Magicka might just be the surprise hit of 2011. This $10 action-oriented role-playing game features catchy spellcasting and a lighthearted story that riffs on everything from Monty Python to Star Wars. Not all is rosy with the bargain game, however, as the laughs fall flat at times due to a ton of launch bugs and associated gameplay oddities that make some of the abracadabra stuff a little annoying. Publisher Paradox has at least admitted to the problems and is busily releasing patches to get everything up to snuff, but the many problems are impossible to overlook right now and prevent the game from receiving an unqualified recommendation.
You play an unnamed wizard that is out to save the world and must do so by slaughtering thousands of creatures in the usual Acme brand fantasy realm. Magicka has a cartoonlike whimsy. Visuals are bright and colorful, with the outdoor scenery turned into the sort of lush green fantasyland that you might see painted on the walls of a kindergarten classroom. Mages in the game are also straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon, with deep hoods and big pointy hats obscuring their faces. Characters speak in a quirky language that sounds like The Muppets' Swedish Chef on 78 RPM. And the music is sufficiently bombastic, as if you're dealing with an epic that recounts the travails of a legendary hero.
Hit those keys in the right order and you can easily blast off devastating spells quicker than you can say Alakazam!
Sound predictable? It is, but the saving grace here is a good sense of humor. Constant references are made to the fact that you're playing a game. Dialogue boxes break the fourth wall all the time, making fun of you for bothering to examine items in the background of such a straightforward hack-and-slash game or just throwing out nudge-nudge, wink-wink references to pop-culture tropes. Nothing here is too obscure or all that funny--unless you get a kick out of such things as a guy telling you "There is only war" outside of "Garm's Workshop," or offering another offhand observation that "Only goblins are so precise." Still, even without any outright guffaws, it's nice to play an easygoing and whimsical RPG that doesn't take itself seriously.
Gameplay stands out more than the story. Although the role-playing aspect of the game has been stripped to the essentials, the action is captivating even without such amenities as being able to pick a class, keep an inventory, track mana, level up, and so forth. Here, all you really do is run around and cast spells to kill bad guys in the eight-hour campaign, either solo or cooperatively with up to three friends. Or you can do so in an arena Challenge mode where you try to survive as long as possible. But you don't just point and click; instead, the magic system is based on a core set of elements, such as lightning, fire, earth, water, cold, and so forth, that are accessed by clicking on keys. So you cast something basic like a lightning bolt by hitting a key to ready the spell and then click the right mouse button to fire it off. Combos are also possible, and they can be learned either by experimenting or collecting spellbooks during the campaign that provide the formulas for magic stand-bys like haste.