The original Magicka, an isometric, twin-stick wizard-them-up developed by Arrowhead Game Studios, was a game with a unique, appealing setting plagued by astonishing bad execution.
The game itself was fun enough, but constant, seemingly inescapable hordes of enemies being thrown at you combined with terrible controls was enough to put you off entirely. I never completed it, which was a shame as the game was genuinely funny and I never got round to appreciating all the jokes in it.
When Magicka 2 was announced, supposedly being developed by Pieces Interactive, I was somewhat optimistic. Maybe they’d fix these issues and make the game bearable. Have they done that?
The controls are far better in the sequel, with the abysmal ‘click here to walk here’ mechanic common in point-and-click-adventure games being replaced by arrow key controls. This is a step in the right direction, because the extent of Magicka being a point and click adventure game goes as far as ‘point and click here and watch the monster’s brain go for an adventure out the back of his head’.
The controls, should you think they are particularly shit, are rebindable through an .ini file in the game’s directory, which is an inconvenience. Then again, the controls function brilliantly as is, so you needn’t bother.
A welcome change from the original is the terrible spell-wheel mechanic controlled by the right analog stick for gamepad users thankfully being replaced with the face buttons being used to select elements with a modifier button (the left bumper or your appropriated equivalent by default) used to access the others. Thus, spellcasting no longer feels sluggish and you can keep up with the action quite easily.
Efforts have been made to make the controls far more user-friendly, with unlockable Magicks able to be bound to individual keys or directions on the d-pad. The Push ability from the first game has been relegated to this area, so those wanting to mash it for a quick getaway are out of luck.
The cooldowns for the hotkey Magicks are several seconds long and, although casting them element by element negates that, doing so defeats the purpose of convenience.
Co-op returns with a vengeance – the original game’s unique selling point appeared to be ‘haha you can kill your friends in co-op’, which was admittedly far funnier to the developers than to their actual customers. This aspect is retained, even if it is only entertaining for a whopping five minutes.
When the game actually intends to be funny, it does so marvelously. Magicka 2’s satirical elements remain just as strong as those in the previous game – it’s a tremendous piss-take of the fantasy genre and if I gave any examples I’d be ruining it for you.
Outside of combat, the music is catchy, upbeat and will have you tapping your foot, with one particular dance track early on in the game standing out to that effect. In combat the music provides suitable tension as you get mercilessly tossed off the edge of the map by the absolute bastard enemy AI.
Enemy wise, the difficulty remains unchanged, which is a problem considering the game’s to send hordes of enemies at you that are all too willing to fling you across the map with little regard for your character’s spinal cord.
The game recommends that you bring a friend to solve these issues, but as soon as your chums join the difficulty gets ramped up even further, making such a suggestion more of a deceitful pain in the arse than a helpful tip.
Then again, considering that spell combos are quite simple to figure out (me and a friend figured out that crossing fire and ice beams would cause massively overpowered explosions very early on – wink wink, nudge nudge), your results with the difficulty may vary. Even with our strategy, we often found ourselves dying a fair amount.
Magicka 2 allows you to enable certain ‘artifacts’, unlocked through play, to alter the difficulty and change the game’s behaviour. This is a nice touch and will probably add to the replay value for many people, though they do not hold my attention seen as though I prefer actual content in games.
Examples of these artifacts are as simple as increased damage, reduced health or a ‘sitcom mode’, which is only described in-game as ‘200% comedy’, though your mileage may vary.
Players of the original Magicka may have issues with the ‘overhauled’ spell system. ‘Overhauled’ is pushing it, in my opinion – in the original game, water and fire could be combined into a single element, Steam, whereas ice could be formed by combining frost and water. This contributed to the idea that Magicka’s spell-casting potential was almost limitless, whereas the way that steam and ice now take up two elements of the total five reduces the amount of spells you can cast.
This minor change, in line with the reworked Magicka: Wizard Wars (a free to play MOBA) spell-casting system is slightly annoying but you can still cast a hell of a lot of spells, so I can live with it.
Some people will argue that you can spam overpowered spells and the game becomes a cakewalk, but you really can’t blitz through the game with these spells because of the amount of enemies that get in your way and the game’s tendency to throw endless hordes at you that only stop providing you complete a thinly veiled objective. The game’s length, a piss-poor nine levels, is more the problem.
The ememy types also prove to be frustrating. Sometimes your preferred spell combo will be resisted by certain types of enemies (warlocks resist fire, for instance) which means that you’ll have to switch up your strategy. This proved an issue at first before we figured out the best tactic for casual play which avoided such issues.
The additional of multiple familiars such as the ability to boost damage after death and the elements at random as opposed to just being limited to the healing fairy from the first game allows for variation in play-style, in theory. The difficulty gets to be such a hindrance at some points that without the healing fairy you may as well not bother.
Customisation is serviceable but there’s very little point to it. There are weapons and staffs aplenty throughout the levels, but there’s no incentive to use them; the stock staff and sword will suffice unless having snazzy looking gear is high on your priorities.
The game itself is very short – you should be able to rip through it in about six hours. With friends, this should be even less. The game is eleven quid, which is a lot of money for an experience that is only padded out by gameplay modifiers, a horde-based challenge mode and boss fight time trials, things that the average player may not wish to indulge in.
When thinking about this review whilst playing, I fully intended on signing-off with something to the effect of ‘although perhaps too similar to the first game, this is better in every single possible way so buy it immediately’ – then I played the final boss.
Without spoiling much, the boss fight involves wearing down a hulking fuck-off giant. With our newfangled strategy (cough), my friend and I had no trouble doing this.
Then it healed to full health.
Imagine this happening repeatedly with no progress for about twenty minutes.
We bit the bullet and looked online for a guide, the glorious wisdom bestowed upon us stated we had to use a mechanic that we had only actually found a use for ten minutes ago, which is a bastard to actually use properly, to subdue the secondary boss – which soon turned out to be the giant’s female pimp.
Another 20 minutes of staring into space. Riveting stuff.
We finally managed to progress to the next stage of the boss fight, which happened to be an aneurysm-inducing game of table football on the game’s already flawed physics engine which would reset and require you to start over should you fuck it up in some way, as you do.
We still haven’t finished it.
Here’s a great tip for developers: don’t make your boss fights boring, but don’t make them hyper-complicated, unpleasant advertisements for your physics engine either.
I’m still convinced that Magicka 2’s boss fight is only in there to pad the game out by driving the player clinically insane before they finish it.
Magicka 2, then, is strikingly similar to the first game, with a slightly simplified spellcasting system and tighter controls. Should you buy it? Yes, for the most part it’s both a fun and funny game, with plenty of jokes scattered around the levels. The combat is enjoyable, even if the amount of enemies you’re often faced with isn’t. Its main flaws are the short length and the arduous difficulty.
Just don’t expect much from the ending – the plot may as well not bother being there given that its so half-arsed and the boss fight doesn’t fare better.
You can purchase Magicka 2 for £10.99 or your regional equivalent over on the game’s Steam page.
Alternatively you can buy the Deluxe edition which includes a soundtrack for £18.99 or your regional equivalent.
Ruining your social life will cost a tad more, with a 4-pack going for £29.99 or your regional equivalent off-sale.
It’s also on PS4, presumably purchasable for a packet of magic beans.