Magicka is a testament to that old adage that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. It's almost the Oprah effect of flattery, in fact, "And you get an in-joke, and you, and you!" What this means is the game oozes references to other sci-fi and fantasy elements and plots in both games and our larger culture; sometimes this seems like a caricature, and sometimes it just seems like an homage thrown in because, hey, they could. An example of the latter would be when you walk through a scene that replicates Link's discovery of the Master Sword (yes, you can wield the Master Sword--yes, at full health it does shoot out magic).
The game even takes some satirical jabs at some of the conventions: early on with side quests, for instance. For the most part it is firmly in the camp of humor and homage, some parody when it comes to what we would expect to be a 'serious' moment in other RPGs. In my mind, it was akin to playing a campy romp through magic land.
As for the game itself?
The magic system is amusing and I found it satisfying. In most games mages are restricted by mana, a way to balance out classes and make sure wizards aren't blasting things all day long. As there are only wizards to play in Magicka, there are no such restrictions here. If you can put together the elements, you can cast a spell. There are lots of combinations. Naturally, some will be stronger than others, and if you want to go through the game using only the highest/most effective powers, you can certainly do that. That's on you, however, as I found the experimentation the fun part of the game.
Which is what shines. Some elements can never be used together, but some work to create new elements, and then those elements can be used with a previously barred one. I never had a chemistry set when I was a kid, but I imagine the thrill is somewhat akin to that fabled moment that we've gathered in our public consciousness. This experimentation was also the key for me because the plot, while amusing, is hardly ground-breaking. When crafting something based on humor borrowed from other elements, the goal is often not to break ground, but to revel in those moments. Therefore, I never felt inclined to rush through the story.
Other elements only help to translate this experience, with the wire-frames of enemies being highlighted when a lightning bolt is cast through them. It's a classic comedic trope, and used well with the graphics they give forth. The language made up sounds faintly Swedish, insofar as the Swedish Chef from Sesame Street does.
The real comedy, though? When friends join. Adding one person is tantamount to chaotic shenanigans, like making sure you don't cross streams that contain opposite elements (Kaboom!). As you add up to four, the amusement ratchets up a notch or three. This means that you may likely not get very far in the game, but if you're playing with people who enjoy being silly, you'll likely have a good time. Again, the humorous approach lent to me an air that I was in no rush.
The content that is there takes somewhere between seven and ten hours to complete--though that's only the campaign mode. There are further arena-style challenge modes you can try. The game can also be played with a new-game plus mode, where you can go back and grab things you might have missed: there are spellbooks often hiding, and achievements for finding things like dead meese. If you're playing with friends, and often killing each other, only to then resurrect (lightning + heal is good to remember), you may well take longer.
Quibbles? There are a few. The checkpoints are often so punitive that it's hard to believe this is supposed to be a humorous take on the very genres and games it emulates--this led to some very frustrating moments where I would quit and come back later, attempting a new method of attack. Early on this was as often due to bugs as to encountering new enemies and forms of attacks. A lesson to be learned here: comedy is only funny the first few times it's witnessed. Jokes too often repeated grow stale, and highlight instead the frustration a player may be feeling.
The bugs? The game is pretty stable now, actually. In addition, free DLC has been released, entitled Mea Culpa, or my fault. That DLC consists of the "Bugged Staff", which summons a swarm of bugs; "a broken sword"; the "Patched Robe"; and the new spell "Crash to Desktop" which can potentially zap anyone. The patching process was heartening to see in that the developers were constantly releasing new patches. This meant that every day I logged on to Steam, a new patch was downloaded. Unfortunately, it also was an indication of the push to release, and how games are too often released before they are ready.
Overall? The game was enjoyable. For the price of $10, I certainly derived a suitable amount of enjoyment and laughter. Now that the game is much more patched, I can heartily recommend it, whereas I was wary of sending potential players into what could well spell a frustrating experience.
Now? We also have the first expansion for the game announced. Trailer? Sure, here's the trailer:
As their own press release states:
Have you ever wondered what it would have been like if wizards were allowed to roam the jungles of war-torn Vietnam, attempting to bring peace and stability to the region by casting spells on all opponents? Wait, you haven't ever wondered that? Ever? Okay, so we're probably the only ones who have but in our defense: here's your chance to stop being so closed-minded.
I'm quite certain some will get up in arms about the humorous approach this will be taking toward Vietnam. It's a discussion worth having, particularly as the developer is not from the U.S., so it'll be curious as to what a humorous view of Vietnam will look like. From what I gather, it's largely lampooning other media and games' portrayal of the events: your 80s action movies and a Battlefield: Bad Company 2 expansion.
Also Surfing Bird set to Magicka's language? Curious.
A copy of this game was purchased via Steam, and slowly played over the last month and some change.