Reviewed: May 24, 2006
Released: April 25, 2006
When Nintendo announced their DS handheld, they guaranteed that by giving developers two screens – one of them touch-sensitive – that it was going to completely revolutionize gaming as we know it. Well, with an incredible library of innovative titles such as Nintendogs, Super Mario 64, Metroid Hunters – the proof is positive that Nintendo was definitely on to something with their “out of the box” thinking.
Now the third party developers are trying their hand with the DS concept – the latest of which is a nifty little role-playing game (RPG) from Ubisoft called Lost Magic, an innovative little beast that engages the gamer in an innovative and inclusive touch-pad control scheme.
In Lost Magic you can:
Lost Magic follows the mystical adventures of Isaac as he travels his land, building a Pokemon-like army of creatures, on a quest to protect the seven magic wands from capture by the evil sage, The Diva of Twilight (yes, incredibly corny names abound in Lost Magic).
The story is told in the upper screen through a series of still-frame storyboards, while the actual gameplay takes place on the lower touch pad.
As mentioned, the control is exclusively mapped to stylus input on the touch pad, with the lone exception being the shoulder button (right or left depending on the gamer’s inclination) used to bring up the alternate Rune menu (to be discussed later).
All movement is controlled by point-and-click with the stylus – selecting the creature, then the destination – much like you would find on a PC real-time strategy (RTS) title. In fact, although Lost Magic is touted as an adventure RPG, but because of the party-like nature of Isaac’s traveling menagerie, it ultimately ends up playing a bit more like an RTS.
Throughout the course of the story, our boy Isaac is endowed with a series of increasingly powerful magical spells that he can call on by drawing the symbols emblazoned on the runes from which each spell is written. These magic symbols range from simple slashes and circles, to complex serpentines and helixes – and even a few double-spell combos.
As you can guess, it is the gamer’s job to draw out the rune symbols using the stylus. What you might not expect, is that the battle is not turn-based, but rather in real-time; with the gamer having to select the character to control, select the destination, call up the rune menu (using a shoulder button), quickly scribble a symbol corresponding to a certain spell (fire, ice, wind, etc…), and finally aim the spell at the enemy.
If you think that the battle mechanic sounds like it could become a bit perplexing, you would be absolutely right – at times the combat gets so frenetic with all of the tapping, scratching and scribbling, that it actually becomes uncomfortably stressful. To put that comment into proper perspective; I absolutely love the lightning-fast frenzy of the DS puzzler Meteos, and Lost Magic was even a bit too much at times.
Maybe I would have been better able to deal with the overall frenetic nature of the game, if character movement was not such a critical aspect in the real-time battle – with enemies approaching rapidly, it becomes nearly impossible at times to pull up the rune menu, draw out the spell, and then cast it without being completely overwhelmed. I cannot count how many times my character died whilst I was in the midst of drawing out my symbols. Considering the lengthy storyboard cutscenes that the game forces you to watch with each restart, any unnecessary deaths can be infuriating. If the movement could be mapped to the D-Pad and the stylus simply used for spell casting, the game would be infinitely more enjoyable.
Another downfall of the movement is that the characters are not always smart enough to go around objects that fall in the direct line of their chosen destinations. So, if you click on a character, then on his destination – then if an item (tree, stone, bush) happens to be in the straight-line between, the character will simply continue to run against the object until you reselect, then incrementally move him around the offending object. This also applies to corners and outcroppings as well. Nothing is as infuriating as realizing during battle that you have a character stuck to the side of an object and not fighting by your side.
Obviously, given my diatribe on the poor movement mechanics surrounding one character, controlling the entire party of the character and a handful of creatures often ends up being a nervous breakdown inducing affair.
Lost Magic also features multiplayer battle via the Nintendo wireless antenna, as well as WiFi battle via broadband, but the online community is quite sparse (at least at the time of review). At least playing against another human, the game flows at more of a traditional pace, although it is more because both players get the chance to fumble with the same clunky control scheme.
Overall though, the whole symbol-drawing aspect is extremely innovative and really quite enjoyable, and something that could only be successfully pulled off on the DS platform. And if it weren’t for the control problems constantly gnawing away at the fun, Lost Magic would be a shoe-in for the most innovative game of the year.
Visually, Lost Magic is a bit lackluster with the 8-bit isometric-sprites and underwhelming effects. The real high point would have to be the storyboard cutscenes which are cut straight from the “Japanimation” cloth that we get from the Final Fantasy and Guilty Gear games – rife with ambiguously-gendered males and well-endowed females.
The sound is also a bit on the bland side, with all the generic midi backing tracks and lackluster effects you would expect from an 8-bit looking title. I know there are those people out there who rally dig this kind of stuff – but I am not one of them. Still, the sounds ultimately get the job done – even if they come off a bit cheap.
For those collectors out there who really get into novelty features in their games, Lost Magic is a title that will really demonstrate the unique aspects of the DS. And, I’m sure that the 8-bit RPG (and even RTS) fans will really dig the cheesy-RPG story of Isaac’s quest to protect the seven wands.
But for most handheld gamers, the name of the game is “fun”, and ultimately Lost Magic fails to be fun when it gets too damn hard to manage the characters, and they are forced to start and restart over and over at cheap deaths.
I don’t want to paint the picture that Lost Magic is necessarily a bad game – in fact, I was quite impressed with the touch screen innovations that Taito has brought to the gaming scene – I just think the game fails at some very small but critical facets, and as a result the game has lost some of the charm it could have had.