Developer: Mitchell Corporation
Release Date: June 30, 2008
I’m not typically a fan of puzzle games which task you with dropping or matching blocks, balls, beans or infectious diseases. I guess my beef with the Puyo Puyos, Lumines and Tetrises of this world is that I kind of like my puzzle games to have some actual puzzle solving in them. These games don’t test your logic or puzzle solving ability, merely your thumb speed and coordination (their most direct forefathers being fixed shooters like Space Invaders and Galaxian). Minesweeper, Lemmings or Picross are more my speed.
The one major exception to my general dislike of the genre is Taito’s Bust-a-Move series (I refuse to call it Puzzle Bobble like they do in Japan due to my raging xenophobia). Bust-a-Move and Magnetica seem to have a lot in common, so when the WiiWare version of Mitchell’s series was released this past Monday I decided to give it a shot. Even though it’s lacking in the adorable cartoon dinosaur department, does Magnetica Twist manage to stand up as a quality colored object matchin’ puzzle game? That’s a puzzle we’re about to answer.
Magnetica Twist serves up a decent assortment of gameplay choices, the first being Challenge, which is your standard puzzle game marathon mode where you keep playing as the game gradually gets faster/tougher until you die or, hopefully, get to level 100. Quest is considerably more interesting as you can choose a path and are then presented with a variety of different scenarios to clear. Quest even spices things up with bonus rounds that tweak the gameplay and have you doing things like shooting down rockets or trying to sink your marbles into holes (typing that made me feel dirty). Quest even features bosses, which try to kill you with onslaughts of now-deadly marbles.
Finally there’s multiplayer which comes in both Co-op and Competitive forms, both of which can be played in a few different ways. Sadly though there is no online multiplayer, which is a shame because these kind of quick, simple games are exactly what Nintendo’s online service is best suited for. For 10 dollars Magnetica Twist offers up a solid collection of stuff to do, but compared to most puzzle games these days it’s a bit anemic.
Modes Rating: Decent
This title’s visuals are as bland as dry toasted Wonder Bread. I’d almost go as far as to say the DS version of Magnetica features more exciting graphics as that game at least had a consistent hi-tech/futuristic themed visual style. This version has no style whatsoever; you’ve got your marbles, your canon, a scintillating usually grey or brown background and that’s all she wrote. Most of the time your Mii is the most visually exciting thing on screen and well, that’s kind of sad.
Graphics Rating: Poor
Most of Nintendo’s casual offerings feature a similar style of music (take a listen to the Wii Sports menu music to get an idea of what I’m talking about) and this game is no different. The music in Magnetica Twist is cheery, inoffensive and generally sets the right mood even if it is completely generic.
Sound Rating: Decent
4) Control and Gameplay
If you’ve never played a Magnetica game before (or for that matter the near identical rip-offs of Mitchell’s series, Zuma and Luxor) here’s the basic rundown; much like the Bust-a-Move games you have a fixed pointer/cannon which you rotate and fire colored balls with (they’re referred to as marbles in Magnetica) and if you manage to match up 3 of the same colour they disappear. Unlike Bust-a-Move though where your pointer is at the bottom of the screen and a mass of balls descends from above, Magnetica’s cannon is usually located somewhere in the middle of the screen with the marbles proceeding along various twisted paths toward a goal. The “Magnetica”Â name is drawn from the fact that marbles of the same colour are magnetically drawn to each other. For instance let’s say you had a sequence of 2 red marbles, followed by 2 green, then 2 more red; if you were to eliminate the green marbles in the middle the red ones would pull together. This is where most of the strategy in the game lies as you can use their magnetic nature to draw marbles away from the end point and create combos.
That’s about all there is to it. Magnetica is very easy to hop into, which explains why essentially the same design has become popular amongst online casual gamers, but it doesn’t have a lot of depth. To compare the two again, Bust-a-Move’s design allows for much more complex patterns, more specatcular combos and requires a greater degree of skill to hit the tricky bank shots off the side of the bin; by comparison Magnetica can be quickly mastered but you’ll likely grow tired of it more quickly as well. That said the design is still fairly fun in short bursts, or at least it would be if the game actually featured halfway decent control, which surely it must have. It would be almost impossible to mess up the control in a game where the only thing you do is rotate in a circle and shoot marbles, right? Wrong, the miracle workers at the Mitchell Corporation have taken a game with about the simplest mechanics imaginable and still managed to break the controls.
Magnetica Twist features a completely needless motion-based control scheme. The Wiimote is good at a few things; flailing it around to swing a sword or punch your friends in the face in Wii Sports’ Boxing? That ability probably accounted for 10 million Wii sales alone. Using the pointer for more accurate headshots? That’s something all good sadists can get behind. Hell, even holding it on it’s side for racing games can add to a game if it’s done properly. Unfortunately far too many Wii games replace standard button-pushing with arbitrary motion controls that don’t correspond to what’s happening onscreen and usually result in a reduction of accuracy. Magnetica Twist is a prime example of the latter.
