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MAGNETIC

Reviewed by  Laura MacDonald


There are times when I feel like delving into a deep and murky plot, others when humor is what would be best on my hard drive. But my little gaming heart never tires of a great pure puzzler. Most of you have one of these on your 'Favorites' list. These are the games that stay installed, to revisit on a long weekend, there for you to try to best past efforts at a familiar challenge.

There have been many games that mix a vast array of puzzles into the game plot, or make a name for themselves as well-crafted puzzlers. Jewels of the Oracle and 'Pandoraís Box' are but two of these classics. So it is quite a feat to bring a fresh feel to such challenges. After awhile you tire of sliders and the like. When Peter Hewitt, founder and creative force of Mulawa, published his first game, he found new ways to engage and even delightfully torment jaded gamers. The challenge after producing a strong first title is, of course, what comes next? Can the developers push the envelope forward in their work, or at the least replicate the factors that made their first title so good? After playing Magnetic and exploring its world, I think Mulawa has risen to the occasion. Magnetic reveals a well-measured progress in graphics and production values, and it also delivers a whole new set of fresh and unique puzzles. I think this will be another to add to the list of games that you always keep on the old hard drive.

Graphics

There is a motility to the puzzles and scenes in Magnetic that is charming. Nothing looks or feels static in the game. Although there are some challenges that you close in on, many others are built into the environment. The graphic values are a bit uneven between individual puzzles, but most are grand to look at and interact with. Like its predecessor Xiama, Magnetic blends 3D graphics with slideshow-styled photo backdrops. Instead of the rain forest/outback environs used in the past, we are now at a rugged coastline. There are seaside shots, rocky crags and coastal forests. Peter has a real gift for photography. The screenshots or backgrounds for Magnetic are some of the best that I have encountered in a game. I would be quite content to ramble about in this game, and just sit on the beach in the sun and listen to the sea gulls call and the waves crash onto the shore. And the graphics of the puzzles are wonderfully rich, with stylized 3D polish and metallic colors. No amount of time seems to have been spared in order to create a lavish environment that is not only a blast to interact with, but also hard to leave.

Value

Value is not often a quality that I address in a game review. But this is a puzzle game, and one of the key factors in such a game is replayability. This is where Magnetic succeeds. Even after beating or scoring high in a particular challenge, I would find myself replaying just for fun. I could not get a better value for my money than with a game that I replay even as I am exploring it. Magnetic will stay on my hard drive until the device implodes! Then I will just reinstall it on a new system. Even better, Mulawa should have a third game out to bedevil me and keep me up all night! Many of the individual puzzles are so unique and variable that they could suffice as stand alone games. I am still playing the 'word puzzler', and several others, so my full completion of Magnetic is uncertain. In that sense, I doubt that I will ever truly be done with Magnetic. And given the cost of most new games, these features give Magnetic an outstanding value. Magnetic is an ideal game to get for your family. I think it may have parts too difficult for some children to play solo, but what an opportunity for challenging an intellect, and building group play. I would love to see Magnetic and Xiama scaled down to junior versions for the younger gamers.

Puzzles

I canít say enough about the puzzles in the Mulawa game series. But although I enjoyed Xiama, for my tastes I think Magnetic has a much richer mix of game types and games. They represent a wide range of skills and ability levels. Some are quite easy to master. Others are deceptively simple. By that I mean that the goal is easy to determine, but solving the enigma presented is a true challenge. There are math-oriented challenges, word-based puzzles, mechanical manipulations and others. There is more than something for everyone: each gamer will locate one or more puzzles that they truly delight in, regardless of their talents and inclinations. There are also gateway puzzles to beat before reaching the main challenge. Close attention should be paid to many of these as they provide clues to the larger puzzle beyond. In other cases you will access the main puzzle immediately. One very nice feature, that is easy to miss at first, is a sort of teleportation device. In the top left-hand corner you will see another icon for your chosen sidekick. After you have encountered at least two puzzles, a picture icon of each puzzle will be added as you progress through the game. You can then revisit any puzzle you wish at any time by accessing this area and clicking on the representative picture. This brings me to the interface of Magnetic, which is quite nicely prepared.

Interface

This game uses a slideshow presentation style. You progress, frame by frame, through the game by clicking on directional arrows. Point and click is about as simple an interface as you can have as a gamer. You do have to back out along the path you took in order to access old areas, but you can shortcut this by using the teleportation feature to access a puzzle in the area where you wish to go, and leave the puzzle to continue. There are those who will wish for a turnaround alternative to backing up along a path, but as an indie developer you have to make budget choices. I am happy that the development costs were focused on the look of the game and the puzzles rather than on a turnaround option. I also think that in a puzzle-focused game it is not as big of a deal as it is in a standard plot-driven game. One additional game aspect also deserves mention. You have a choice at the beginning of the game to choose a sidekick, or game helper, from among 6 characters. I chose a butterfly because it made me think of a good friend. But you have a funky big head, a bee, and others to choose from as well. Your helperís icon will blink at you if they have hints or suggestions as you travel through the land of Magnetic. You read these hints in a book that appears when you click on your helper's icon, which stays on screen at the bottom left. You may not always need their help, and at times the hints may arrive after the fact. But it is a nice touch and gives you a sense of a companion in the game.

Music and other factors

I enjoyed the musical selections in the game very much. They have a classical feel to them and I did manage to pick out quite a few by name. There are also some selections with an aboriginal sound. Nothing distracted or overwhelmed. The musical tracks chosen contributed well to the soothing ambiance of Magnetic. Special praise goes to the sound effects. The seaside effects were among my favorites. Having spent many fabulous days along many a coastline, I felt that these were perfect. As I said before, I might have been content to just linger at the frame shots of the shore. And it was these ambient sounds in particular that created such moods.

Afterthoughts

All things considered, I enjoyed Magnetic very much. There were some areas to consider in future projects. The interface could have been upgraded to include some easier mode to backtrack the linear pathways through the game (I did use the teleportation device as a form of in game cheat to move between areas of the game pathways). And I think that some of the hints were almost more obscure than the puzzles themselves. In a few cases, I never really could figure out what some of the odd clues tucked around the game environments meant. But that may reflect my own shortcomings as a gamer or puzzler.

There was a plot line that developed during the game, which I didnít expect, but it was a nice touch. Since the plot wasnít the point of the game, but rather just another thread woven into the tapestry that is Magnetic, I am not going to say anything more specific about the plot details. I will leave that for the gamer to discover. What is pleasant to be able to say is that even though the game is a solo effort, no weighting is needed for my final rating of Magnetic. Magnetic stands well against other puzzle games such as Pandora and Jewels. So without any reservations, I recommend it highly.

© 2003  Laura MacDonald


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Developed (2003) by Peter Hewitt and Mulawa Dreaming

Minimum System Requirements:  Windows

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