One Christmas, when I was about eight- or nine-years old, I opened the biggest present under the tree to find a truly awesome 50-in-1 magic set, guaranteed to “astound and delight friends and family” with all manner of tricks and illusions. Thrilled, I grabbed the box and dashed into my bedroom, slamming the door behind me. I prepared to spend hours learning how to palm cards, pull live rabbits out of my hat, and make coins appear out of my mother’s ears. Sadly, many of the tricks were poorly constructed, and even my six-year-old brother could see through my weak feints and bungled passes. Frustrated, I realized I didn’t have the patience to become a true illusionist and went back to playing Castlevania on my NES.
[image1]Fast forward to the present day, when Nintendo freaks like me finally have the chance to combine our love of video games with our long-suppressed desires to be more like Doug Henning. The vehicle for this unholy union is Master of Illusion, a strange, half-game, half-educational-tool hybrid that claims to teach you how to become a truly amazing magician. Your mentor in your new trade is Barbara the Great, a bat-eared, wise-cracking, impossibly bosomed anime chick who is ready to show you everything you need to know about magic.
Did I mention her breasts? They defy gravity, hovering near her neck, resembling a pair of flesh-colored floating skeeballs more than any part of human anatomy I’m familiar with. How does she keep them unconstrained by the laws of physics - or her purple lycra top? Unfortunately for us, true magicians never reveal their secrets.
Much like the Made-in-Taiwan magic set of my youth, the majority of the tricks you can learn in the Magic Show portion of the game would really only fool your kid sister or your especially gullible grandmother. With patience, however, there are a few gems in the trick list that can confound your more cynical audience members, especially if they don’t realize you’re dealing with the marked deck of cards that comes with the game.
When your adoring crowds get bored and wander off to do something else, Master of Illusion offers two additional sections. In Solo Magic, you become the audience and the DS provides the sorcery, using sometimes clever and sometimes blindingly obvious techniques to guess your card or tell you how many fingers you’re holding up. And in Magic Training, you can hone your magical abilities by playing various forms of solitaire and Brain Age-like puzzlers designed to sharpen your wits and observation skills.
[image2]The leveling system, however, can be frustrating at times. Whether you’re just practicing or performing in front of an audience, the completion of each game or trick – successful or not – merits you the same measly ten ‘magic points’, vast quantities of which are necessary to unlock all of the title’s content. To prevent enterprising young David-Copperfields-in-training from zipping through everything faster than you can say “You’ve got the key to these handcuffs, right?”, there’s a limit to how many magic points you can earn in a day. It forces disillusioned illusionists to either throw down the game in disgust or simply change the time settings on their DS to reset the clock. Ha ha, Master of Illusions – who’s fooling who now?
The somewhat stilted translations and non-intuitive interface can make it tough to figure out exactly what it is you need to do to make the various tricks work, but once you run through them once or twice, they’re pretty straightforward. Neither the graphics nor the sound effects are anything to flip your top hat over. Both seem to have been created by the same teams that developed free solitaire downloads in the mid-nineties. If you want your magic tricks to look and sound great, you’re going to have to provide most of the pizzazz on your own.
For all its flaws, Master of Illusion represents an interesting use of the DS technology, taking full advantage of all of the system’s features. You will use the stylus to shuffle cards, scribble interactive drawings, and secretly inform the DS what your trickee’s hidden card is. For other tricks, you’ll blow into the mic or issue secret voice commands – a risky proposition since the DS isn’t always as good at recognizing what you’re trying to say, which can cause your trick to fail right when you finally have the courage to pull one on your older cousin.
[image3]Other than that, however, the DS is up to the tasks the game demands. Many of the hapless victims – I mean, thrilled audiences – for whom I performed my menagerie of tricks all started to wonder what other capabilities the DS had that they didn’t know about. Could it sense nearby objects? Could it scan the cards? No, my friend. It’s magic!
Like the box set of my childhood, Master of Illusion will not make you able to live underwater for a week like David Blaine, though you’re welcome to try. (~Ed. Please don’t.) But it’s a fun and interesting use of the DS, and with enough practice and patience, can “astound and delight friends and family”, at least until the next Harry Potter movie comes out.