Magnetica (DS) review
"As you advance through the levels, the track designs change and make things more taxing. Suddenly, two streams of marbles may be approaching the hole and you might have more than one bay from which to draw your own marbles. Or maybe thereís a switch that keeps turning the track so that you have multiple intersections to worry about. There are a few tricks like this throughout the game, and they really make things frantic and addictive."
Puzzle games rock. Iím a huge fan of Dr. Mario, and Iíve been known to play a little Klax and Super Puzzle Fighter, even some Lumines. While I wouldnít call myself the hugest fan of the genre, sometimes all I want to do is sit down and tax my brain and reflexes. Still, itís hard to deny the fact thatóeven in the case of the excellent titles mentioned aboveóthereíre too many games that mimic the Tetris formula. You know what Iím talking about, that vertical box where blocks are falling and you have to clear them before they reach the top of the screen. Sometimes, you just want something a little different. Sometimes you want something like Magnetica.
Perhaps one reason that games donít stray too much from the Tetris formula is that they arenít creative. Or maybe theyíre just afraid that if they stray too far from the userís expectations, theyíll produce a fun product that no one wants to play. Whatever their reasons, developers just donít give us anything unique except for once in a great while. Magnetica is that once in a great while, and wouldnít you know it? Itís a good game!
The goal behind the game is simple in theory. Thereís a hole near the center of the screen, with one or more tracks leading to it. As the stage starts, multi-colored marbles slide along the tracks toward the hole. If they reach the center, the game is over. You keep them from doing so by throwing more marbles into the mix, which are generated from one ore more dispensers at the center of the screen. Swiping the stylus across the screen lets you direct where each one goes, and the controls are surprisingly precise. Itís difficult to imagine such a concept working with any other control scheme. When you throw a marble of the appropriate color against two or more connected ones of the same hue, youíll cause them to vanish. This pushes the approaching orbs back a ways, and may even set off a chain reaction.
There are a few complications, though. For one thing, you might wipe a few marbles off the track but the ones that havenít been cleared will sit where they are until more come up from behind and push them toward the center. Thus, you have to focus not only on where you can fling your marbles, but also where they will absolutely do the most good. You want to get combos going, but you donít want to focus so much on those that you forget the approach of a few that wonít do anything to boost your score, but will almost certainly ruin your game if you ignore them.
When youíre given a marble you donít want, you can also throw it off the edge of the screen, provided there isnít a stream of marbles blocking the way. Another option is to throw them into the corners, where they will fall into grooves and trigger a slot machine that may give you rewards to improve your performance. Most of the time youíre so busy just removing marbles that you canít pay attention to such matters, but itís nice that the depth is there and can sometimes be utilized. There also are stopwatches that come on occasion, and hitting one with a marble can slow things down when youíre about to have a panic attack. Very cool.
Then there are other tweaks. As you advance through the levels, the track designs change and make things more taxing. Suddenly, two streams of marbles may be approaching the hole and you might have more than one bay from which to draw your own marbles. Or maybe thereís a switch that keeps turning the track so that you have multiple intersections to worry about. There are a few tricks like this throughout the game, and they really make things frantic and addictive.
Thereís not just one way to play, either. The ĎChallengeí mode forces you to see how long you can endure the marbles approaching, while the ĎQuestí mode lets you advance through different zones to see how good you are at adapting to new challenges. Itís where all those extra elements come into play. Then thereís a ĎPuzzleí mode, which is unique enough that it warrants its own description.
In ĎPuzzleí mode, you have all the time you need to finish a stage, but there are other concerns. Marbles will still move toward the hole as you throw them onto the field. You canít just throw the ones you donít want off the edge of the screen, either. That automatically causes you to lose. Instead, you must use each marble you are given and when you run out, there had better not be a single marble left on the screen. If there is, you lose. If there isnít, you can advance to the next challenge.
Whether youíre playing one of the modes where your reflexes are tested, or the ĎPuzzleí mode where itís all about carefully planning your approach several moves in advance, Magnetica is an excellent example of simple design used to its greatest effect. Thereís something about the concept that works. You can sit down to play one game and you tell yourself thatíll be it, but then four or five games later youíre still telling yourself ďjust one more.Ē Thatís true regardless of which mode youíre trying, because there are so many levels available in each of them.
Itís true that the music isnít much to talk about. The only reason to keep sound on at all is so that youíre alerted if marbles are getting close to the hole and you hadnít noticed. Otherwise, thereís only elevator music. Likewise, the visuals are simple to an extreme, yet in a sleek way that lets you see the gleam of each marble and the finer points of the area layout. Anything more detailed wouldíve detracted from the gameplay, which is definitely where Magnetica shines. Though itís true that the game isnít for everyone, I have no problems recommending it to anyone who likes puzzle games but has had enough of the Tetris clones. Give it a try sometime. Chances are youíll become every bit as addicted as I am. And now, if you donít mind, I have some virtual marbles that need my attention.
Staff review by Jason Venter (October 23, 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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