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Magician Lord (NeoGeo) artwork

Magician Lord (NeoGeo) review

"Can masters of devilry withstand the lord of magic?"

From my days as a young arcade punk, of all the lush imagery that Magician Lord shamelessly flaunted before my breathless countenance, I remember one particular piece most vividly. It's the hat. We've seen its ilk before, typically atop a witch's coiffe, yet the aspiring magician lord Elta models his (i)conical crown with distinctly masculine derring-do. Such a flimsy bit of brightly-coloured foppishness offers little in the way of defence, but that's neither our hero's nor game developer Alpha Denshi's concern. The hat is classy, and that's enough.

That's not to say the rest of the game isn't memorable. Magician Lord assails the mind with a tonne of spectacular sprite-based artwork, crushing the mistaken notion that retro graphics are dinky affairs as seen in Spelunky and Lament. We won't watch indistinct dwarves squidge their way along repetitive tiled backgrounds; we instead find a large, attractively animated lord travelling across lush, evocative landscapes in pursuit of magical tomes to be wrested from the mightiest of demons.

Magician Lord (NeoGeo) imageMagician Lord (NeoGeo) image

I appreciate the exotic scenery displayed throughout the adventure. In “the Dale of Evil Gods”, Toda temples speckle the distance as stormy clouds drift by on multiple planes. When heroic Elta entered the first boss's forbidding chamber, my young son – overcome by the gravity of the moment – dropped his milk bag mid-pour into the cereal bowl. His childish gasp audibly echoed my inner thoughts: a current of shimmering lava flows beneath the bridge, and a large cracked mask hangs upon the wall... what manner of twisted visage does it hide?

The bulbous creature squirming behind that ceramic shell is one of many heinous demons that must be killed in this quest. Our magical slayer requires magical methods, and this leads to Magician Lord's greatest gimmick. En route to retrieving the eight magic books, variously coloured “transformation orbs” bestow imaginative physiques and powerful abilities upon our hero. The first is the dragonman form with sweltering breath; the most bizarre is the electrified raijin; my favorite is the shinobi ninja, because who doesn't dig ninjas? These forms are dispelled when Elta takes damage, yet they are critical to overcoming the game's fiercest challenges.

Magician Lord (NeoGeo) imageMagician Lord (NeoGeo) image

With all that kickass imagination on full display, it's too bad that Magician Lord is such a shit game. For all its attention to visual detail (and that pumping music), the controls blow dank demon dicks. Jumping is super imprecise; there's this part where I'm supposed to hop along tiny falling blocks to reach a secret door, but controlling the length of the jump isn't intuitive at all. It's like your grampa attempting parkour, you have to admire his heart for trying to pull it off with all those old war wounds, but it's still embarrassing. My son kept saying, “I thought you were good at video games” – isn't that great, Magician Lord made me look like a dunce in front of my kid. Fucking Alpha Denshi.

Even worse than the imprecise jumping is the way Elta gets knocked a hundred metres back when he takes a hit. Can you imagine if Mega Man had to traverse a bottomless canyon by jumping across a series of moving platforms, but instead of slick Mega Man controls you had really shitty Atari 2600 Donkey Kong controls, and when you finally reach the last platform, a stray bullet sends you flying through the air like the car at the beginning of Kung Fury? I can imagine it because I lived it in Magician Lord's notorious “Gal Agiese” level. The only good thing is that Elta can shoot his magic pellets upwards and downwards, but that doesn't help when I'm staring at a dozen floating eyeballs who each take multiple hits to kill and AIEEEEEEE THEY'RE ON TOP OF ME

Magician Lord (NeoGeo) imageMagician Lord (NeoGeo) image

Holy raijin balls, playing Magician Lord again after 20 years is a shocking disappointment. The boss fights are so tight and challenging in a good way, while the rest of the game is a big exercise in hoping you don't fuck up by holding that button one millisecond too long (which translates into three or four extra body lengths in jump distance). Even when you're not leaping across pits, it isn't as if the game suddenly becomes good; it's mainly about memorization so that you don't walk into a lizardman when he materializes out of thin air. Yeah yeah oldschool games all require some memorization, but even OG Ninja Gaiden handled it better than this. I don't excuse pop-up Jubei Yagyus in a 3D bonanza like Samurai Warriors, so I sure as shit won't excuse pop-up lizardmen in a 24-bit NeoGeo 2D platformer.

Some experiences are best left lurking in the murky shadows of distant memory; Magician Lord is one of them. I hope I remember this review in five years when I feel that jock itch to dust off the NeoGeo X and give the game another chance. Peace out!


JedwardRandy's avatar
Community review by JedwardRandy (June 18, 2017)

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