I’m purchasing an Xbox Live Indie Game (XBLIG) every day, seeking out the quality titles that got lost in the shuffle and are not well represented in the top 50 lists on the Xbox Dashboard. Today is day #190, and today’s game is “MagicalCube”.
This game review was precipitated by a request from a Mass Deduction reader who responded to a request for games that readers were curious about and wanted reviewed by simply saying “Magical Cube!!”. The game mixes elements of Bejeweled with sliding block puzzles, and ties it together with absolutely impressively slick presentation. As I played I kept thinking of the Japanese version of “Halo: Combat Evolved”. Why is that, you ask? Read on to find out.
First, from the developer (FixedStarWorks):
“Magical Cube is a mission-clear style puzzle game. The object of this game is to defeat monsters in battle by using Marie’s magic. When 3 Cube is aligned (only same color), Marie’s magic is invoked. Marie can deliver a damaging blow to the monster with magic, and when monster’s life gone run out, you win! Collect coin, and purchase accessories to make Marie more powerful!”
Unlike most puzzles games where solving the puzzles is the ultimate goal, in MagicalCube the actual goal is to defeat an opponent and puzzle solving is merely a means to that end. As you clear blocks from the playfield you fill up your magic and, when full, lets you unleash attacks on the enemy you’re facing that round. Black dots appear on some of the blocks and if you fail to eliminate those blocks quickly enough the black magic is released from the dot to fill your opponent’s magic. There are additional special moves and features that appear on blocks, some of which affect gameplay (limiting your ability to shift the rows or columns, for example), some of which help you, and some of which help your opponent.
So that’s the good, what’s the bad? The game gets hard, and it gets hard fairly early on; level three to be exact. This is an XBLIG from a Japanese developer and, where puzzle games are seen as appealing to mostly casual gamers in Western game markets, there is a sizeable group of hardcore puzzle gamers in Japan and this game seems meant to appeal to them. To counteract that you must upgrade your character, which has you replaying the first couple of levels repeatedly to earn enough coins to upgrade your outfit (yes, proper outfit selection changes gameplay as outfits offer varying gameplay bonuses) and your equipment. This is counterintuitive for the puzzle genre, where constantly pressing forward to completion is the normal modus operandi.
It is a shame that the game gets so hard that many people either won’t be able to (or will choose not to) progress far into the game, but it’s hard to criticise MagicalCube for simply getting hard faster than most. First-person shooters (FPSs) that people breeze through in North America and the PAL gaming markets are often considered ridiculously hard in Japan. “Halo: Combat Evolved” on the Xbox was modified for its Japanese release, with that version of the game restoring full health to the Master Chief every time he checkpoints. I’m sure all of us who’ve played an FPS have had a moment where we checkpointed with low health, died, and then had to keep retrying (and re-dying) over and over again with that low-health handicap. That is seen by Japanese gamers as terrible game design and “too hard”, to the point that they modified at least one game to deal with something that Western gamers typically shrug our shoulders at. It seems to me that many Western game reviewers look at MagicalCube’s difficulty level as FPSs are viewed by Japanese game reviewers. Was Halo a bad game because Japanese gamers found it ridiculously hard? Is MagicalCube a bad game because Western games find it gets hard at the third level? My answer to both is no, as both are tremendously good games in my opinion. However, it does mean that MagicalCube is recommended only for the most hardcore puzzle game fans. Those who really enjoy a challenge, and love the game’s concepts and motif enough to do some grinding of the early levels, will find they get their 400 Microsoft Points out of it. For the rest of us, I guess we needed MagicalCube to include an equivalent of Halo:CE (Japan)’s regenerating health checkpoints.
Click here to download “MagicalCube”, and then please come back after playing to rate the game.
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