Magicite Review

Magicite is sort of the embodiment of current indie trends. It’s a survival/crafting game, the environments are randomly generated, it’s a “roguelike”, and there’s pixel art. It’s the all-in-one package, but it suffers from one fatal flaw: the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.

The two most prominent ingredients in the cauldron are Minecraft’s resource gathering and crafting, and Spelunky’s platforming and swift death. The basics of Minecraft’s crafting progression are intact, with wood being at the center of it all and various minerals making up the heads of each tool. The crafting itself, however, is of the drag-two-things-onto-each-other variety instead of the drop-things-into-a-pattern variety.

As a result, the crafting tree itself is rather clumsy and sometimes obtuse. “Blades” are combined with “handles” to make tools, and blades are made with two units of a particular resource, which is fine. Handles are a bit more strange, however. Two sticks make a handle for an axe, but a stick and an axe handle make a handle for a pick. I would have preferred Terraria’s system, where every item you could currently craft was listed on the side and clicking on it would automatically expend the resources and give you the item.

This is the inventory screen. That bee killed me one millisecond after this picture was taken.
This is the inventory screen. That bee killed me one millisecond after this picture was taken.

Crafting is far and away Magicite’s greatest weakness. Death in Magicite comes hard and fast, which is very Spelunky, but Spelunky didn’t have a crafting system to get in its way. You didn’t have to wander around gathering wood for the first while of every game of Spelunky, only to be wrecked by a charging boar that takes two points of your preciously scarce health. There was no tech tree to make your way down, and so when you respawned in Spelunky, you sighed only for your lost progress, not for dread of having to suffer several minutes of tedium before you can find out if the random number generator has gone your way this time.

In Magicite, death lurks around every corner mostly due to the fact that combat has been designed to be slow and tactful. Though you can sometimes roll a bonus when you create your character, you never spawn with very much health and most monsters deal more than one point of damage, a power which I think should have been limited to only the more formidable enemies. The wind-up on all weapons is long enough to make timing not only crucial, but often exceptionally difficult. Exceptional difficulty is never necessarily a problem, but in Magicite, it becomes one. The game tries to blend mechanics from two games on very different ends of the high-stakes spectrum: the diligent resource gathering of Minecraft, and the risky intensity of Spelunky, and they just don’t gel. It even penalizes you for spending more than six minutes on a level by spawning insta-kill skulls (again, much like Spelunky…).

You can buy items, smelt ores, sell junk, make clothes and more at towns between levels.
You can buy items, smelt ores, sell junk, make clothes and more at towns between levels.

The game is quite pretty. Everything has sort of a glow to it, and the animations of all the sprites are bouncy and fluid. I really like the style of the humanoid sprites, they’re like an odd spinoff of the Oryx tiles. Enemy designs are often interesting at the very least.

The music is surprisingly catchy and a few of the tracks haven’t ever really left my brain. Sound effects sound just about how you would expect, cute little sounds of axes chopping wood and pickaxes mining ore, sprinkled with a few 8-bit beeps and stabs for extraneous sounds and menus. The sound does sort of run into a problem when lots of experience orbs are clumped together from many monsters dying in the same spot. When you run to pick up the whole pile of them, their sounds coalesce into a monstrous, deafening über-sound that doesn’t seem like something that should happen in a $10 game.

It's like those photos of people taken seconds before their death.
I had a really beautiful moment of freefall here before that boar ran me down.

Before each game of Magicite you’re given several options for some starting equipment, passive bonuses and stats you can roll. As you play, you can complete challenges to unlock extra races, hats and companions. The race I’m using in the picture above only spawns with a sword and a pickaxe, and thus has to obtain an axe for wood-chopping somehow besides crafting. The miner’s hat I’m wearing two pictures up gives me a 50% chance to drop extra ore when I mine. The races are generally quite interesting to try and use, and each enforces a very different style of play. There’s also a leveling system and a three-branched skill tree for the basic character archetypes.

I think all these options for character progression are cool. When I look at YouTube videos of the late game I want nothing more than to be that person, but the game hinders my ability to do so by being such an flawed combination of two polar opposites. In a time where we’re seeing so many games try to combine elements from others, the only way to find out what doesn’t work is for games like Magicite to come out.

Ethics disclosure: This game was purchased by the reviewer.

Magicite can be purchased on Steam.

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