Magicians & Looters

UPDATE: Magicians & Looters received a Second Chance with the Chick. To say it improved the game is an understatement. I now consider this to be the best Xbox Live Indie Game ever made. Click here for my updated thoughts.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Xbox Live Indie Games, where expectations are so low that there’s not sufficient clearance for microbes to hang themselves from it.  Because of this, sometimes games that are just not that good end up getting elevated beyond their actual value.  Take Magicians & Looters.  Here’s a really ambitious first effort by a group of developers with not a whole lot of experience, and it’s not terrible.  It also has, for my money, the best comedic writing ever seen on an XBLIG.

M&L is a Metroidvania.  I fucking love those, but XBLIG hasn’t been the best source for them.  LaserCat is my favorite.  It was the original #1 game on the old, ten-games-only Leaderboard.   But it’s a different breed of Metroidvania.  There’s no combat in it, only avoidance.  It’s also easier than boxing a newborn paraplegic orangutang .  But that was pretty much the cream of the crop.  Other attempts were nowhere near as successful.  There was Astroman, a Metroid-inspired adventure that came very close to hitting the mark, but wasn’t quite there.  Still, this is probably the genre that, if done right, I like the most.

Mom?

Mom?

I try not to get hyped for games, and I certainly try to avoid hearing what my fellow XBLIG critics think of a game that I intend to play.  Unfortunately, becoming good friends with them means sometimes you hear things.  Like, say, Tim Hurley putting Magicians & Looters at #5 on his Leaderboard.  Or Jed Presscott calling this game “better than Symphony of the Night.

Hahahahahaha…………. no.

To get the good out of the way first: Magicians & Looters isn’t broken or glitchy or likely to physically materialize like that spooky chick from The Ring and murder you after seven days.  In fact, all the ingredients seem to be here, fully functional, and primed to present one of the best values a game could have.  But, for me at least, it just never came together.  By far the best aspect of Magicians & Looters is the writing.  The story is a sort of spoof of Harry Potter.  You play as three teenagers enrolled in a wizard’s school.  It gets overrun by evildoers and you must band together and save the day.  They’re also all, to put it politely, type-A personalities.  They spew out non-stop sarcasm, have endless disdain for one-another, and almost seem to speak in the language of a sitcom.  I always hate games like that.  It’s one of the things that turned me off of musical RPG Sequence.  Here?  It works.  Even better, the jokes don’t rely on referential humor.  No callbacks to bad game dialog.  No “remember that movie you’ve seen?  We’ve seen it too, and we’ll demonstrate that by quoting it verbatim, but you should laugh because we’re going to do it in an unexpected way” type of stuff.  Hell, they don’t even directly reference Harry Potter, and the game is a send-up of it.  I mean, damn.  Standing ovation right here.

The sharp writing is the ONLY thing that kept me playing, though.  Mechanically speaking, I just found Magicians & Looters to be boring.  Mostly because of the combat.  I give them props for wanting to do something different.  Here, touching enemies doesn’t inflict damage on you.  Everything is handled by actual hand-to-hand fighting.  You attack a few times, then hold block, wait for them to miss, and then continue on.  That sounds great, but there’s a reason why 2D games typically don’t do that: because it’s slow and it makes combat a plodding chore.  Of course, there’s no real reason to fight enemies.  The leveling-up system is handled entirely by finding hidden trinkets, which was another dumb idea.  For almost any game, combat will stagnate after X amount of hours.  The grind of leveling up could very well be the only thing that keeps your average player from just running past enemies.  In M&L, they do drop money that you can use to buy better weapons, but progress on that is too slow as well.

The main hook is switching between three characters, each with their own unique abilities.  Unfortunately, this also is bungled, because two of the characters (the guy and one of the girls) are too slow.  For a game that already has severe pacing issues, this one really got to me.  Most of the time, I wanted to be playing as the near-naked chick, who was faster in movement and could jump significantly higher than the other two.  But she was especially crappy at combat.  So, you have to switch between the three to open up the map, but playing as the other chick, who was so slow that I was wondering if she had Lou Gehrig’s disease, was torturous.  Also, in order to switch characters, you need to go back to a save-station.  They’re liberally scattered throughout the world, but the needless backtracking when a Castlevania III like on-the-fly switcheroo would have been so much more preferable and obvious just adds to the dullness factor.

