Get your robes on for our review of Magicka

If you had the natural elements at your fingertips and had the choice to fight off a world full of goblins, cave trolls, orcs and beastmen, or join up with your mates and gib each other to death, what would you do? As much as we want to seek out the eveil sorcerer that has thrown our world into turmoil you can't help but douse your friend in water and give them a quick lesson in science when you throw a bolt of electricity at them. Welcome to Magicka, the game that single-handedly tosses every magic based game out the window with its fantastic gameplay possibilities.

Magicka really comes into its own when you begin using magic, in Magicka you can experiment and combine up to 5 of the 8 elements; Water, Life, Shield, Cold, Electricity, Arcane, Earth and Fire, to create spells. There are thousands of combinations possible and these are all achieved via your staff, for every spell you cast you can cast it out in the direction of your mouse, on yourself, with an area of effect or enchant your sword with it. Magicka also employs common sense and so certain combinations will cancel each other out, after all everyone knows that a Pikachu has no effect on an Onix.

Essentially in Magicka you can kill yourself by mistake, or if you are playing co-operatively with friends you will be killing each other by mistake, combinations of each others magics can make extremely handy weapons, however they can also turn on you easily, if Ghostbusters taught us all something, it’s that you don’t cross the streams! This is just as much the case in Magicka as it is with Proton Packs. Fire doesn’t mix with water and all you get is a bit of steam, or electricity and water will successfully electrocute your friend, crossing the streams is extremely effective when you are using the same spell, but are to be used with caution, unless you intended on loosing your friends.

As you play Magicka there are a few combinations that you will latch onto, and effectively use until you finish the game, some of the most effective make use of Arcane, which will fire a mean beam of pure energy when combined with Electricity. Similarly so, in order to survive you need to get the most out of your life element, if you combine Earth and Shield you’ll give yourself a circle of health pickups. You'll discover extremely effective spells as you play, and they usually come as a complete surprise, which is what makes this game so fantastic.

What is also great, is that your elements are not simply used for attacking your enemies, if you want to cross a river you will have to freeze it with your Ice, if you get wet when a druid makes it rain you’ll need to dry yourself off with Fire before you think of using any Electricity spells, the same goes if you are set on fire, you’ll burn to a crisp if you don’t extinguish yourself with a bit of water.

Magicka does not play like you might expect from the cover of the game, and there are absolutely no RPG elements present, your character will never level up, you do not earn experience or any bonuses from killing enemies and most important of all, your inventory consists of two items. Your staff and sword are the only reason that you will survive in the harsh world of goblins and orcs, and throughout the game you will come across new and interesting weapons with neat abilities. Some examples of best are the random teleportation staff that will randomly move your character somewhere else on the screen, or the druid staffs that will summon an Ent to attack your enemies, the only trouble with having the sword and the staff is that you can only carry one, so you’ve a lot of tough decisions ahead of yourself.

Magicka looks very simple; presented in an isometric view with straightforward 3d models it is not the new Crysis, but the bright colourful forests and towns are perfect for the tone of the game. Playing Magicka is even simpler; all of your eight elements are automatically assigned to your standard Q, W, E, R, A, S, D, and F, you choose as many as five elements to make a spell, and then use the right mouse button to cast it. Your little wizard is controlled via a click and hold interface, all you will wish for is that your fingers could move faster than your brain for when using combinations in the heat of a battle.

The main campaign mode is fed to you via Vlad, your narrator and teacher, he’s also a Vampire, but no one will admit it. Over 13 levels you will need to survive in a world full of goblins, cave trolls, orcs, beastmen and more as you seek to stop the evil sorcerer that has thrown your world into turmoil. Magicka also features a survival mode in the form of Challenges, with two challenges available; The Glade and Havindr Arena you will fight off wave upon wave of creatures to place yourself into the leaderboards. The challenges are particularly fun in co-operative play where it is a real test to see how long you can go without killing your friends.

In Magicka, half of the game is about the humour, and this is painfully clear from the start that you are in for a rollercoaster of popular culture references, a satirical look at RPGs and generally silliness. Possibly the best introduction to this is a conversation with the Headmaster of your Wizarding school who is great, and he’ll tell you why he is so great... he has a big beard. Then you’ve got a wealth of over 40 hilarious achievements that include killing MacLeod; because there can only be one, or Cooking by the Book they are full of so many pop culture references you’ll either find it absolutely amazing or will despise it with pure hatred.

The difficulty in Magicka is a bit contentious, and the campaign mode in single player can get frustratingly difficult at times, mainly because the checkpoints are sometimes between battles of epic proportion that can turn on you like the flip of a coin, leading you to turning off the game in exasperation. However playing co-operative multiplayer with four people the game is way too easy. Unfortunately Magicka was designed with multiplayer fun in mind, so you’ll either need patience of steel or a bunch of friends and some PC compatible controllers.

Magicka supports both online and offline co-operative play where you can either take your friends into the campaign, or pull off a couple of challenges. Whilst there are still a few issues that need to be ironed out in online play, local co-operative modes are always far superior and this true is the case for Magicka, and it is brilliant to play with your friends and still be able to shout at them next to you, as they cross beams with you for a fourth time and kill you again, by mistake.

What Magicka achieves in terms of fun and innovation is fantastic, especially when you consider that only eight students from the Luleå University of Technology in Sweden created the game, true it has its bugs, but they can mostly be ignored for the ingenuity of the product.

Magicka is a fantastically fun and addictive action game, whilst it is best played with friends, the single player campaign is just as entertaining, but you may find it a little frustratingly difficult at times, there is still a fair amount of bugs to iron out, but the game is still absolutely solid fun to the point that they can mostly be ignored.

four stars

Magicka is available now at most good online stores and retailers, it is a steal with an SRP of £9.99, as you can find it most places for £7.99, don’t be fooled by its simple look, once you get your hands on the eight elements the world is your oyster!