Developer: Tasty Stewdios
Release Date: 22nd September 2014
In my mind, one of the greatest game modes ever created is Burnout’s Crash. Sending your vehicle careering over a bypass to collide with a juggernaut that jackknifes forming a roadblock which then catches several passing vehicles is the epitome of organised chaos. Whilst we like to feel in control when we game, there is a sense of beauty in watching the unexpected unfold. Taking Peggle as another example, my most memorable shots were never the ones I planned meticulously but the accidental Extreme Slides that ricocheted between orange pegs to erupt into a euphoric Ode to Joy. Tasty Stewdios first game, Magicmaker, spawns similar nostalgic moments with an emphasis on the juxtaposition between order and chaos.
Visually, Magicmaker is a little deceptive. It looks like a felted pop-up book brought to life; all colour, bold shapes and sweetness. It might look like a family-friendly platformer but that would be a great misrepresentation as the core of the game is a rather hardcore stat-heavy RPG. Taking the over-the-top loot generation system popularised by Borderlands and expanding on it to make it a truly customisable experience produces one of the most memorable and unique games I’ve played in this generation.
You are the new security guard at Dörwall Community College, unwittingly chosen by a sort of magical guidance counselor. From there, you’re tasked with all sorts of incredibly dangerous yet allegedly menial tasks that will see you raiding ancient temples and checking spooky cemeteries for mysterious occurrences. Whilst the questing is suitably epic for the genre, it’s all handled with a wicked sense of humour that will have you questioning why you’re helping out the ungrateful patrons. It’s reminiscent of the Fable series, where the NPCs express their feelings in a rather Britishly humourous and frank way, soon growing to appreciate your efforts as the journey expands.
Whilst it plays largely as a platformer, the combat is more twin-stick shooter with the player using the mouse to aim your spells. It works flawlessly though sometimes the cursor does have a habit of disappearing into the action when the screen fills up, it’s a very small complaint for working in a control scheme that provides 360 degrees of superb accuracy. There’s a low gravity floatiness to the jumping that takes some getting used to but it provides a great means to offer bite-size Castlevania-esque levels. In fact, the bosses also draw a lot of inspiration from the Konami series where each encounter features a lumbering behemoth that fills the screen and requires some strategising and serious concentration. Breaking down an enormous armoured knight piece by piece until he’s left in his boxers ala Ghosts n Goblins is a great experience.
It’s indicative of a great game when it’s easy to write how it would make a quality purchase without mentioning it’s key selling point. The loot system is possibly the most intricate and intriguing I’ve seen in a long time, far outweighing the one used in Borderlands that would be an obvious comparison. Enemies drop alchemical ingredients that can be placed into sockets in one of several inventory items. These components have unique properties that have wildly varying effects, depending on where they are placed and what they are combined with. If you’re the kind of gamer that likes to create spreadsheets for their favourite games, listing the various fusions involved in crafting systems then Magicmaker could keep you entertained for innumerable hours.
The extent to which you can customise every factor of your spells and equipment is almost overwhelming. Those that shy away from micro-managing statistics would be forgiven for finding something that works for them and simply upgrade it slowly but the more intrepid will discover a huge amount to experiment with. Combining a rubber bullet and a fire crystal in your wand grants you a flaming projectile that deflects on impact, seeking additional targets. A ninja’s sword fused with a monocle in an offensive slot produces a short range beam sword that decimates oncoming foes. One simple adjustment gives hugely varied results and a massive amount of time will be spent in the hub world swapping out items to see what happens. It’s very easy to develop a childlike obsession with trying to break the system, making things that shouldn’t work only to be amazed when you create something unimaginable.
The menus can be a little unintuitive but it’s a small price to pay for one of the most ambitious features I’ve seen successfully implemented and whilst the fairytale aesthetic may not appeal to all I’d advise not to judge it as such. Magicmaker is a stunning experience; memorable, challenging, lengthy and creative. If channeling your inner alchemist sounds appealing then Magicmaker is the best decision you could make this year.