There are thousands, if not millions, of games out there, begging to be played but last summer there was only one that mattered to me: Magical Drop 3.
Whether I was practicing at home or showing off at my local arcade, Magical Drop became my obsession. Like Bust-a-Move, Magical Drop is a timeless puzzle series that perfectly displays that throwing balls at other colored balls is all it takes to make a good game, sometimes. It all comes down to how the game feels: The swift character movement, the sounds of clearing a row of icons, and the sight of crushing an enemy with a combo.
Sadly, Magical Drop V feels different. It feels like a crusty, dry turd.
Magical Drop V (PC, Xbox Live Arcade)
Developer: Golgoth Studio
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Release: November 15, 2012 (PC), 2013 (Xbox 360)
Along with Money Idol Exchanger, Magical Drop was the peak of Neo Geo’s puzzle game output in the ‘90s. Unlike so many other puzzle games, the rules and controls of Magical Drop are so simple that any novice can easily learn and play. The player controls a jester that sucks up colored balls and throws them back, lining up and clearing balls of the same color. New lines of balls continue to scroll downward, so there is always pressure to clear up space. In competitive play, making combos -- clearing one area immediately after another -- forces a new line of balls to appear in the enemy’s window.
Once you have the basics down, Magical Drop becomes an intense game of pattern recognition and speed. Some may play more strategically than others, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a win. This belated, fan-made sequel does little to change the format. Magical Drop V includes a 12-stage Story mode, three online/offline multiplayer modes, and a new character that literally changes how the game is played.
Bruce comes from Ghostlop
, an unreleased-yet-finished Data East game that shares a similar mechanic of clearing out balls. Instead of sucking and throwing balls, Bruce throws a baseball that he can change from red-to-blue, correlating with the round ghost balls above. It’s a completely different game, but you can play Ghostlop
anywhere in Magical Drop V
. This feels like an odd compromise. While it’s cool that Golgoth added Bruce to the roster, it would have been a lot cooler if they included Ghostlop
’s Story Mode. Admittedly, I’m not very good at Ghostlop
, but I can’t see many people winning matches as Bruce. It just feels odd to have him in there at all. It’d be easy to ignore if this were some kind of bonus, but it’s part of the main game. It’s also not explained at all, so I imagine some new players will be confused when they play as Bruce for the first time.
The rest of Magical Drop V
is far less ambitious. Gone are the puzzle and adventure modes of previous entries, leaving only a very dull story mode that is basically pointless dialog exchanges that leads to a forgettable character specific ending. This is how it’s always been, but the visuals and sound of Magical Drop V
lack the charm of the original. The drawn artwork looks far too clean and lacks personality. I couldn’t stand to look at any of the characters. I’ve never been a fan of the series' roster, all named after Tarot cards, but something about Magical Drop V
’s visuals turned me off more than before.
Sprites aren’t the only thing I miss. The speed of characters and the progression of a match feels off in Magical Drop V. Everything is sluggish compared to the blazing fast Magical Drop 3. Having to constantly click the Xbox 360 joystick left and right feels awkward after a while, since your character doesn’t smoothly move when you hold in a direction. These are things most players won’t notice or even mind, but any Magical Drop fan will take note right away. Magical Drop is a game where you want to zone out during an intense match. Due to the lackluster design and broken AI, that never seems to happen in Magical Drop V.
I frequently found myself losing matches with an A+ score and winning with a D. The AI is all over the place. Some early matches were incredibly tough (on Normal), while later matches where a cinch. It all just seems like dumb luck, unlike early Magical Drop games where you’d need to put some serious practice in to beat the game on a quarter. The hardest thing you’ll encounter in Magical Drop V is Bruce, who puts up a heck of a fight. Maybe Ghostlop players will dominate the online lobbies, after all.
Magical Drop V features three multiplayer modes, including the traditional Head to Head, Team Battle, and King of the Hill. Team Battle is Head to Head except with two-player teams. Considering the speed that Magical Drop is played at, it’s near impossible to coordinate with your partner. Consider it a novelty, best played after a couple drinks -- good luck convincing your friends to play when they see the big boobed Moe girls on the title screen, though. King of the Hill is even more pointless, since it’s Head to Head with four players. The more the merrier but why give up so much screen real estate for a mode that adds nothing to the traditional one-on-one mode?
Magical Drop V’s technical failures carry on to every aspect of the game. Changing controls mid-match causes the game to crash, the text is littered with typos, and there is an “Extras” option that opens a window for the Steam Greenlight page of Golgoth’s upcoming Tiki. Sure, I get it: You want to promote your game. But, voting on your game’s likeliness to be sold on Steam isn’t exactly something I’d designate as an “Extra.” Regardless, it gave me a chuckle, unlike the game’s unlockable character gallery full of embarrassing descriptions and typos.
Good on Golgoth for resurrecting a forgotten franchise and another one that never even saw the light of day. Younger gamers that missed out on Magical Drop at the arcade owe it to themselves to experience it at its fullest. Unfortunately, “fullest” has nothing to do with modern consoles and HD graphics. Magical Drop V is a bare, ugly, and badly programmed ode to the original series. There is fun to be had with it, but it can’t stand up to playing Magical Drop on PSN or Critter Crunch, which owes a great deal to it.
If nothing else, Magical Drop V succeeds in featuring one of the most busted English translations I’ve seen in years. It’s the closest the game comes to offering some genuinely entertaining ‘90s nostalgia.
THE VERDICT - Magical Drop V
Reviewed by Allistair Pinsof