Magnetic

Review by MrLipid
December 2003

Puzzle Nut

I'm going to say this right up front. I am a big fan of pure puzzle games. Jewels of the Oracle, Gems of Darkness, even Karma: Curse of the 12 Caves. Own Pandora's Box, all three editions of Smart Games and a couple variations of Teazle. Have even played Milo. I am one of those folks who is perfectly content to solve puzzles in the complete absence of a story. Why be forced to wade through the all-too-often dismal dialogue? Why not just cut right to the stumpers?

Given my bias, Magnetic, an independent production by Peter Hewitt of Xiama fame, should have been halfway to a thumbs up or maybe even a star before landing on my desk. Should have been. Didn't make it. What went wrong?

"My Name Is Quarm and I'll Be Your Sidekick this Evening ..."

Like Xiama, Magnetic offers a series of games and puzzles set against pleasing photographs of Hewitt's native Australia.

One welcome refinement is the addition of an in-game assistant. Rather than enter your name, you select from one of six digital sidekicks. You simply click on your chosen sidekick at the start of a session and away you go. Be advised that your digital buddy is responsible for autosaving your games and keeps track of both your successes and your failures.

Your digital buddy also serves as a docent who, if asked, will provide hints as to how a game (or puzzle) works and what must be done in order to beat (or solve) it. Even with the hints, there is plenty of "I wonder what will happen if I do this?" in Magnetic as one attempts to dope out the mechanics of the various games and puzzles.

There are 31 challenges in all, some slight, some substantial. Once Magnetic's first big challenge has been beaten, players must locate and beat 15 simpler stumpers to gain access to the 15 major challenges. Once a major challenge has been reached, even if it has not been beaten, Magnetic provides a visual menu that allows players to return immediately to it for another go. Nice touch.

The photographic backgrounds are quite attractive, the individual games and puzzles have a bit more polish than those found in Xiama and the soundtrack is sufficiently subdued (birds, surf, an occasional musical flourish) to allow one to concentrate on the tasks at hand.

Workin' in the Coal Mine, Goin' Down, Down, Down ...

And now begins the bad news. Magnetic is not so much a game of games as it is a collection of repetitive tasks. Magnetic is just not much fun. Unlike Xiama, Magnetic is tilted more toward logic and math games than puzzles. One is often playing against the computer, trying, in too many cases, to prevent it from making the last move. Remember the microscope puzzle in The 7th Guest? Imagine a collection of games built along that line. Yum. Or not.

And it gets worse. Denying the computer the last move in one of the 15 major challenges is not enough. Not nearly enough. I shudder when remembering the moment that it dawned on me that the only way I could get past one of the major—let's just call them obstacles rather than challenges and be done with it—was by beating the computer eight times in a row. Eight times! And if I lost a round, I would simply have to replay it. And replay it. And replay it. And then do the same thing again 14 more times. The 7th Guest, by providing a way for players to sidestep those sections that proved too frustrating, demonstrated a level of generosity absent in Magnetic.

Even a great stumper loses its appeal if the game developer requires that players beat it repeatedly just to move on. This design choice feels lazy ... as lazy as the maze and arcade sequences in DogDay. Forcing players to (seemingly) endlessly replay components of a title is a tedious substitute for creating something new that can earn and deserve a similar interval of rapt attention.

Had Enough? How About Some More ...

Magnetic offers a variation of the repeated play gambit with the more of the same ploy. Win a round involving a 3×3 grid and you'll find you've earned the opportunity to try again with a 4×4 grid, and then a 5×5 grid, a 6×6 grid, a 7×7 grid and, finally, an 8×8 grid. And if you fail to win a round, the game resets to its previous level. Blow it on the 5×5 and you get tossed back to the 4×4, etc. Doesn't that sound like fun?

What makes this so frustrating is that the simpler stumpers are actually pretty interesting. There is a coin puzzle that will have players smacking their foreheads for not immediately seeing its solution. And there is a puzzle involving a turtle that, while it has to be beaten three times, treats players fairly and rewards close attention to cause and effect.

Over and Over and Over Again, this Dance Is Gonna Be a Drag ...

As much as it pains me to say it, given the earnest good intentions that were obviously part of Magnetic's production, Magnetic is just not very successful as entertainment. The lack of variety among Magnetic's games, coupled with the requirement that half of them must be played way too many times, produces an experience that is, at best, mediocre. Had there been more variety or less insistence on repetition or both, Magnetic might have earned a place among the near-greats. Near-greats like, say, Milo.

(If, after all this, you're still interested, you can get a pretty good idea what to expect from Magnetic by going here.) The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Mulawa Dreaming
Publisher: Mulawa Dreaming
Release Date: March 2003

Available for: Windows

Four Fat Chicks Links

Player Feedback

Screenshots

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System Requirements

Pentium 166 or better
32 MB RAM
Plays from CD (or requires 340 MB free hard disc space)
4X CD-ROM drive
Direct X 7 (included)
Windows 98/2000/XP
640×480 resolution, 16-bit high color video mode
100% DirectX compatible soundcard and drivers
100% Direct-3D compatible video card with 2 MB VRAM
100% Microsoft compatible mouse/keyboard and drivers

Where to Find It

Mulawa Dreaming $22.00 (includes shipping)



Prices/links current as of 12/11/03
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