Spelling inside the lines
Magicka 2‘s tagline is “learn to spell…again,” and that sums up the sequel to the Paradox-published, surprise-millions-selling first Magicka. The second fantasy trope stuffed outing comes from Pieces Interactive, makers of some of Magicka‘s DLC after original developer Arrowhead Studios went on to work on other projects (most recently, Helldivers).
It’s an appropriate baton pass, as Magicka 2 feels like a light expansion.
Magicka 2 (PC [reviewed], PS4)
Developer: Pieces Interactive
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Released: May 26, 2015
If you haven’t played the first Magicka, the set-up is still familiar enough: up-to-four-player overhead adventuring and monster killing. The trade tools are the big difference. You’re granted immediate access — there’s no progression system, really — to eight different magics, just about all of which can be combined, in different strings and quantities. There’s a balance between stronger spells, which are more complex to cast, and dealing with basic elemental affinities.
On a controller, spells are mapped to four face buttons, while L1 swaps to a second set of four spells, a system I much prefer over the first’s fighter-like quarter circles. Once queued, they can be cast forth offensively, as area of attack, or unto oneself. And Magicka 2 is more than willing to let you drop a rock on your own noggin as easily as you might heal yourself. Or let you set an unfortunate friend on fire.
Magicka 2 gets most of its good will for its co-op, which is why controllers for couch play are sort of preferred, though you can play online, and in parties of any make up (two local, one online, and so on). While playing co-op can make the worst game fun, Magicka 2 is definitely improved with and seems designed around having friends to revive you and to separate enemies whose AI encourages them to clump in writhing, obscuring masses.
It is no fun to play solo, constantly drowned in a sea of goblins.
The clean interface and easy drop in, drop out are about the only significant improvements over the original. That and the lack of bugs. Enemy AI mildly trips out sometimes and, especially in co-op, being anywhere near the edge of the screen feels like you’re constantly stuck on screen restrictions mixed with level geometry, but mostly it’s a clean running — and lean running — game. Collision detection also comes into play with the physics heavy final boss fight, which was equally the most creative and frustrating encounter.
The story is told over 10 or so brief chapters with replays encouraged by challenge instances and modifiers (collectable artifacts) that allow for Mortal Kombat Test Your Luck-style additions. Madly increased movement speed (please), extra unsafe damage boosts. There’s a fair amount to tinker with.
That’s if you want to tinker, though. Again, Magicka 2 just feels like more Magicka levels and I felt fairly sated not even having finished the first. There’s a giant enemy crab as a sort of sub-boss, and then you fight another giant enemy crab, and then you fight two giant enemy crabs. It gets redundant.
Enemies are fodder, relentlessly marching toward you en masse, hardly flinching in the face of your supposedly powerful magics. The crowds get messy and you die, or you do a lot of running backwards while spraying spells at your angry entourage like metal filings chasing a Wooly Willy pen. It often feels like the equivalent to a shooter with lengthy mounted turret sections, the discovery of powerful spell combinations evoking sighs of, “Thank god, I can kill the next wave of 20 goblins more easily.”
And while I appreciate Magicka 2‘s lighthearted take on fantasy tropes, I don’t like the bulk of its humor, which confuses making references with making jokes. It’s like a non-hipster version of Life is Strange, allowing you to be self-satisfied for having seen Game of Thrones rather than Battle Royale. Thwacking a wooden cow — or your friend — and it exploding into chunks of meat is always funnier, but Magicka 2‘s actual jokes at least fare better than the winks and nudges. Repeated insistence that Dracula-accented, narrative-driving Vlad is not a vampire? Even a deadpan loading slide regularly reserved for game tips that just says “Vlad is not a vampire.” Funny. Oregon Trail jokes? Belongs on Epic Threadz next to the “I [picture of cartoon bacon] BACON” shirts.
If you want to pat yourself on the back for getting in-jokes and you can drum up enough play pals for co-op, you might find Magicka 2 [Borat voice] very nice! Like its references, though, Magicka 2 is just a retread.