Magicka is a game series in which everything can go completely and utterly hysterically wrong in the blink of an eye. Accidentally electrocute yourself when you’re wet, mistime that flaming boulder so that it hits a co-op buddy or actually go out of your way to stab your “friends” in the back. It’s just maybe best not to do so when you’re in the middle of a fight.
It features a rather unique spell system, in which you combine multiple elements from a selection of eight together before casting it in one of several ways. On PC, this was handled by taking two rows of four letters – QWER and ASDF – and letting you mash the keys in rapid succession. Moving your character around and aiming were then handled by left clicking and pointing with the mouse respectively, while casting a projectile, casting as an area of effect and casting on yourself were assigned other mouse buttons and key combinations.
In short, it was damned tricky to master, especially when trying to quickly recall particular element combinations, and really quite unwieldy. So, with Magicka 2 coming to both PC and PlayStation 4 next year, it was necessary to find a good way to adapt this to the controller. Somehow, as if by magick [I’m not even sorry for that], they’ve made it work quite brilliantly and actually made it more accessible.
The key is really in adapting it to something akin to a twin stick shooter, with left and right for movement and aiming respectively. Element combinations are dealt with on the four face buttons, while holding L1 acts as a modifier to give you the equivalent to a second row of keys, while the various methods of casting are then handled by remaining triggers and stick clicking.
Thankfully, it removes none of the brilliant carnage from the gameplay. It’s all too easy to accidentally catch a team mate in a crossfire, as you get your aim just a little bit wrong or forget that lightning will jump between characters and that its effects are made worse when your buddy is wet. So it’s quite handy that the D-pad is reserved for quickly casting the most powerful Magicks, rather than always needing to follow the right elemental recipe, which lets you resurrect your team mates, for example.
It also looks to retain the same sense of humour, set years after the events of the first game and even including the competitive multiplayer game Wizard Wars into the canon, so that you are the last wizards around. Vlad, the time skipping definitely-not-a-vampire from the first game, has returned and needs your help to save the world from evil once more.
A great part of the humour comes from the mock-Swedish gibberish language that the characters speak, as you read along with the subtitles, tied to a witty and certainly very Swedish sense of humour. Having battled our way through a bunch of attacking goblins, culminating in a fight with one giant troll with friendly fire aplenty, one final goblin clambers up the side of the cliff from which they all appeared before seeing the gigantic corpse and crying out about how you’d killed his son (I’ll admit, it works better when you’re playing the game).
Having played through the first game co-operatively, and ground our way through the particularly gruelling later stages, I can safely say that Magicka was not a game without flaws, and a mixture of excessive difficulty and having a single all-powerful spell sapped a lot of the fun out of it for me. Pieces have been busy tweaking the formula, though, and to address the issues with pacing and difficulty they are bringing in a greater number of element specific enemies.
At the end of our little play demo was an optional battle that we triggered out of sheer bravado. These kinds of dark temples will be dotted around the world as little extras and hidden challenges, but in this case it brought forth a whole bunch of fire demons – if my memory serves – which would best be defeated by using the opposing elements of water and ice.
The dark temples are just one part of what Pieces want to add to the series with regard to replayability. There’s a lot more customisation available to you, just as there was in Wizard Wars, so you can pick individual robes and choose from a range of familiars, which will give you certain boosts in battle. Additionally, there’s a range of artefacts which you’ll be able to mix and match as you play, to do everything from increase enemy health by 50%, augment your own damage or, more unusually, add a sitcom-style laugh track to the game.
Really, just by nailing the controls on the gamepad as it heads to PS4, the rest of the game seems to be falling into place as a healthy sequel. There’s a whole host of tweaks and improvements across the board, from gameplay to netcode that allows for drop-in drop-out play, but at its heart, it’s still the same barmy, nonsensical, magick flinging fun of the original.