Magicka Cover
Platforms Windows
Genre Overwhelming action
MtAMinutes to Action 10
Keep Playing? No

Managing a small group of diverse writers has its perks. When Ian sent me his review of Magicka a few months ago, it was my first exposure to the indie title that is garnering quite a bit of attention this year. Would I have heard of it eventually? Probably. Would I have picked it up during the Steam Summer Sale a few weeks back? Probably not.

But cheap games are great and cheap games with good reviews are even better, so I bought the four-pack of Magicka and spread the wealth among the writers. I found some time to finally get into the game during a business trip and gave its first hour a whirl.

Magicka is an action game where you control a small-hooded magician on his quest to... do something. You have near immediate access to a complete range of elemental spells that serve to challenge you in both finger and brain dexterity. Released in January on Windows, here is the first hour of Magicka.

Minute by Minute

00 - I select New Campaign and the game begins. Chapter 1: The Fancy Menace. Just by the player management screen is it apparent Magicka is definitely a multiplayer title at heart, but I’ll be playing alone for this hour. There are three different “robes” available for my mage, but it’s not clear from the hover text if they’re actually different classes or just some little jokes.

01 - I guess they wield different weapons? That’s about as much as I can glean from the customization.

02 - A narrator begins telling the story of Wizards and Vamps in storybook form. Apparently everyone in this world wears a wizard cloak and has no face.

03 - The basic story is that some wizard named Grimnir was locked away at World’s End and the land was saved, except for all this other bad stuff that is happening to people not wearing wizard cloaks! They exist!

04 - Now I’m looking at the narrator in-game, he’s not speaking English anymore. Huh? I gain control of my little warlock (by the way, is that different than a wizard?).

05 - So you have to hold the mouse button down to walk where you want, interesting design choice. I head downstairs to stumble upon a wizarding party, and then I literally stumble into the dungeon, looks like this will be the tutorial. Ooh, I get my staff! Nice!

07 - Now that I have a wizarding tool, I can heal myself from some damage I’ve apparently already suffered. I’m told to cast magic on myself with the middle mouse button... but I’m on a laptop and don’t have a middle mouse button.

08 - Well, this is going to be mildly problematic. To the key binding screen!

Magicka Tutorial Spells Galore

09 - Okay, there isn’t one, to the internet!

10 - Internet says I can rebind from the main menu, success, sorry for the delay. I heal myself! Then chop through a rope with my sword. Moving on.

11 - Next I stack up some earth spells to blow through a wooden barrier, then light a torch with fire.

12 - Awesome, just combined earth and fire to create a fireball!

13 - A popup concerning swords and staffs in the world of Magicka is lingering over the screen and won’t go away. Oh, it finally disappeared after I fell in some water (magicians can’t swim).

15 - Lightning power juices up a generator which opens a door. Ha, I walked through some water and have to dry myself off with fire before I can cast electricity again. Then I’m taught area spells by holding the shift key.

Magicka Bridge Chain Lightning

17 - So there’s a generator far away, but you can’t combine lightning and earth because they’re opposites, so I need to combine lightning with arcane. What’s arcane? Whatever it is, it worked.

18 - Cold spell lets you blow a bit of icy wind to freeze liquids. Slippery!

19 - I find a spell tome that teaches me Haste by combining lightning, arcane, and fire. Partial achievement unlocked: I put on my robe and wizarding hat.

21 - I encounter some imps who want to fight, it’s fun to experiment with the different elements on them.

22 - Boss time! The game finally teaches me a shield move which I can boost by tapping the space bar. All right, let’s roast this rat named Behold.

24 - Not really sure what happened... I put up a shield and cast a fireball through it, Behold died and I almost did. Woah.

Magicka Breathe Fire

25 - Back at the party now, hey, I can set my peers on fire!

26 - Made it outside, oh, there’s a chest behind a weak looking wall. I obtained the Staff of the White Wizard! All right, how do I kick the game off for real?

27 - I cast a beam spell and the game warns me the Rule of Opposites still apply, does that have anything to do with not combining water and fire, or is there some don’t cross the streams rule I missed where things go boom?

29 - A dead moose, the nearby wizard warns me only goblins are this precise (or Imperial Stormtroopers).

