an unexpected and refreshing way that helps to reinvigorate what would otherwise be a traditional experience. On the face of it, Magicka seems unremarkable. You're put into the role of a wizard and have to hack and slash your way through hordes of ugly enemies. As a wizard you'll have elemental powers at your disposal too. How you use those elemental powers however is what makes Magicka a unique experience.
The story in Magicka certainly isn't anything special but that doesn't matter at all. This isn't some deep RPG experience that you're going to want to spend hours with, getting wrapped up in the storyline and dialogue. In truth it's simply an action game. Most of what you'd expect to be in an RPG just isn't here. Your wizard doesn't level up, have stat boosting weapons or armour, or even have an inventory. There aren't any classes in the game and there's no real way to customise your character with the exception of picking the colour of his robe.
So if you aren't going to want to play Magicka for its storyline, what will you want to play the game for? As we said at the top of this review, you'll play the game for the unique twist this game offers you. Your wizard will have eight elemental powers (such as fire, water, arcane, lightning and ice) and you can use these both on your enemies and your wizard (you'll press the middle mouse button to cast spells on your wizard). You'll have fun casting water on your enemies and following it up with lightning for a truly shocking experience. Of course if your wizard is wet as well, you may want to cast fire on him first to dry him off otherwise he'll be bound to fry. You do have to be careful of your environment at all times, and not just when casting spells, to make sure you don't end up hurting your wizard. Wizards can’t tolerate deep water so you’re going to have to freeze any you must traverse.
At first you'll find it tricky to quickly create the more elaborate combinations. Thankfully the elemental powers have been mapped to the Q, W, E, R, A, S, D, F, keys and a guide is displayed on the lower left of the screen at all times in case you forget which key corresponds to a specific elemental power. During the course of the game you'll acquire the recipes for some powerful spells that, when used correctly, can make mincemeat of your enemies. You’re free to experiment and try and find your own spell concoctions and it's when you do this and create a truly powerful mixture that the game really becomes a lot of fun.
Whilst the core experience of Magicka is enjoyable, it certainly helps its cause that the game doesn't take itself too seriously and has a decent sense of humour. There are plenty of references here from films and games that most will instantly recognise and find humorous.
On release the game had an assortment of problems – ranging from stability to performance issues - that needed sorting out. To the developer's credit, updates are arriving and the game is being kicked into shape rather smartly. When I was first making my notes for this review, I had a real bugbear. The game required you to finish a chapter before making a permanent save which can seem rather punishing at times. During a chapter you had to reach a specific stone in order to acquire a temporary checkpoint that you could return to if you came a cropper. The problem was that there were times when you would hit a frustrating part, where your wizard would usually die a few times, before coming across one of these stones. As a result you'd find yourself having to restart chapters far too often. Thankfully, the developers have now added checkpoints (and you are notified in text when you reach one) before hitting these frustrating parts and as a result the game has eliminated quite a bit of frustration.
In addition to the Adventure mode, there are also two other modes. Challenges requires you to play through wave after wave of enemies with the idea being to last as long as you can whilst racking up a big score (there are online leader boards too, so you can see how you compare with everyone else). The game can also be played online or over a local network allowing you to tackle the main game with up to three others and it can certainly be fun to do so when played with companions who are willing to work together.
The game's presentation is actually quite good. The visuals do have a certain charm to them even if they aren't impressive by today's standards. The game doesn't use real speech, it is pure gobbledegook, and therefore text is shown for all of the dialogue which means deaf gamers will be fully aware of all the dialogue and tutorial messages. On the whole the game is fine for deaf gamers. The only thing I would remark on is that there are times when you are attacked by enemies who aren't in view and it would be good to have icons to alert you to their presence.
Magicka is a refreshingly different gaming experience that's both enjoyable as both a single and multiplayer game. The humour is certainly welcome but it's the ability to mix your elemental powers in a seemingly limitless fashion that really makes the game stand out. For the lowly price of just £7.99 the game represents great value for money. As a single-player game it's enjoyable but occasionally frustrating. When played with up to three friends who'll work as a team however, Magicka can be a lot of fun.