Inside Pulse 12

Review: Magic Ball: Wicked Witches (Sony PS3)

Magic Ball: Wicked Witches
Publisher: Creat Studio
Developer: Tik Games
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 4/16/2009


Almost three months to the day after the original release of Magic Ball, we’ve got our first bit of downloadable content. Wicked Witches adds another 24 levels to Magic Ball, which is essentially 50% more content for an additional $2.99. That’s a pretty good deal on paper. As I enjoyed the original game, I decided to invest in the DLC. How does it hold up?

Let’s Review

1. Modes

Although the theme of the package is “Wicked Witches,” only a fraction of the levels actually have witches or anything witched themed in theme. In fact, the levels have more in common with the original set of Knight themed levels, and in truth some of them actually feel like I’ve played them before. This was a bit disappointing as I was hoping for something a bit different from the original two themes, like aliens or ninjas. In this respect, Wicked Witches felt a bit redundant and there was a bit of déjà vu beating this.

The game also comes with a few new trophies, some of which are easy to obtain (like a silver for taking out a witch at night) while others are totally insane (Such as beating fifty levels in a row without stopping. You can use continues though). The extra trophies are a nice touch for those that care about them, although in such a fast paced game it’s a bit annoying to have the upper right corner of your screen displaying a trophy for several seconds when you’re trying to keep your eye on your ball.

For three bucks, we’re basically getting a variant/rehash of the knights levels and some new trophies to earn. It’s not bad for the cost, and the new levels are useable in multiplayer – if you both purchased the DLC.

Modes Rating: Mediocre

2. Graphics

Nothing has really changed here save the addition of witches, wolves, lambs and chickens to breakable bricks, so let’s take a snippet from my original piece.

I love the theme aspect of this game. Unlike other brick breaking puzzles which are generally quite sterile or bland, Magic Ball comes close to completely reinventing the genre. Instead of breaking bricks, you’re breaking castles, crossbows, trees, fields, pirate ships, giant sharks, dragons and more.

Obviously Magic Ball is not going to go head to head with the visuals of say, Metal Gear Solid 4, but this is one of the best looking games I’ve downloaded from the PS3 store yet. The character models of the knights, princesses and so on are about PSX level quality, but then they are bricks and there’s so much on the screen, this isn’t too much of a surprise. I was impressed by aspects like wind, lighting, various explosions and more. Quite possibly the best visuals in the game comes when you collect the night power up. As the game shifts from day into night it is quite impressive to see the use of colour, shading, and the texturing of the game. If you’ve ever seen the PC versions of Magic Ball, this new PS3 game blows them away.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

3. Sound

The only new sounds are witches cackling and wolves howling so again, let’s take a bit from the original review:

I’m not really a fan of the music in this game. There are only two tracks, one for each episode theme and they will get on your nerves quickly, especially if you just outright suck at a particular level and the music begins to feel like an evil taunt ala the dog in Duck Hunt.

The sound effects however are brilliant. The dragons roar, the princesses cry out, castle crumble, wind blows with realistic wooshing noises and lighting crackles like the real thing. I was very impressed with all the little noises and nuances presented here, and the sound effects and voice acting never failed to bring a smile to my face.

In short, the music grates and the effects delight.

Sound Rating: Decent

4. Control and Gameplay

Sadly this is where the DLC falls apart compared to the original game. With the original Magic Ball, I mostly enjoyed the gameplay although I noticed there were some rare but noticeable issues with the physics of the game in that the ball doesn’t always follow the trajectory it should based on angles of connecting and collision. That sort of thing. My big issue however was:

There is one noted bug in the game that I’ve found and I want to warn you about it now because it will make you lose your ball literally dozens of times, if not more. If you have your paddle wedged against the side of the board, you would assume that the ball can’t fall down the crack like in other games of this nature. Not here. Here there is some sort of detection issue and on multiple occasions I watched the ball go through my paddle and I lost a life. This will happen on either side of the board and this little quality control snafu caused me to swear loudly several times, especially when I was on my last life. I’m still pretty shocked this got through, but it is what it is. The way around this is to keep the paddle slightly away from the corner and if the ball comes that way, you have to slam it into the side. That’s the only way the game will detect the paddle is at that location. Frustrating, I know.

This annoying aspect is that not only is this still present, it has gotten WORSE. There were several times when the ball went right through my paddle. I’m sitting there with my mouth wide open wondering how on earth this happens. There were other times where I hit the ball and saw it start to go up towards the block…then my paddle died for some reason. The ball just poofed even though it was moving away from me and I died. This is not part of the game. This is a bug.

The trajectory issues also seem to have both multiplied and magnified. There are times when I have hit a ball and instead of going up at the 120 degree angle it was supposed to, it would instead go horizontally against the wall and then plummet straight down. Again, this is not supposed to happen, nor was this in “crazy ball” status. It’s just bad game design and as I don’t ever remember encountering things like this in the original content (If I had, I would have been far less kind to the game.) so I have to assume something happened with the Wicked Witches content.