Again, the game has all the right parts of a good Metroidvania, such as a very well done map. Unfortunately, being fun just didn't make the cut.  I think this is mostly on the dull combat.  For everything it borrowed from Symphony of the Night, the thing it needed the most was pushed aside in favor of something slower and blander.  If it had been remotely close to Symphony of the Night's combat?  Probably a top-5 XBLIG game.

Again, the game has all the right parts of a good Metroidvania, such as a very well done map. Unfortunately, being fun just didn’t make the cut. I think this is mostly on the dull combat. For everything it borrowed from Symphony of the Night, the thing it needed the most was pushed aside in favor of something slower and blander. If it had been remotely close to Symphony of the Night’s combat? Probably a top-5 XBLIG game.

My dislike for M&L has nothing to do with the hype I got from my buddies.  If anything, I spent more time with it than I would done with any other game because I was trying to find the game they both loved so much.  If you hear something unequivocally called better than one of the best games ever made, it catches your attention.  I also wasn’t looking for reasons why it’s not.  That’s what lifeless fanboys do.  No, I wanted to see what they saw.  I looked hard for it.  Instead, I found dull combat, bland level layouts, and just an overall slowness that I couldn’t get into.  I tip my hat to the guys at Morgopolis Studios.  I typically discourage first efforts from being this ambitious.  Ambition wasn’t what went wrong with Magicians & Looters.  Truth be told, it’s a well designed game.  Results will not be typical, I guess, considering that my colleagues are shaking their fist in anger that it’s a digital-download game and not on disc, meaning there is no hole for (remaining review censored by Brian for the sake of Cathy’s parents.  I don’t want them to know I taught her what THAT is)

xboxboxartMagicians & Looters was developed by Morgopolis Studios

$1 (still censored.  Sorry folks.  Her filth bled into the money joke) in the making of this review. 

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15 Responses to Magicians & Looters

  1. I don’t know. Although you put up an effort to say it’s not it still sounds a lot like bitching to me. Especially the closing remarks give me the impression that you wanted to trounce the game because so many others found praise for it. I believe this game definitely deserves a place on your leaderboard. In the upper regions of it. I agree that it probably is not Top Ten material but hey, come on! This is ridiculous.

    • I really wanted to like it, but I didn’t have fun with it. Sometimes that defies explanation. The review took a while because I was out of commission for over a week, and hadn’t been all that well the week before it. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a matter of being ill that caused my boredom, or put me in a mood that wasn’t right to do a fair review.

      I put a lot of time into M&L over the course of multiple days. I just didn’t see it. And I certainly didn’t want to trounce it (or any game, really). The jokes were directed at Tim and Jed because I thought it would make the narrative of the review funny. I ever warned Jed it was coming many days ago.

  2. The game mechanics used to be a lot more interesting (but caused other issues). The enemies used to be solid, where you can push them (even off the edge) or stand on top of them. Vienna (the leotard girl) could even pick them up and throw them into other enemies. When we restarted the project, those mechanics introduced really weird problems, so we ended up going with the current style (passable instead of solid, still only hurt when they actually hit you)

    My personal take on the orbs is that we tried to make less of an RPG and more of an open ended exploration game. My favorite feature (which I put in 🙂 ) is the world map overlay, which you can use while you’re playing (always hated that about Super Metroid and SotN, two of my fav games, in that order). Our map also helps you track down the items you’re missing. But the reality is, the orbs end up being extremely important because you need to advance in levels in order to beat the game

    One of my favorite features is playing as the David Bowie looking girl, Nyn, and putting on items that cause you to Blitz. It’s like a blood crazed rage where combat and movement are sped up and you can tear through enemies. I always loved taking down hordes of people doing that

  3. Pingback: REVIEW: Magicians & Looters | the / . / XBLIG

  4. Yo Kathee, have you played Symphony of the Night recently? It holds up better than many, but it has several clunky/pointless things about it — if games were people, Symphony of the Night would be kinda fat. I can see why people worshiped it in the 1990s, but today? No way. Hell, Symphony is not even the best Castlevania game I’ve played (Super Castlevania IV), much less one of the best games I’ve played.

