It’s always a gamble when you attempt to revive an old IP. There are thousands of reasons a franchise may have gone the way of the dodo, and it’s incredibly difficult to know for sure how the community as a whole would react. You could end up with a game like Fallout 3, which completely reinvents the game and introduces it to a multitude of fans who would never have been privy to that story otherwise, or you could have something closer to Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, which ends up tarnishing the franchise for many gamers. Magical Drop V was surely made with the best of intentions in mind, but this is a franchise that was better off dead.
When Magical Drop was released to the masses in the 90s, it was considered one of the best puzzle games of the generation and was a driving factor in sales of the Neo Geo. Whereas many puzzle games have convoluted rules in order to have a false sense of challenge, Magical Drop relied on simple mechanics, allowing anyone to pick up a controller and have a chance to play. You controlled a jester who would gather up colored balls and throw them back up at the advancing row of spheres in order to align a series of similarly coloured balls, clearing them from the play area. The balls will continually advance on you, and if your opponent performs a combo of clearing a few areas in quick succession, even more rows will start marching towards you.
The mechanics of the game really are that simple, but when they’re done well it can be masterful in execution. The game quickly breaks down into an exhibition of speed and pattern recognition, but there is still room for personal strategy to take over. Some players may feel more comfortable vying for as many small combos as possible, where others may attempt to set up massive combos clearing half their screen at a time. Neither strategy is wrong, and neither one will guarantee you a victory.
Magical Drop V doesn’t attempt to do much to change this formula. You’ll find a twelve stage story mode, where you’ll play as a certain character as they attempt to win the Magical Drop, three multiplayer modes available both online and offline, as well as a brand new character that quite literally changes the make-up of the game.
The newest character, Bruce, is a remnant from an unreleased Data East game called Ghostlop. Ghostlop had the same core mechanic of clearing out rows of balls before they hit the bottom of the screen, but instead of pulling down and tossing balls straight back up, Bruce throws a small ball that bounces off the sides of the screen clearing any similarly coloured ghost balls it touches. The emphasis of the game changes from clearing combos to having lightning quick reflexes and changing colors on the fly when you’re playing as Bruce. It’s really a completely different game, which seems odd since he’s available from the onset with no explanation of how he really fits in here. If he had been a bonus character, it would be easy to see him as just a little reward, but as it is he’s an enjoyable character that simply feels out of place.
As ambitious as it was for Golgoth to include a character like Bruce in the mix, that ambition didn’t parlay well into the rest of the experience. Fans of the previous Magical Drop games will miss the additional game modes that were considered a staple of the series. Without the puzzle and adventure modes, we’re left with a story mode which is simply forgettable. The story is told through brief dialog exchanges that offer nothing to the experience. They’re poorly written and are so wrapped up in being “cute” that they come off as insulting to anyone who can read above a 6th grade level.
The poor writing is further hindered by what is one of the worst translation jobs I’ve seen in a game in a decade. The fact that this got past quality control shows that Golgoth either didn’t care, or they had someone on staff who found a way to convince everyone else in the office that it was acceptable. Apostrophes are seen as letter icons, sentences start and stop randomly, and formatting is off at an alarming frequency. If I sound like I’m coming off as too critical, I promise you I’m not. These types of errors are embarrassing, and Golgoth should be ashamed that they managed to release a game in this state. The bright side of this is that it’s almost comical in how inept the translation attempt was. If you’re a fan of badly translated anime, you’ll probably get a few chuckles out of this.
Sadly, the bumbling translation isn’t the most egregious of technical offenses in play. There are a plethora of issues that can cause the game to lock up or simply not start. Having a 120 Hz monitor would cause the game to play at double speed for instance. It took me roughly 45 minutes to discover the reason that Magical Drop V crashed on startup was simply due to the fact that I have a multi monitor setup. Should you attempt to switch the controls mid match, you can expect to have to restart your game.
Golgoth, to their credit, is aware of these issues. As I’ve been writing this, I’ve seen a series of mini patches released, as well as them taking a fairly visible role on the Steam forums in an effort to address issues. However, as I said during my review for Primal Carnage, I have to review the game I have in front of me, not the game I wish I had. I imagine the bulk of these issues will be fixed within the upcoming weeks, but at launch Magical Drop V was a buggy mess of a game.
As for multiplayer, Magical Drop V features three modes, including your more traditional Head-to-Head, Team Battle (which is simply Head-to-Head with two player teams) and King of the Hill. Team Battle is a fantastic idea, but one that simply doesn’t work in a game that moves as fast as Magical Drop V. The action is simply too fast for players to have any chance of coordinating with their teammates. Also, even though it’s a fun diversion and awkward challenge, it lacks a competitive edge.
I’m not quite sure how to include this in a review, but under the Help & Options menu, there’s an “Extra” option with the subtitle “But, what happens here?” Well, what happens is you’re taken to a window that allows you to vote for Golgoth’s upcoming game Tiki on the Steam Greenlight page as a yeti waves his hands up and down. It’s an advertisement for an unfinished game in an unfinished game. If I were a worse writer, I’d make an Inception joke here.
Magical Drop V was a nice attempt to reinvigorate the franchise, but it manages to take two steps backward. With the original Magical Drop available on PSN and games such as Critter Crunch available, there’s no reason a gamer should have to settle for this based on the promise of HD graphics. As Golgoth continues to patch the game, it will certainly be an enjoyable escape, but at launch this buggy mess simply isn’t worth the headache when there are other titles that will work right out of the box. Let’s hope that Golgoth can build upon this in the future and release something that better displays their talents.
This review is based on a PC copy of the game that was provided to us.