In order to rotate your cannon you have to hold the Wiimote out straight as if you were using it as a TV remote and twist it from side to side. This is probably my least favorite of the standard Wiimote motions developers continually use as holding your arm up and twisting your wrist is not a natural thing to do for any length of time. Frankly I got tired of doing this sort of thing after about 10 minutes playing the manta-ray surfing stages in Super Mario Galaxy, and at least the control during those sections actually worked. Not only is controlling Magnetica Twist uncomfortable but it’s frustratingly unresponsive. If you twist the at Wiimote at a deliberate even speed everything works fine, but if you twist too fast you run the risk of your motions not being picked up, or worse I sometimes had my cannon turn in the exact opposite direction of which I was twisting. Basically the control craps out exactly when you need it to be most responsive; if you have everything in hand the control is manageble, but if things start getting frantic and you need to make some quick moves to save your ass you can usually count on the controls screwing you.
The icing on the cake? This is the only control scheme available. That’s right, no D-pad for you punk, you’ll play using the broken motions controls or not at all (I suggest the latter).
Even with the lousy controls there is still some entertainment to be wrung from Magnetica Twist, particularly from its multiplayer mode. Since both you and your opponent are dealing with the same control issues you’re essentially on an equal cow dung coated playing field (and hey, for once protesting your loss because your “controller wasn’t working”Â will be a legitimate excuse).
Control and Gameplay Rating: Poor
Between it’s 3 difficulty levels Quest mode offers 60 levels, which took me around 4 to 5 hours to complete (and I’m not particularly great at these type of games). Once you’re done with Quest you’re pretty much stuck trying to endure Challenge mode or going for high scores to extend the game’s value, although by that time Magnetica’s somewhat shallow mechanics may have worn out their welcome.
How long this game will last for you will largely hinge on how much you get out of it’s multiplayer, which is actually pretty fun when being played competitively. Although are people going to be putting down Mario Kart or Smash Bros. to sink considerable amounts of time into Magnetica Twist? I somehow doubt it. That said even if all you do is play through Quest then never touch the game again, you’ll still be getting a decent value for 10 bucks.
Replayability Rating: Above Average
Both Quest and Challenge mode offer 3 difficulty levels to choose from, each of which ramps up in challenge at nice rate. The level of difficulty can be a bit inconsistent at times when playing Quest, but for the most part this is a well-balanced game.
Balance Rating: Good
Mitchell has been making Magnetica games for around a decade now (originally the series was known as Puzz Loop or Ballistic depending on which side of the Pacific you lived on) and the design hasn’t changed a hell of a lot in those 10 years. Add copycats Zuma and Luxor to the mix and there’s a pretty good chance you’ve already played a game or two very much like this one. Oh, and just in case I haven’t harped on this comparison enough, let’s not forget that Magnetica borrowed many of it’s mechanics from the Bust-a-Move games (a series that isn’t exactly smelling springtime fresh these days either). This game is about as lacking in uniqueness as a puzzle game can be without being the 746th version of Tetris.
Originality Rating: Bad
I went through three phases when playing this game.
Phase 1 – “Argh, what the hell is wrong with this control? Turn! Turn! No, not that way!“Â
Phase 2 – “Well okay, finally got the controls somewhat mastered. Hey this is kind of fun I guess.”Â
Phase 3 – “Okay, no it’s not. My forearm hurts. How much longer do I have to play this before I can review it?”Â
So yeah, I didn’t find this game particularly entrancing. Maybe some people will, as there are certainly a lot of Zuma players out there, although I imagine most of those people would prefer to play a version of this game with controls that work.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre
9) Appeal Factor
This game doesn’t exactly dazzle (or razzle for the matter) with exciting presentation, nor does it feature any recognizable mascots to hook players. Ironically the very companies that Mitchell’s suing for ripping off them are going to help generate sales for Magnetica Twist, as I’m sure a good chunk of people buying this game will do it because it looks like Zuma (not knowing where PopCap got their idea in the first place). The fact that Nintendo’s publishing it will also help as a certain segment of the gaming population would buy a box full of malaria bacteria as long as it had the Nintendo logo on it.
Appeal Factor Rating: Decent
Nintendo’s approach to it’s own WiiWare service has thus far been really disappointing. While 3rd parties like Frontier Developments or High Voltage are making really good stuff for WiiWare like LostWinds and Gyrostarr, Nintendo is publishing stuff like Magnetica Twist and Pokemon Ranch. Nintendo wouldn’t attach their name to retail games this mediocre, but when it comes to WiiWare the message seems to be loud and clear, “don’t bother putting in any effort guys, it’s just WiiWare. We sure aren’t”Â.
Miscellaneous Rating: Poor
Control and Gameplay: Poor
Replayability: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Final Score: Mediocre Game
Short Attention Span Summary
The Magnetica design is on the shallow side to begin with and when you add wonky motion control to the mix you find yourself with a game that falls far short of the best in the colored object matchin’ puzzle genre. Coming from Nintendo this is very disappointing as this is one of the most mediocre products I’ve ever seen them attach their name to as a publisher, and if Mitchell is pissed off about other companies stealing their concept I’m not sure what they’re trying to accomplish by releasing games like this that are considerably worse than the imitations. Don’t support this kind of laziness; keep your Wii points for some of the great 3rd party WiiWare offerings.