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Magmax (NES) artwork

Magmax (NES) review

"Magmax allows you to go nowhere fast. I wasn’t aware that the game was one of those simplistic early looping shooters until it registered in my laser-riddled brain that my glazed eyes had been seeing the same backgrounds pass by, over and over and over… "

Pieces of a man

Magmax allows you to go nowhere fast. I wasn’t aware that the game was one of those simplistic early looping shooters until it registered in my laser-riddled brain that my glazed eyes had been seeing the same backgrounds pass by, over and over and over…

But this doesn’t mean Magmax isn’t fun, because it is. For a time. The length of that time depends on a few factors:

1/Do you have other games? ANY other games?

2/Do you find that shooters at times, can get a little… repetitive?

3/Do you go to school or work or ANYTHING?

If you racked up three NOs, you’ll spend more time enjoying the little Magmax has to offer than even I did.

It’s not so shameful, really. This game really tried to be something. Rather than have you commandeering a little spaceship for the duration, you’re given the opportunity to build upon that ship. To use that ship as a nucleus for a powerful, sword-wielding robot with manly stride and clunky countenance.

But we’ll start at the beginning. You'll notice the view isn't fully horizontal. It's side-scrolling, but top-down, like a Double Dragon game. So pushing up on the controller will make you slide up into the background, and pushing down will bring your ship closer to you, and down on the screen. Initially, I found this viewpoint refreshing, but it loses its luster almost right away.

You’ll also notice everything looks brown. That’s because you’re in the desert. A few rocks are scattered about the landscape, to let us know that the screen is scrolling. The desert then becomes at least partially developed, managing to grow patches of grass in perfectly straight lines. The layout looks almost like lanes. The lanes give way to water that our robot walks upon with practiced ease (Jesus isn’t the only one, you know). The water foams at the edge of a grey, nondescript 'base', which takes us to the two-headed dragon boss.

As you fly along, you'll notice bland grey puddles, here and there. Hover above one, and find yourself pulled down to an reddish underground area (a la Splatterhouse). Now the game becomes fully horizontal, as you work on keeping your eyes on the badly coloured backdrop for long enough to avoid the falling stalactite bits, and undulating waves of foes. I didn't find much point in being 'downstairs'; the bosses are all up on the surface, so if I mistakenly took the puddle route down, I would strive to take the puddle route back up as soon as I was able. (After all, the boss dragons are the best looking thing in this game, so you'll want to keep getting back to them.)

En route, you’ll encounter little outpost objects (presumably barriers) that get in the way, and absorb tons of hits before turning to dust. Other, much less obstinate outpost objects will present themselves, but the catch is that these ones shoot back. Robot birds (with impressively flapping wings), spinning drill bits, and AT-AT-like walkers are some of the more mobile annoyances to confront you.

I said Magmax was a loop, so you’ll need to know what it is the developers did to change things up to keep you playing. Because they always change something (long live the palette swap!). In our case here, as you proceed deeper into the adventure (I slayed the dragon at least ten times), you'll have to come to grips with faster bullets from bosses, and less robot body parts lying around for the taking.

You heard what I said. Your ship will come across head/torso combinations, midsection pieces, and pairs of legs, all strewn carelessly about the flat-as-a-seated-ass environs. The head/torso has to be affixed to your ship before you can put on the midsection, and the midsection has to be on your ship before you can attach the legs. However, without the head/torso, you are still free to collect the midsection and legs.

The action gets as hot as this: sailboats fly tricky patterns over the green and brown lanes. Green blobs break the surface of the still blue waters to issue bullets before submerging once more. The AT-AT walkers patrol the base platforms, releasing projectiles that sit for a moment, before suddenly, hurtling along their trajectory, in a hurry out of the blue. You dodge like a demon (demons dodge?), rocking your little ship this way and that, picking up the pieces of a man. When you’ve just got the head/torso and midsection to merge with your vessel (the most common configuration), the midsection will provide a sword that pokes out, quite erect, from below the belt. When you’ve earned your legs, the sword will take up residence in your hand, and because it’s meant to damage ground hugging foes, it no longer be held straight out. Rather, it will angle downward oddly, limply, making Magmax look like a dilapidated droid with walking stick, who has seen better days.

On the one hand, the massive bulk of the fully formed robot (and I'll form... THE HEAD!) is a handicap, because your size will make it hard to dodge. On the other hand, having the big man built is a blessing, because each collected part emits firepower, and more importantly, if you get hit when merged, you'll only lose the body part that took the hit. So it's in your benefit to be big, if only to extend your life. And things do get hairy in Magmax - shooter pros will be challenged to get far.

And all the while, a melancholy tune dominates. You’ll commit this tune to memory despite your best efforts. And, if you give the game enough of a chance (you likely won’t - see your answers to the three questions), the sad, sad music will start to seem just right. The music will seem like the perfect song for Magmax. It’s relentless, and there’s definitely something catchy about it, but the way it plays out (over and over and ov-) only makes you sad.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 03, 2004)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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