Magic Orbz

Do Not Taunt Magic Ball

Okay, so it's not quite a Happy Fun Ball, but Magic Ball is definitely plenty of fun.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 5, 2009
TikGames and Creat Studios are on a roll right now. Though we've yet to review their third PSN game in almost as many weeks, Mahjong Tales (here's a hint, their streak is going to be broken), between the amazingly good Cuboid and this, Magic Ball, a sort of pinball-meets-Arkanoid mix of simple arcade deliciousness, you've now got two very emphatic recommendations, though Magic Ball's carries with it a few provisos.


The first is that you've got to understand that the game isn't terribly meaty. Yes, there are 48 levels to play through, but while Cuboid had about the same number (plus another dozen), they were far tougher to get through. Make no mistake, there are some seriously tough levels in Magic Ball, but it comes down to the unpredictability of random angles more than anything else. Sandwiching a quickly-caroming ball between a fast-moving paddle and a ton of destructible objects makes for some spazzy bits of gameplay.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's back up and describe what the game is. Take the pinball-like qualities of knocking a ball up and behind a bunch of differently-shaped objects that can have it pogoing back and forth out of view before screaming back down to the bottom of the playing field with the deflective nature of a game like Breakout where you're just trying to bounce the ball around to hit all the objects (sometimes multiple times) in a level to clear it, plus the power-ups of Arkanoid and you have a pretty decent understanding of the basics.

Magic Ball mixes things up a little by adding some verticality to the things you're trying to chip away at with the ball (in various states that I'll get to in a bit), and then introduces Havok physics to make it all fall apart realistically. Knock out the supports of, say, a house of cards and the physics will do the rest of the work for you, letting them all topple like you'd expect. This extends to everything from ships to stacks of spears, and takes the concept into the third dimension -- even if the gameplay itself is still taking place on a 2D plane.

There's really not a whole lot more to the game than you'd assume with a 3D Arkanoid clone (well, beyond the fact there are friggin' pirate ships and dragons involved). As you destroy the myriad objects scattered about the levels, you'll drop a variety of power-ups, some of which are actually detrimental. These can range from bad (shrinking your paddle or ball -- which makes it all but useless in destroying things -- to a skull that'll just straight-up kill you whether or not the ball actually falls past the bottom of the screen) to great (extra lives, a rope that stretches across the length of the field to give you a freebie if you happen to miss, turning the ball into a giant spiked one-hit rolling line of destruction) to... uh, environmental (lightening, meteor strikes, wind storms). There's almost always something to collect, though you'll have to use your better judgment in actually grabbing it lest you actually harm yourself in the process.

The game is fairly straightforward, and with the exception of some slightly weird physics when you're screaming from one side of the field to the other to catch a ball (sometimes it'll almost "catch" and then get flung in a direction or might be saved, it's not always the same every time), everything behaves with the kind of bouncy properties you'd expect, which is to say it's rather fun to just tear through all manner of quaintly set-up little scenarios (there are even a few Trophies for doing stuff like causing a cannon chain reaction rescuing a knight from a bunch of dragons -- though he can be hit by the magic ball just as easily as the dragons).

Magic Ball is definitely more attractive than TikGames/Creat Studios' other game Cuboid, but then it's clearly designed to be more than just a flipping block. The lighting is quite nice (and, in a little bit of razzle-dazzle, you can actually get a power-up that turns it from day to night, which looks neat), and the various things you'll be smashing through are nicely detailed. The layer of shader-assisted water feels a little less impressive when everything just sort of hovers on top of it, but honestly asking for super-complex effects in a game this simple is probably going a bit too far. What's here is nice, and certainly works for the game.

Ditto for the music, which follows either pirate- or medieval-themed movements depending on which of the 24-level blocks you're playing. Things like gulls crying or ground being broken up as the ball smashes through them are nice too, but apart from some simple little menu chimes, there's not a whole lot of aural accompaniment going on. Interestingly enough, the game does not run in 5.1, which I found a little odd. I thought every PS3 game would just support it natively, and it's not like this (nor Cuboid for that matter) are ports from other platforms, so I'm a little confused. Regardless, it's hardly a big deal for something so simple.

Magic Ball is a solid, fun, bright, cheerful little action game, and it does a good job of culling some of the classics that came before it while seeming fairly fresh in the process. It's a decent buy at $10, and there's just enough going on that the price seems justified, but it's not so mind-blowingly great that I'm ready to recommend it to everyone. If it happens to drop to $5, then it's a shoo-in for a simple little distraction for a few hours, and if you're an Arkanoid nut (or are even old enough to remember playing it in the arcades), then this might be worth a look.
The Verdict
7.5

Magic Ball is fun enough while it lasts, but it'll only last you a weekend or so at most. That's still reasonable for $10, but some may want to hold off until it comes down in price before getting their feet wet.

8.5Graphics:

A solid framerate and some very mild Havok-powered physics make stuff fall apart well and look good until it does, but it's mostly just window dressing.

8.0Sound:

The effects are minimal and the music pretty straightforward, but it works for this kind of game: a simple little arcade adventure.

8.5Control:

Surprisingly responsive, actually. Both the analog sticks and the d-pad have just the right amount of acceleration and precision, respectively to make both viable, but perhaps not exclusive ways to play things.

7.5Gameplay:

What's here is good, but it's also introduced in the first level and then carried out into the remaining 47. Decent fun, certainly (and some of the later levels will seriously test your mettle), but not utterly amazing.