Review: Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers
Developer: Wizards of the Coast / Stainless Games
Publisher: XBOX LIVE Arcade
Genre: Strategy & Simulation, Card & Board
Release Date: 06/17/09

Ah nostalgia, you gotta love it. There was a time in my life about 15 years ago when my life was consumed by the addiction of Magic: the Gathering. I took a great deal of pride in building my super deck of cards. I started in the days of Alpha when having a Black Lotus was rare but not unheard of. Most of my paychecks would go to booster packs, and if stores had limits on release days I would go to multiple stores. Eventually I grew out of my addiction sometime after Ice Age came out. Then last week I was browsing my XBOX 360 in search of new DLC for my games when I noticed Magic in the new arcade games. I downloaded the demo and quickly was warped back in time and was reminded of that feeling when you first open a booster deck.

Story/Modes
Once upon a time there were these red cards that had a serious grudge with some green cards and they had a duel. Okay, in all seriousness, there is no real story to tell. However there are plenty of different ways to play this. There is a tutorial to get you started and I will chat more about the later. I first started with the campaign mode where you only have one deck to choose from. Eventually you unlock other decks by playing more of the campaign. There are 16 matches in all and eight decks to unlock. All of the decks are preset decks so you can’t build your own deck. As you play each deck, you unlock cards that can thenbe added to the deck. That is as much customization as can be done to your deck. Each deck has seventeen cards that can be unlocked. You can use all of the decks and cards you unlock for online play.

Another mode which I found very entertaining to play was called Two Headed Giant. Here you and another local player can play two different deck against another two decks. There is a campaign mode for this variant as well. The first time I discovered this mode I lost all track of time. Before my buddy and I knew it, it was daylight again and we were pretty deep into a bottle of rum.

The online play allows for you to set up matches with anyone Xbox Live. I did a three player free for all with two of my buddies and found talking trash was the most entertaining part of the game. I forgot how fun it was to watch one of your friends plan out this masterful attack only to have it foiled by one card by you or another player.

One other mode that needs mentioning is the Challenge Mode. In that mode there are eight challenges where you are the underdog and you have one turn to kill your opponent. These are great as they make you think outside the box about your cards and teach you some strategy. I think the only downside to the game is the lack of customizable decks, but I think the developers were looking for a game where the average person could just pick up and play it. Kind of like UNO for D&D dorks. I love being a dork!

Story/Modes Rating: Great

Graphics
Going into this game, you can’t expect much for graphics. It is, after all, a card game and you don’t see UNO blowing you way with killer graphics. Most of the spells you cast have some minor effects that allow you to actually think you are casting spells rather than just laying cards on a table. The red deck has some pretty cool fire effects. If you don’t have either and HDTV or a large screen you may find some of the text on the cards difficult to read.

Graphics Rating: Enjoyable

Sound
An average game can last anywhere from 15-45 minutes and when the same sixty second track loops over and over again, it can get quite annoying. I recommend plugging in a MP3 player to your Xbox and started up a playlist before playing. I found Slayer a great artist to listen to while playing a black deck. Maybe a little Rage Against the Machine for a red deck… Think “Burn”.

Sound Rating: Bad

Control and Gameplay
The controls for this game are all explained in the tutorial. I highly recommend you start there. The tutorial elements come up in the regular until you choose to hide them. As for the gameplay, it is pretty simple. You lay out your lands, tap them for mana, cast your spells, and kill your opponent. The spells that can be casted during that turn have an orange border as well as any creature with special abilities. The turn based combat is easy to learn. The one thing you will have to get a handle is that each turn phase has a timer. However you can pause any turn phases just by pushing X and it will allow you cast that perfect instant spell. A lot of times I was losing early on because I wasn’t using my spells at the right time. One thing I have found quite frustrating about the game is that it freezes a lot when I am dueling with friends online. I hope future patches will resolve this as it really sucks when you are about whoop some butt and then the game locks up. Another issue is with multi-color decks the game does not allow you to select which mana to tap, which may cause it to use mana you need for another spell. I also noticed that the developers of this game are all over the Xbox.com forums working on collecting these bugs from players. It is nice to see the developers so actively involved with the community.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Good

Replayability
I think with this kind of game you could potentially have infinite replayability. As there are only eight premade decks, after playing a number of games you could get bored. The lack of customizable decks is probably in place in this game to keep online matches balanced. Being that this game is currently the number one downloaded arcade game on Xbox Live (Yes, it beat Castle Crashers.), I am sure that we will see some DLC for this game soon. My guess would be in the form of more deck combinations that would be balanced with the current decks.

Replayability Rating: Unparalleled

Balance
For $10 (800 MSP), this game is definitely worth it. The AI opponents are as challenging as you set the difficulty. I found the challenges quite difficult at first until I really read all of the opponent’s cards thoroughly. The campaigns were challenging as well but are necessary unless you want to play with green deck the entire time.

Balance Rating: Good

Originality
This is definitely something new for the next generation consoles. Obviously digital Magic games have been done before. Some were not so good and others like Magic Online are just as expensive as the real card game. If it wasn’t for this game, I would probably never played M:TG again.

Originality Rating: Above Average

Addictiveness
M:TG as a card game was addicting enough. Now with it being so easy to just pick up a controller and play, I think I have relapsed into my addiction. If you have ever played Magic: the Gathering as a card game, you too will find yourself in a moment of nostalgia and find yourself trying to unlock cards for your deck to improve its effectiveness. With continuous DLC ,Wizards of the Coast would be able to harvest money from wallet once again.

Addictiveness Rating: Great

Appeal Factor
With the low price tag, this game is a must buy. For the amount of hours of gameplay you will get from dueling on Xbox Live, it can put some RPG’s to shame. Whether you are fan of the classic version of M:TG or not, you will find this card game very entertaining.

Appeal Factor Rating: Great

Miscellaneous
This game is still quite buggy at this point with the game freezing as often as it does, but I am sure after a little patching this game will run pretty smoothly.

Miscellaneous Rating: Average

The Scores
Modes: Great
Graphics: Enjoyable
Sound: Bad
Control and Gameplay: Good
Replayability: Unparalleled
Balance: Good
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Great
Appeal Factor: Great
Miscellaneous: Average
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
Magic: The Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers will definitely be an Arcade hit for Xbox Live. If you play or have ever played Magic the Gathering as a card game, or even if you have ever had interest in this game, you should download this. With a $10 (800 MSP) price point it is hard to say no. It is the best $10 I have spent in a while. There are a nigh infinite amount of ways a game could go. Hopefully with future DLC, this game could increase its already high level of replayability. The only flaws with it right now are the game freezes, which I assume will be corrected with patches as it is still pretty new. Hardcore Magic fans may find the lack of customization of decks frustrating. Try to remember this is the UNO version of Magic the Gathering!

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