One time long ago, on a planet far far away… Jawas – those short “oo-tay-dee” screamers who lived in the deserts of Tatooine – were actually wizards, and their drab brown robes once sported a wide array of colors. Gathering in small nomadic bands, these Jawas would wander the land (back then, a lush, forested planet) in search of new gems for their staves and bizarre new creatures to tame as their own “familiars”. The wizard-Jawa were deep into the exploration of elemental magicks when they stumbled upon a disturbing combination; one which turned an innocent frog into the disgustingly overweight, pizza-loving, frog/slug monster we’ve all come to know and love… Jabba “The Hut”. Needless to say, we all know how that story ended. The Jawas meanwhile, so intimidated by their own powers, hid their colorful robes and magical artifacts deep within a cave and decided to pick up guns instead. The end.
No, that wasn’t the actual story of Magicka: Wizards of the Square Tablet, but it should definitely be part of the sequel. If you’ve ever wanted to play a spell-casting Jawa in a festive robe, look no further! Magicka is a game of elemental combinatrix (as the heading of this review so clearly states), meaning your primary goal is to find snazzy new combinations of six elements (and a shield) and use them against your foes.
As a lone wizard you will travel the land in search of new spells (combinations of elements), interrupt mobs of partying goblins, and find a host for a pair of flying vampire-dentures. The writing is random, humorous, and witty, and the voice-overs are… well, bizarre; like a garbled cross between Swedish and German with bits of it played backward. This is a light-hearted game to be sure, and is set in a cartoonish, side-scrolling world.
After you complete the spell casting tutorial (optional), you’ll be driven through some pre-game narrative and dumped into an attractively designed overhead map of the world. Navigation is standard-fare for most mobile games – tap a blinking destination to travel there and begin a quest – so you’ll quickly find yourself in combat. The quest maps are side-scrolling with little vertical leeway, and the mobs tend to crowd your little robed wonder whenever possible making for some frustratingly difficult combat situations. Add to the crowded screen the main weapon at your disposal – spell combinations – and I quickly found my fingers to be too slow for this game.
Here’s how the spell system works, in a nutshell: You have a bar at the bottom of the screen that contains six elements plus a “shield” spell. Tapping one of the elements queues it for casting and, consequentially, completely stops your Jawa from moving. At this point, you can either string on another one to three elements (or shield) to create combo effects or tap a target to cast. Certain spells are tap-hold (like flame) while others are tap (like boulders). To add to the complexity, certain elements don’t work with other elements (cancels the entire queue) while other “power spells” only work in exact ordering. This adds up to a whole lot of stuff you have to figure out in the five-second window before you get mobbed. Oh, and I forgot to mention… between slinging spells at your enemies, you also need to cast healing spells on yourself. The net-result of most combat situations for me was stopping somewhere, getting hit a few times, casting one spell, getting hit a few times, running somewhere else, healing myself, getting hit a few times, casting one spell… you get the picture. While interesting and inventive, the whole casting system takes too much time given the frantic pace (and small real estate) of combat. In the end, I constantly spammed fire whenever possible and gave up on combos.
A Staff For Your Troubles
Assuming you make it through one of these brief quests alive, you’ll be awarded some coin to purchase things like new staves, familiars, and scrolls to make the next round a bit easier. Between quests, you’ll be hovering above an attractively drawn landscape (map), buying stuff, and choosing your next destination. Interspersed with the usual quests on the map are “challenges” – essentially time-trials with increasing waves of enemies. There’s also a multiplayer co-op option to tackle quests with friends should you find your tap-tap-tapping skills insufficient.
On the whole, Magicka: Wizards of the Square Tablet feels very casual, yet simultaneously and overwhelmingly complex. While the story and narration add humor to the game, I ended up dreading combat simply because of the lack of space/time to think. The elemental casting system is inventive, I have to say, but you simply don’t have enough time on the crowded battlefield to do it any justice. Combine the casting-craziness with the extremely brief quest durations, and I just can’t muster the motivation needed to master my inner-Jawa…