Every once in a while, a game comes along that tells a tale so epic, so incredible, that its fable shall never be forgotten. Magicka is not that game. It is a game about magic, wizards, and vampires. Arrowhead Game Studios and Paradox invite you on this epic co-op journey of dim-witted wizards, powerful magic, and ridiculous enemies. It’s certainly a journey worth taking.
There’s not a lot to Magicka's plot. An evil sorcerer threatens the world, you must stop him, etc. Lack of plot isn’t lack of character, however, and Magicka offers plenty of the latter. Hilarious jokes abound, and references to video games and any other nerdy media you can think of are at every turn. While your hero is mute, there are plenty of NPCs along your journey to provide witty dialog, including Vlad, a pale man with a Romanian accent who constantly insists that he is not a vampire. While there is plenty of humor to be found in the story and characters, the humor of Magicka really shines in the co-op gameplay.
Magicka is an isometric action game played with a mouse and keyboard, so those of you familiar with games like Diablo and Torchlight will be right at home. However, there are no classes, items, or mana. All movement, as well as the casting of spells, is handled with the mouse. You have two pieces of equipment: a staff for casting spells, and a secondary weapon (generally used for melee attacks), but there is no inventory system. Picking up a new staff or weapon discards the previous one. Adding Ctrl and Shift also allows you to cast a spell in front of you or around you, and Spacebar lets you cast special spells made from a proper combination of the various elements.
There are 8 basic spells, tied to the QWERASDF keys on the keyboard. These spells can be further combined to yield hundreds of combinations. You can queue up to 5 spells into a single cast. The more spells of a single type which you queue, the more powerful the effect of that type. Combinations of the basic elements can yield even more basic elements on your cast bar. For example, if you queue water followed by fire, the element of steam is added to your cast bar instead of its components. Certain elements, however, cannot be cast together, because they are opposites. For example, if you queue lightning and earth the earth element will cancel the lightning element from your queue.
This allows you, in theory, to battle in an incredible variety of ways. In practice, you tend to find one or two very powerful combinations and stick to them. However, the four player co-op makes things more interesting, by giving you the chance to coordinate spells to make them more effective. For example, crossing beams can yield an even more powerful beam, but if the wrong elements are crossed, the beams will explode with suicidal results. Friendly fire is always on, which means 4 player co-op can be a very special kind of chaos, but also fun and funny.
Magicka is a linear adventure, broken up into 13 chapters. There’s a boss at the end of most chapters, but these are usually pretty easy to defeat. Small hidden paths yield new special spells to explorers, ranging from oil slicks to black holes. The game plays smoothly most of the time, but can get pretty repetitive, especially once you figure out some of the better spell combos. It can also on occasion be frustrating, as you can be knocked down and kept from casting for long periods of time, as you’re killed helplessly. There are some bugs, but the frequent patches remove most of them quickly.
Graphically, Magicka isn’t particularly impressive, but it is polished. Enemy designs are varied, and there’s a lot of style and humor to the bright environments. The music is appropriate for the game, but it’s not all that special. It can be repetitive, and none of it is memorable. There’s no voice acting, but the characters speak in nonsense words with the occasional bit of Swedish thrown in to maintain the game’s Nordic theme. Of course, most of the style in the game’s presentation comes through its humor.
Magicka will last most people a good 8 hours on a first solo play through. Finding all the hidden little nooks and crannies can add another couple hours to that, and there are challenge modes including an arena in which you can battle all the enemies of the game to add even more to the value. There is also plenty of reason to replay in the madness that is co-op, even on multiple playthroughs. For $10, Magicka has incredible value.
Sometimes we get so lost in the massive budget blockbusters that we forget the little guys. Magicka is a game made by 8 Swedish students and sold on Steam for $10. It may not be a blockbuster, but it is a fun and engaging little game. It's easy to pick up, hilariously tongue-in-cheek, and cleverly designed for crazy co-op antics. Magicka has its share of problems, but the fun far outweighs the frustration.