"After besting the serpent in the forest, you’ll venture deeper into the trees. Here, gnarled trunks are twisted into malicious grins. Giant leaves tumble in gusts of wind and enormous spiders dart about on silvery webbing. Your new defense against these is the ability to weave magical spells, then toss them toward your opponents."
The Magical Quest was always that game in your collection that you kept hidden when friends visited. You only hung onto it because it was so darn fun, but they didn’t need to know that. No one did. What macho ten-year-old would be caught dead with a Mickey Mouse game, after all? So you played it when you were alone, with the lights dimmed as you ventured repeatedly into a world of true magic and adventure, the kind of place where it was okay to still like fire trucks and magic, flying and marshmallow clouds.
The kid in me still loves this game. I got it years ago and my friend only knew I had it because my mom made me tell him. I was thirteen or so, and I knew he wouldn’t care about it, except maybe to tease me about owning something so sissified. A new game was a new game, though, so the night I got it we stayed up playing it and loving the adventure.
The Magical Quest might not seem so special at first. You’re in a giant garden surrounded by giant vines ripe with vegetation. Grab a small tomato from one, set its stem to spinning, then ride the fruit into the air to find the secrets hidden in the clouds above. Later, you’ll almost certainly ride an oversized tomato as it careens down a spiky path your soft feet can’t handle. You’ll swim through a shallow pool of water while a flat-tailed beaver chases you to guard the treasure in his dam, and leapfrog over jumping amphibians. Finally, you’ll confront a massive serpent at the end of a forest. By breaking off segments of his body and throwing them back at his fang-adorned face, you’ll emerge the victor.
That’s just the first zone, and it’s presented with painstaking attention to detail. The clouds look perfectly fluffy, the vines as green as they should be but no greener. Enemies are well-animated, in a cartoon fashion that looks like it was pulled from the classic Mickey cartoons. When you find a hidden room and release baby eagles to the sky, then find the favor returned in the form of coins, it’s difficult not to smile. When you ride the tomato as it tumbles its way over a grassy ledge, then rockets toward some distant treetops, it’s hard not to be caught up in the sheer magic of the moment, the joy of discovery and adventure.
If the early levels are thrilling, though, later ones are a sheer delight. After besting the serpent in the forest, you’ll venture deeper into the trees. Here, gnarled trunks are twisted into malicious grins. Giant leaves tumble in gusts of wind and enormous spiders dart about on silvery webbing. Your new defense against these is the ability to weave magical spells, then toss them toward your opponents. Swim through the sap-filled trunk of a monarch of the forest, while dodging suicidal caterpillars and crabs. Those coins you’ve been gathering will come in handy, too, when you take a blind leap of faith down to a shop that waits in the branches far below.
So progresses the game, from one magical adventure to another. It never lingers so long that any one place grows tiresome, but instead switches up the scenery so frequently that you’ll regret it every time you abandon one locale for another. Each is every bit as magical as its predecessors. Whether you’re hopping your way across fragile ledges in a hallway filled with fire, climbing mountain peaks while dodging gusts of wind that could send you to your doom, or even raiding Pete’s castle to rescue your beloved dog (poor Pluto was kidnapped, or else this adventure wouldn’t even exist), The Magical Quest is quick to keep things fresh and engaging.
The different suits you can wear account for a lot of this. Besides turning into the rodent equivalent of Merlin, you can gather some climbing gear and grapple your way up rocky ledges, or strap on a fireman’s suit complete with a fire hose and water. Switching between these on the fly is simple and encouraged, if you want to uncover each and every nook and cranny these stages have to offer. You’ll also need to wear the right duds for the various puzzles you encounter. Nothing on display here is designed to tax your intellect much. Two blocks are slamming together while flames dance on the ceiling above. You can jump quickly through and hope you don’t take a hit, or you can apply some high-pressure water to skirt the issue entirely. Maybe you’re in the ice world, instead, and there are pink crystals hanging in the air. What happens if you spray them with some water? You might just create a staircase leading to a hidden room.
Most of the levels hold numerous surprises. There are heart containers to extend your health meter, or extra life dolls sitting about in places where normally they wouldn’t be found. Some rooms just contain a bunch of those all-important coins, and the various shopkeepers you’ll encounter all seem to dwell in secluded locations the casual explorer simply won’t reach. The whole “hidden rooms” thing worked well in countless games before this one, and it’s certainly worked since. Most people like discovering something unexpected, and the developers of The Magical Quest gave us plenty of opportunities to do so.
They also managed to come up with some cool bosses. Besides the snakes and spiders, you’ll face off against a skating walrus and a flaming orb that hovers in the middle of a blazing inferno. Perhaps the most unique is an eagle that can knock you from the ledges it circles just by flying past you in a mighty rush. To win against these cunning foes, you’ll have to utilize your special suits to their fullest potential. On the lowest difficulty level, this might seem like a breeze. Crank it up a bit, though, and there are some encounters that will challenge even the veterans in the audience.
Unfortunately, there’s one flaw this game can’t hide: its length. Even with six worlds to explore, each with three stages, The Magical Quest sometimes can feel like it’s over before it even began. If you give this one the chance it deserves, make sure that you settle down and take your time. Explore every part of every level. Marvel at the sense of atmosphere, at the simple but effective platforming bits and the exciting boss battles. Snatch each coin, take blind leaps of faith and just have a great time. They don’t make enough games like these now, and perhaps they never will again. Cherish this classic and maybe someday you’ll even show it to your friends. They’ll understand.
Staff review by Jason Venter (January 31, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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