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Magicians and Looters (Xbox 360) artwork

Magicians and Looters (Xbox 360) review

"A slightly unpolished game that's more ambitious than the usual indie offering."

Although it's not on the level of titles such as Super Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, XBLA Indie effort Magicians and Looters still deserves credit for being both a solid "Metroidvania" offering and a more ambitious indie game than I've become accustomed to playing over the past year.

You take control of three apprentice mages who are studying under the tutelage of a more experienced wizard, until he of course gets kidnapped by the FORCES OF EVIL. Each of the three apprentices has a specific skill set, so you'll switch back-and-forth between the team members as you pass frequent checkpoints on your journey to rescue your mentor. One mage is able to use a shield and perform wall jumps. Another dual wields swords for increased damage output, and also can slide through narrow gaps. The third only uses her bare hands for fighting, but she's the most useful for traversing the game's world because she can punch through certain doors, climb walls and perform other tricks that turn dead ends into paths leading to new rooms and regions.

Throughout the world, there are lots of treasure chests holding orbs that count towards gaining levels, as well as weapons and accessories. The latter go a long way toward determining how much of a magician your characters can be. Though you only learn a handful of spells, they are quite useful, with fireballs capable of both lighting torches to open gates and providing a long-range attack to complement your swords (or fists), while wisps block damaging attacks. Using certain accessories makes your spells stronger and gives you more magic to work with, as well. Or if you prefer, you can instead equip one to increase your life meter so you can shrug off a few more hits in melee combat.

Initially, progression is quite linear. After the introductory dungeon and its easy boss, your three characters are separated and you lead them individually through various regions until they reunite in some underground caverns. Their goal is to reach the castle of villainous King Looter (in case you were wondering where the second half of the game's title was derived). However, the path to that destination is blocked by a bizarre mage who fires a never-ending swarm of fruit at anyone who dares enter her chamber. The only solution is to descend into a labyrinth and endure its trials. This was a pretty interesting dungeon, in that you won't really have to do any fighting except when you face its boss. Instead, you rely on the abilities you've gained so far, in order to progress through one room after another and collect all its treasure (including a shield that gets you past that pesky mage).

By the time you reach the Castle Looter, you're in the game's second phase, where one of the major fundamentals of "Metroidvania" comes into play. You're finally able to backtrack throughout every area you've already visited in order to use your new abilities to collect treasures you couldn't reach previously. After you accomplish that, the game becomes linear once more, with the exception of one optional dungeon. When King Looter is defeated, you gain one of two keys required to reach the final boss's lair, but must acquire the other from his jester lackey… whom you'll chase through a number of areas before finally cornering him for a surprisingly tough boss fight.

The game's challenging boss fights prove more difficult than the paths that lead to them. Reaching the jester could have been a fairly tough haul, since I had to go through a handful of rooms loaded with damage-dealing obstacles and a couple of tough enemies, but Magicians and Looters kindly delivers a save point in the room immediately preceding his. If you die, you can immediately try again with a full life meter. It's easy to appreciate such design decisions, and also the game's general ambition, but I can't endorse it as anything more than an entertaining diversion thanks to a few annoying flaws.

First, and least concerning, is the hit-or-miss nature of the comical dialogue (which can at least be disabled). To sum things up, you're controlling three sociopathic "heroes" who are rescuing their magic teacher despite the fact that he apparently hasn't actually taught them anything worthwhile. The conversations between King Looter and his jester makes me think more of two children playing at being bad guys than actual villainy, while the occasional banter between your characters is thoroughly forgettable. On the other hand, pretty much everything that happens during the scene after your fight with King Looter is gold. So, like I said, the jokes are funny at times but other times they aren't.

A more concrete issue I have with the game is its general lack of diversity. New enemies are introduced from time to time, but you'll fight certain foes (known as Morgs, in honor of creator Morgopolis Studios) almost constantly throughout the game. There are archers, weak melee fighters and their powerful big brothers. These adversaries infest virtually every nook and cranny of the game's world. Add in some porcupines and some tiny pinkish dino-like monsters and that's the majority of the bestiary, with the rest of the game's villains encountered only sporadically. After a while, without much to distinguish one from the next, the assorted locales start to blend together.

The game's controls serve as my final issue. They simply weren't as polished as I would like. Sometimes when I was moving from one room to the next, my character would enter the second chamber running, regardless of whether I was pushing on the analog stick or not. Watching myself blunder into enemies or spikes while I'm wondering why this is happening is not fun. It's weird, yes… but not fun. Also, during the more intense boss fights, I'd occasionally find myself longing for more fluidity. Necessary tricks like running to the right, jumping over a weapon being thrown by the jester and then ducking down under his next throw to start my own attack didn't always work out quite as I'd planned.

Most of Magicians and Looters is fun enough, though, and for only $3 on Xbox Live, it's a suitable bargain purchase. A few of the game's aspects could have been better executed, certainly, but this is still a very ambitious debut offering. While it might not be the next Symphony of the Night or anything on that scale, it's at least good enough to kill a few hours of time without a laundry list of problems constantly popping up to remind you that, yes, you are playing an indie game. With a bit more polish, there'd likely be none of those reminders at all, but I'm not going to complain too much!


overdrive's avatar
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (July 14, 2015)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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