Magicka 2 Review (PS4)
While 2015 might be an incredibly diverse year for games, there’s one place area where games are getting MORE alike. The homogenization of game controls is a strange thing, but over time, we’ve come to accept that X/square is probably reload, cross/A is probably jump, left trigger is probably aim and right trigger is probably fire. It’s strangely exciting then to play a game where the controls are not just subtly tweaked, but entirely unique. There’s never been a game that controls like Magicka 2 (except Magicka I guess) and that’s because the underlying spell system of Magicka 2 is also entirely unique.
Cool downs, mana and quick slots are the most conventional ways to use magic in games, but not in this top-down co-op spell-em-up. Instead, you’re given a box of eight elements and abstract concepts and you combine them to create unique effects. Combine fire and water to make steam. Shield and earth to create rock armour. Rock and fire to create fireballs. And death, lighting and fire to make flaming, murdering lightning. You’ll eventually settle on a selection of your favourite spells, but dialing in different combinations just to see their effects is the most fun and liberating experience you’ll have with the game. Although the spell combinations aren’t unlimited (the developers had to craft each one), there’s still an overwhelming number of different effects you can produce, and even after you’ve finished multiple playthroughs you’ll still be finding new ones. Each time you inadvertently set yourself on fire, you’ll be amused rather than frustrated. Imagining some spell combination in your head then realising that it works and creates the intended result is a genuine delight, the likes of which I’m not sure I’ve experienced in any other game. The first time I used steam on a crab enemy and he turned red, I had to pause the game and tell a friend.
While the first Magicka seemed tailored to mouse and keyboard, this version has some of the cleverest controller configuration I’ve ever seen. Each face button represents an element, with the bumper acting as a toggle to access a further 4 elements. This gives access to all eight, and by dialing in up to five, you craft a unique spell. From there, you can assign it to your sword, to the immediate area, to yourself or as a projectile attack using R2, L1, R1 and the right stick respectively. So dialing in fire can give you a flame sword, a flame blast, a flamethrower or can set your character on fire. And that’s just one element. Different combinations can create effects like…. you know what? Just try them. The surprise and amusement you get from the spells you create is Magicka 2’s real draw and I won’t spoil it.
And if the spell system sound chaotic, just think how crazy it can all get when four wizards are all fighting together. With friendly fire enabled (as it should be), the potential for mischief and mayhem is high. Sometimes it can slip out of control and you realise the game has given way to ridiculous pyrotechnics and constant death, but even then it’s likely that everyone will be smiling. At least in short bursts, Magicka 2 is some of the most fun you can have with friends and controllers. Sadly, with no online matchmaking you might not be able to play much multiplayer Magicka 2 unless you convince your friends to buy it or come over.
When it comes to playing by yourself though, Magicka 2 can seem a bit obtuse. Free from the chaos of mulitplayer, you get a clearer view of what does and doesn’t work, but you also get quickly swamped by enemies. Without the breathing space allowed by having freinds that draw aggro from the swarms of orcs and goblins, Magicka becomes a game of frantic crowd control rather than chaotic experimentation. With little space to maneuver on a screen that stubbornly refuses to scroll, you find yourself skirting the edges, desperate to find a spell that can give you some breathing space. While you DO have the tools to manage those crowds, it takes a while to learn what they are, and when you’re pressured by hundreds of enemies all around you, it becomes much harder to quickly dial in the spell correctly.
It’s hard to see a solution for this problem though. Crucially, you DO get better and quicker at selecting spells and because you’re not limited by a mana pool (but rather by your own reaction speed and accuracy) the difference between a good Magicka 2 player and a bad one is vast. I’ve heard playing Magicka 2 being described as akin to learning to play an instrument, and there’s an element of truth to that. When you stop struggling with the buttons and instead get to the stage where you can react on the fly, Magicka 2 becomes a kind of crazy jazz. Moments of genius will see you spell your way out of danger, instantly converting imminent defeat into glorious victory. There are few other gameplay systems that offer such potential for mastery.
But while Magicka 2’s magic system is great, level design and enemies are merely quite good. Fighting ice enemies with fire is fair enough, but it’s only when magic clashes with magic that you feel really great emergent gameplay might result. Generally, the straightforward (albeit quite funny) fantasy setting complete with standard fantasy enemies feel far less inspired than the weapons you use to fight them. The bosses you face are similarly lacking in punch and personality.
Still, there’s a lot to distract you in Magicka 2’s medieval fair-influenced flavour of fantasy. There’s a lot of humour, which is often at it’s best when it goes for surreal as opposed to leaning on pop culture references. It’s amusing when your guide says, “It’s dangerous to go alone with up to 3 friends. Take this.”, but it’s even better when you enter a little tent in the corner of a village which seems to be empty, only to hear some retro rave music mix into the soundtrack subtly.
There’s an attempt at depth to the game too, which offsets the sting of the shortness of the campaign. You have a “familiar” which resurrects you, but can also offer additional bonuses, and you can collect staffs with specific powers and buffs. There’s also multiple skins to use, as well as modifiers you can apply to make the game harder, or just weirder.
Magicka 2 has it’s share of niggles. When appraising a game though, I’m predisposed to commend any game that manages to implement a completely new gameplay system, and also manages to make that system feel intuitive. Magicka 2 does just that. It’s not perfect, but there is nothing else quite like it. For that reason, it’s something I’d recommend to anyone.
4 crazy jazz magic spells out of 5Magicka 2 Review (PS4),