30 - I have to remember that Magicka is not a Zelda-like adventure game and walking into water will kill you.

31 - This time I tried to freeze the water but only managed to slip right in a moment later.

Magicka Arcane Beams

32 - And... again. Probably should not be so adventurous at the moment.

35 - A quest giver! She asks me to take out some rats, but then goblins attack! In the midst of me killing them, I kill her too. Whoops. Can I turn friendly fire off?

37 - A short scene of some spiders killing goblins plays, indicating that spiders are probably nastier than goblins. Yep, they’re a bit of a hassle. I almost have too many choices of spells.

39 - I stumble across an encampment of soldiers and a troll immediately attacks. This battle is incredibly hectic with guys swarming all over and me trying not to kill everyone in my path. Somehow the troll blows into chunks before I do.

40 - Never mind, I die after I accidentally shoot the big attack I had queued up into the ground right in front of me. Fail.

41 - Then I die again, and again.

Magicka ice Rocks

42 - Okay, this time I did it! Some soldier runs up and laments the death of his captain, and he tells me my next destination. Level Complete.

43 - Chapter 2: Attack of the Goblins. I immediately investigate some skeletons and Vlad the (not) vampire appears to tell me goblins did it.

45 - Some real goblins attack and I battle them off with lots of retreating. I don’t think I’m very good at this game.

47 - They were guarding a spell tome that taught me rain! I’m still finding solid waves of fire to be most effective.

49 - Woah, graphics card going glitchy or something: the ground is flickering like crazy.

50 - Bunch of goblins attack and I pull off some kind of nuclear bomb move and kill everyone on the screen, including myself! Oh, apparently there are bomb tossing goblins.

Magicka Shield Magic

51 - Ugh, almost beat the skirmish, but died from some fire. And now the game is stuck on the Defeated screen.

53 - Why can’t I restart from my last checkpoint? This is lame. Stupid glitches.

54 - So annoyed, I used lightning while wet! Oh, death brought me back to the checkpoint from earlier... weird.

56 - All right, beat the bomb tossing goblins! Vlad appears again and warns me of the forest ahead.

59 - Decided to poke a troll who was feeding on a moose, probably not my brightest idea ever, though I would have killed him if it weren’t for those meddling goblins.

60 - Some more goblins, this time with lots of arrows. The first hour of Magicka ends in the midst of a frantic battle.

Magicka Lightning Skeletons

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 10

Another awkward first hour, I have to admit. Besides the middle mouse button stumbling block I ran into early on, Magicka was often frustrating instead of delightful. I really thought going into this first hour it would be an easy win, with its colorful graphic and wide variety of magic available right away, but that was more of it’s undoing in my mind.

While Magicka’s tutorial is completely necessary, the pace it moves at seems to be wildly off. It is essentially a continuous run of introducing new magic, and by the time you have learned the third type you’ve forgotten about the first. What does arcane magic do again? Turn things into beams...? Does that mean it’s only useful for support? I understand that Magicka is a game about discovery and experimentation, but laying down the ground rules better would have been nice.

Something I was fond of were the graphics and Magicka’s general presentation. There were a few graphical bugs, but the world was clearly laid out with great animations, particularly the spells. The accompanying sound effects were also appropriate and once I realized that the non-English voices were done on purpose for a laugh, I got quite a bit of enjoyment out of the overdone Swedish-like speech.

And while I had trouble figuring out which spell to use in tense situations, the default keyboard layout is simple and leaves everything right at your fingertips.

Would I Keep Playing? No.

Well, that’s a bit of a lie, I do plan to try out multiplayer with Nate, but I feel no need to play by myself anymore. I think my biggest problem with the game is the same issue I had with Scribblenauts (ignoring control, which is not very well done in either title) in that there are so many options in spells that when I find one that works, I rely on it too much, later realizing that I’m not exploring the game’s real depth and quickly become burned out or frustrated with myself as much as the game. With Scribblenauts I kept returning to the same solutions again and again and became annoyed that that was all I could think of. With Magicka, I kept defending myself with fire and would become overwhelmed by mobs and not have time to think of other ways to fend off the horde.

So yes, the problem lies with me as much as the game, but I still come to the same conclusion: I will not keep playing Magicka.