The actual level designs were enjoyable for what they were. Although it was mostly the same things I saw in the knight pack, Wicked Witches has some levels packed with so many bricks you will feel a bit overwhelmed. As well some of the levels are as brilliant in layout as they are exceedingly cruel to play through. The game really makes use of the iron fence bricks that can only be blown up this time around. The last level (3-24) also requires you to make some nice precise shots. If the physics in this game was solid, this level would have been amazing. However, due to the inconsistency of how the ball travels according to the angle of collision, this (and several others) can end up pretty frustrating.

In all, a huge drop in gameplay quality, which is rather disappointing.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor

5. Replayability

Unless you’re a huge Magic Ball fan, there is no real reason to come back to these levels. Although Wicked Witches boasts some of the best levels in the entire game, that’s only a fraction of the actual levels provided. Otherwise Wicked Witches is the most boring of the three variations. The only reason to come back is if you want those trophies or for multiplayer.

Replayability Rating: Poor

6. Balance

Wicked Witches blows the other Magic Ball themes out of the water in terms of difficulty. Where the original knights pack was a walk through the park and the pirates offered a decent amount of challenges, there were levels in the DLC that kicked my ass thoroughly. Yes, part of it was because of the wonky physics, but the other part is that the level designs require a degree of precision and perfectly timed ball shots that the others lacked. You can feasibly spent about four hours with this back, with half that time devoted to only a few levels if you’re not the type of gamer who loves Breakout clones (I am.).

While I was happy with the degree of difficulty shooting up like a rocket, I was far less so with the newly added physics issues and trajectory issues. These flaws completely overshadowed the fun I was having at times and it pretty much soured me on the Magic Ball experience entirely. Being on my last life and watching my ball go directly through the middle of my paddle or spontaneous death when I haven’t collected a golden skull (Instant death power up) is profanity-inducing, no matter how patient one generally is.

Harder levels (yay!) but a noticeable increase in gameplay issues (boo!) really kills the balance of the game.

Balance Rating: Bad

7. Originality

If Wicked Witches had stayed with a witch theme throughout all the levels, complete with a bubbling cauldron and maybe even a villager of angry people burning someone at the stake, this would have received high marks. Instead, the levels have far more knights than witches and it comes off like they had more ideas for the knight theme and decided to use them with a different title so the pirate theme fans wouldn’t accuse them of being short-changed. Honestly. The lack of a real theme change or any new ideas disappointed me far more than the physics engine? What next? A mermaid theme where 90% of the content is pirate themed? That seems to be the way we’re headed.

A few fun level designs, but that’s about it for this DLC pack.

Originality Rating: Bad

8. Addictiveness

Even when the game was killing me on a few levels, I refused to put the controller down. I just wanted to keep playing and beat the bloody thing. After about two and a half hours, I finished the pack. I put off everything else just to beat this thing. However, other gamers might found the challenge of some of these levels daunting, especially if you only have a single life to beat a hard level. Do you restart and get your lives back but give up that dream of the 25 or 50 “Levels-in-a-row” trophies, or do you keep trying to do the improbable and beat a particular level with one life?

Even though there are some definite issues with the game, and part of my playing on was out of spite rather than enjoyment, Wicked Witches was pretty hard to put down.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

9. Appeal Factor

Back in January I wrote the following:

Even with its flaws, Magic Ball is the type of game that can be enjoyed by anyone. It doesn’t matter what your age is, it doesn’t matter what your preferred genre is, or even how much of an attention span you have. Magic Ball has that X factor that makes for a high quality game sporting simple controls, addictive gameplay, and enough of a challenge to make you feel like you’ve accomplished something once you’ve beaten it.

I still feel that about the original, but dramatically less so with the Wicked Witches expansion. Again, new ball issues and new bugs make for less of an enjoyable experience. Younger gamers, or those with less hand to eye co-ordination will notice a steep incline in difficulty with these new levels. This expansion will certainly appeal to the hardcore Magic Ball fans who were hoping for something a little tougher, but casual gamers might want to pass. Still, three dollars for a 50% content increase is hard to fuss over.

Appeal Factor: Above Average

10. Miscellaneous

Yes, there are issues with the game. Yes, it can be frustrating. Yes, you will find yourself saying, “&^*$ you! I hit that ball! The ball does not go through the middle of my paddle. What the %^@^!” It’s still a vast amount of content for a tiny amount of cash and as such, I have to say, you get what you pay for. I was expecting this pack to be five dollars, so I was pleasantly surprised by it being two dollars and penny less than my original estimation. For less than three dollars, I’ll accept the bugs, even though they made me swear like a drunken sailor at times. I appreciated the added difficulty where I also snubbed my nose at the lack of originality and barely using the witches theme that was promised. In all, for a $2.99 purchase, I can say I got my money’s worth, and that’s all that matters.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story: Mediocre
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Decent
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Bad
Originality: Bad
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary
Although nowhere as entertaining as the original Magic Ball, the Wicked Witches expansion pack does sport some of the best, as well as the hardest levels this game has ever seen. However it also features a lot of rehash from the Knights pack and some new physics and trajectory bugs as well. Still at only $2.99, you’re getting 24 new levels, which is a FIFTY PERCENT CONTENT INCREASE, which is astounding, no matter how you look at it. As long as you’re looking for a challenge and patient enough to deal with the new gameplay issues, this is worth a look.