Magicka is absurdly good fun. As you were.
Hang on, there’s a minimum word count? Fine, but that first sentence sums up Magicka entirely. If ever a game has defeated its flaws just by being incredibly enjoyable, it’s this one. It won’t keep you hooked for a long time; it’s not bug-free and it’s got its moments of frustration. Yet Magicka is a giddy joy to play and well worth the less-than-a-tenner price tag.
Billed as a ‘satirical action-adventure’ title by developers Arrowhead, the game plays out from an isometric perspective as you guide your little wizard past legions of goblins, orcs, demons, trolls, beast-men and most other generic fantasy beasties. What with the wholesale slaughter of hundreds of monsters, the focus on fast-paced action and the camera viewpoint, Diablo is its clearest influence, but that does a disservice to the game’s unique magic system. Immediately after leaving the tutorial you’ll have access to eight core elements of magic: water, life, shield, cold, lightning, arcane, earth and fire. Each can be used on your character as a missile ability, in a circle around your character, or to empower whatever blade you happen to be lugging around at the time.
Here’s the fun bit: up to five elements can be stacked into a spell creating an immense arsenal of power for the player to fling at the bad guys. For instance, a single arcane element creates a beam that does serious damage, but combining it with lightning does even more. Add fire into the mix and you have a weapon that the ‘firin’ mah lazer’ meme was created for. Shield and arcane combine to drop deadly mines; shield, earth and fire throws up a wall of mini-volcanoes around your position and life and water creates a healing beam that also puts out burning allies. On top of that, certain unique combinations, or ‘Magicks’, can be discovered throughout the game which produce basic effects like Fear and Haste, or more devastating attacks like Thunderbolt and the excellently-named ‘Summon Death’. Experimentation is naturally advisable, but it’s just as possible to progress using a few favoured combinations and the lack of cooldowns or mana pools makes Magicka a spell-spammers paradise.
The gameplay is brought together in two modes; adventure and challenge. The latter is a simple survival game, pitting you against increasingly powerful waves of monsters in an attempt to get the highest score. Drops of new Magicks, weapons and staffs occur regularly to spice things up and whilst it’s a shame that only two locations are available, an arena and a forest glade, the difference between them is largely cosmetic.
Adventure mode is the best option for solo players. Beginning in the wizard’s castle, the game has its tongue firmly in its cheek as the high-ups send you off to save the world. The story isn’t what matters, though it at least manages to present a good variety of locations; your typical fantasy forests, orc fortresses and wooden towns. The big draw is the abundance of in-jokes and nods to all sorts of films and franchises: Star Wars, 300, Warhammer and Monty Python amongst many others, all make an appearance in some form or another. The game utilises the kind of ‘satire’ that shows a fan’s loving appreciation of the source material, rather than making any point about the trope-filled genre of fantasy. It’s not the sort of humour that will make you burst out laughing, but it’ll raise a few sniggers and it helps to make the different levels fresh.
Playing the game sole can often prove problematic. The game isn’t particularly hard until you reach the latter stages, but cheap kills are in abundance given the possibility of getting stuck in the corners of levels and the annoying number of enemies capable of stunning your character. The issue is made all the more frustrating by a checkpoint system and the fact that quitting a level wipes out any progress made into it. After being killed by a cannon-wielding armoured troll a few times, Magicka gets dangerously close to stopping being fun, but the depth of the magical system rescues it time and time again.
Where the game really shines though is in multiplayer. Both modes can be played in groups of up to four players and fighting with a good team is thrilling, particularly given that multiple beam weapons can be crossed to create hideously destructive Death Star-like attacks. The graphics are also at their best when playing with others: the spell effects are great enough in single-player but when four wizards are flinging around lasers, ice shards, fireballs and chain lightning strikes at the same time, the spectacle is a pyrotechnic dazzle surprising in a game of this calibre. On the technical side it can prove tricky to find a game, but the quick match feature normally does its job.
It’s best to sum up Magicka through a long-winded story. I recently read an interesting post on a forum somewhere in the depths of the internet in which the author outlined a case against ‘fun’ being gaming’s purpose. They felt it was a term used to hold gaming back from its potential, since developers fall back on making explosion-filled adrenaline rushes when they can’t think of a way to make their games engaging on an altogether more thoughtful level. Being an advocate of the ‘games as art’ argument, I can certainly see the point. Magicka doesn’t dispel the argument. It’s a toy, brilliantly crafted, but a toy nonetheless. However, it’s a ‘game’ right down to the fundamental meaning of the word: a challenge, perhaps a competition, but focused outright on enjoyment and fun. In this respect, without question, it is a great triumph.