    Also, Symphony’s not really any faster than Magicians & Looters, which allows you to speed up the characters with items.

    • Gamer says:

      I agree with you again chick puts to.much bias or in this nostalgia into this review, I’m actually at the end of the game and it is probably the best value you can get for a dollar there is bo issues with the game bor is it boring if people would just hold side ways to attack they would soon realize the fault is them not the game.

    • Symphony is TONS faster than M&L if you learn to backdash effectively. Seriously. I spend more time moving backward than forward in that game.

  5. For the most part, I had the same experience Cathy did. I’m not done with the game yet (last thing I did was beat the King of Looters), but I’d like to think I have enough of a sample to chime in. I’ve also beaten SotN more than a dozen times, 200+% on a few of those and as Richter a couple times, and still find the game fun to pick up and play on occasion. That may or may not influence how you view my opinion.

    – Combat/Movement. In theory, making enemies not have hitboxes (and their hits not have hitstun) makes combat more strategic as it’s all about offense and defense. In reality, it doesn’t do much of anything, and some enemy patterns make getting surrounded feel easier without stun/knockback. Getting hit should also be more of an event. Right now, unless it’s me vs a boss, I feel like it just happens and I might know about it later when I look at my lifebar. I liked some of the ideas, such as canceling attacks into defensive moves (appeals to the competitive fighting game player in me), but overall combat and movement felt entirely too slow.

    – Character differences/switching. So, here’s my biggest gripe. Having three characters is nice and all, but not when they fight so similarly. It reminds me of the early TMNT games where the main difference was the hitbox of their weapons. Ranged options are the same for each character, and defensive options have minor differences but considering you’re shoehorned into a specific character during many of the boss fights (where it matters) it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference. Which leaves exploration, and Vienna is obviously the best choice for that…until something is put in specifically so you can’t use her. Then you gotta plod back to the nearest campfire, which kills any momentum the game builds up.

    – King of Looters boss fight. Am I nuts, or is there no way to avoid his 3rd ground sword/spike summon attack? If there isn’t, then you need to rethink that pattern. Especially since the only way to damage him is via fireball, and charging magic in that battle is annoyingly slow. I hear lots of people talk about the Red Magician, but honestly if I can at least hit a boss when they’re vulnerable and (in theory) dodge all their attacks I don’t care how difficult the boss is.

    – The abridged version. Your writing is awesome. Stand by it. Give players the manual option to skip via button if you want. But for the love of everything holy, don’t give them the option to skip the writing for the rest of the game, highlight “yes” when you know they’re probably hitting A a lot, and THEN not give them the ability to turn that option off without exiting their game.

    – Momentum. It just doesn’t work here, and makes the platforming overly difficult and time-consuming. Especially since lots of the platforms I’ve seen so far (or pulleys, for that matter) are so small. Making movement easier makes sure that the gamer gets to the more fun parts of the game rather than spending precious minutes climbing back up a mountain they were almost at the top of.

  6. An XBLIG Guy says:

    After reading this article, the point that jumps right to my face is that people are comparing “Magicians and Looters” to “Castlevania – Symphony of the Night”. That, by it self, is an awesome success, specially considering that the budget invested in “M&L” is most likely an insignificant fraction of what was invested in Konami’s Castlevania series.

    • Definitely a budget title! There were 3 of us that did most of the development and then 2 musicians that joined us later. The only cost we had was software for making the trailer and the Xbox subscription, we did the rest in our free time on the weekends

  7. zzyzx says:

    I have to say, Jed Presscott’s “review” which was basically just a giant SotN comparison shitfest was just retarded. Apparently he never even got into that game in the first place, or more likely — was about 3 years old when it came out.

    M&L is good and certainly worth more than $1 — love the writing and the overall package, but the combat is clunky and the gameplay seems shallow in contrast to the titles it’s being compared to. And I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like the art style.

    Still, in all — 7.5/10 — great title for such a small team.

    • I got into Symphony of the Night quite recently — my first time playing it was only a few years ago. I also played it shortly before Magicians & Looters came out. In other words, I didn’t play it back in the 1990s, so I am less susceptible to embarrassing fits of nostalgia.

  8. Pingback: Magicians & Looters (Second Chance with the Chick) | Indie Gamer Chick

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