With industry suits convinced that the most effective way to expand gaming is by making simpler, less dynamic experiences to appeal to an uninitiated majority, publishers are going bonkers trying to cash in on cheaper games. In fact, for all its Zen-like appeal, Nintendo's Blue Ocean philosophy boils down to a neo-hippie way of saying that they’re embracing the casual market.
[image1]We didn’t realize that meant re-branding old games, but here we are dealing with Magnetica. Or Puzz Loop. Or Zuma. Or Luxor. Whatever you want to call it, this is little more than an eight year-old puzzle game newly minted for your DS. And as you’d guess, it’s just as good or bad as it’s always been.
The only meaningful difference between Magnetica and any of its PC kin is its use of the DS touch screen. You swipe a quick line with your stylus from the marble launcher to a coiling line of marbles to break them. Depending on the color of the marbles further along the coil, chain reactions can occur.
However, trying to set up longer, more interesting chain reactions is the best way to lose in Magnetica, since the coil of marbles is always pushing toward the center and if they reach it, it’s game over. Any marbles you fire into the coil that don't break on impact get lodged there, thus pushing the coil one marble's width closer to the center. There's no way to shift marbles around in the queue, so you're forced to toss whatever pops up at the coil. When a game limits obvious options like this to ramp up the difficulty, it only makes it more frustrating.
Another frustration is the inaccuracy of the stylus compared to a mouse. There's plenty of room for misfires, especially at long range, so you'll spend much of your time in Magnetica the same as you did when you first picked it up - quickly and mindlessly hurling marbles from the launcher, breaking up the simplest pairs of like-colors that are closest to the center for basic progress. Occasionally you’ll plot out some bigger chains, but that’s pretty rare.
[image2]To complicate matters, the game doesn’t do a very good job utilizing the two screens. Your big, wonky hand obscures a good deal of the touch screen, making it hard to recognize combos when you can't see half of what you're dealing with. Just your score and some stats occupy the top screen, instead of, say, a queue of upcoming marbles or even a graphical representation of the whole board for an easy, quick glance at all the combos.
The game’s main Challenge mode starts out easy, with just a few marble colors, so combo chains happen for anything you do outside of hitting pause. The more marbles you break, the more colors are introduced, making it more of an endurance test than anything. Puzzle mode has sixty different marble sequences, each with only one set of marbles in the launcher per sequence. The objective is always the same: break all the marbles while using every marble in the launcher. It's fun to stare at the DS screen for a while, crunching away at all the possibilities, but the exercise skews too heavily on the trial-and-error side. Lastly, Quest mode is the same game you were playing in Challenge mode, except the shape of the coils change a couple of degrees each round.
The whole experience provides some light, decent fun, but after about an hour, you'll get tired of playing alone and try to suck someone else in with some wireless single-cart play. Versus mode introduces a bunch of random power-ups, which you can trigger with marbles to attack the other player’s screen. It’s a nice idea, but falls a little flat. You'll get all sorts of marginally interesting items, like the ability to define where the “obscuring clouds of smoke” weapon will appear on your opponent's screen, but taking your stylus away from the launcher can cost you valuable time. It just isn’t that fun.
[image3]Magnetica's delivery isn't as clean or tight as its web-based counterparts, either. The brightly colored marbles stand out against the stark, plain steel of the backgrounds, giving it a weird aesthetic. The muzak tracks are mellow enough to let you fall into the game, but distracting enough to turn off after the fiftieth loop.
Nintendo certainly knows Magnetica's audience…or do they? When Magnetica is advertised on the same page as its clone, you have to wonder if market research shows that casual gamers don't investigate their games beyond seeing a bunch of primary colors.
Well, maybe that’s what we’re here for. Though Magnetica is a decent little puzzler, it’s also available all over the Internet in a million different versions, almost all of which are cheaper than this full $34.99 price tag. You're intelligent enough of a consumer to know that makes this a hard sell, and in this case, knowing is half the puzzle.