There has been a renaissance in the local multiplayer game in recent years. Even with the dominance of online gaming, titles such as Overcooked have brought players together for couch co-op in a way that has been particularly welcome for family gamers such as myself. After years of digging out retro games or relying on the generally reliable Lego series, it is nice to be able to play through some new titles with my kids. Super Cane Magic Zero certainly fits the bill with its zany humour and distinctive stick-like characters, but underneath the cartoony aesthetic there lies a surprisingly deep and enjoyable Diablo-like loot ’em up.
Designed by the famous Italian YouTuber and cartoonist Sio (don’t worry, I had no idea who they were either), Super Cane Magic Zero has a unique aesthetic. There is clearly some inspiration from the likes of Adventure Time in bringing together kid-friendly designs with slightly more edgy humour and surrealism. On a certain level I was reminded of the enjoyable if repetitive Adventure Time: Explore the Dungeon Because I Don’t Know! from the last generation.
There is a backstory to the game, and it is a thing of unique beauty. A cake wizard who makes and eats cakes makes a cake salad which kills him and makes his dog so unhappy that it becomes magic and runs amok. You play as one of four different character types and must find the six missing wizards to open up the path to the moon where the dog is. Ok, so it’s not Shakespeare, but it paves the way to hours of crazy action RPG exploration with a welcome splash of colour and outright silliness. The environments, while relatively predictable, all benefit from the aesthetic approach and contain enemies and threats that suit each location. The range of enemies is impressive with any initial discomfort at shooting their cute faces off quickly evaporating once you submit to your lust for loot.
The four character types – Baker, Plumber, Candy Wizard, and Influencer – roughly map onto traditional RPG standards of Fighter, Tank, Healer and Rogue with levelling progression following expected paths. In practice, the equipment and weapons you find will have more of a direct effect on how you choose to play, with ranged and melee combat always an option, and a range of elemental strengths and weaknesses to exploit.
The random nature of the loot does allow for a vast array of possibilities, although my play-through was unusual in that I found a carrot gun (effectively a rocket launcher) relatively early on and that remained my main weapon right up to the end. Alongside several element specific weapons for particular enemies, I was able to get through most predicaments with explosive damage.
What particularly surprised me about Super Cane Magic Zero was how tough it became. There are several difficulty levels which determine the number of lives you have as well as the attack power and HP of monsters, but everything above Easy difficulty became punishing and frustrating from the game’s midpoint. Enemies start to swarm you, leaving tedious kiting as your main tactical approach.
This difficulty is compounded by having limited lives as you find yourself repeating areas again and again. I switched to infinite lives Easy mode to continue playing with my seven year old and found the game far more enjoyable this way. Not worrying about dying and having to restart areas encouraged me to experiment more with different weapons and approaches whilst the core appeal of loot remained. Lives are shared between characters so I certainly wouldn’t recommend harder difficulties when playing with children or less committed gamers as you’ll end up swallowing down rage at their every mistake.
Speaking of swallowing, one of Super Cane Magic Zero’s most unique gaming mechanics is the ability to eat almost everything. Certain food types will be more palatable to different classes, but you can also eat rocks, filing cabinets and bombs. Initially these will damage or even kill you, but you can unlock the ability to benefit from consuming otherwise inedible objects. As it stands, there is a perverse enjoyment to unleashing your inner baby and eating everything the first time you see it despite the potential for immediate death.
When I began playing, I was worried that Super Cane Magic Zero would be procedurally generated and suffer from the many issues of that approach. Fortunately, the majority of the levels are fully designed with optional randomly generated dungeons for those that want them. This, when combined with an almost Metroidvania approach, due to jumping requiring an item that you need to buy, makes exploration feel more designed and curated than I was expecting.
As well as venturing forth and destroying those that stand in your way, you can collect a secondary currency in the form of dog biscuits. These let you rebuild the village around the main magic hub. This can take time and is one of the more grinding aspects of the game. With this in mind, I will stress that rebuilding the comic store in the central hub should be your first priority. Doing so unlocks an item that will open up your paths considerably. Aside from that, you can freely choose which buildings to fix up as they all offer something in reward. The dog biscuit currency is also used to recruit extra hidden characters, which did lead to some frustration as I didn’t have enough in reserve when I found them and will now have to retrace my steps if I want to go for the Platinum trophy.