Sunday, February 07, 2010

Magnetis Review

Magnetis, developed and published by Yullaby.
The Good: Simple yet distinctive mechanics, planning required for maximum score, satisfactory increase in difficulty, online leaderboards
The Not So Good: No online multiplayer, repetitive
What say you? A unique but limited take on the block puzzle game: 5/8

Magnets are fun! They help us decorate our refrigerators and, uh, magnets are fun! But even more fun would be a computer game involving magnets: that’d be like double the fun. Or something. Magnetis is a puzzle game in the vein of Tetris or Dr. Mario (also known as “a total rip-off of Tetris”), where falling blocks must be matched and matched quickly, or else. Or else what? You do not want to know, my friend. This particular puzzle game was released on the magic white rectangular prism known to laymen as the Wii way back in 2009 C.E., and now it’s the PC’s turn. Should puzzle enthusiasts be drawn to Magnetis, or do opposites, in fact, repel?

Magnetis features simple yet effective graphics. You’re not really looking for outstanding quality with a puzzle game, but you can still make a successful presentation as we have here. Magnetis thrives because of its use of bright, contrasting colors, making it very easy to make matches. The blocks are also large and easy to identify, so the older among us won’t have to squint. The special effects are not that spectacular, and the animated backgrounds work well and aren’t distracting. The music and sound effects fall in line with expectations: generic puzzle music and appropriate indications of on-screen action. Overall, Magnetis provides a functional package.

Magnetis features magnets. Weird, right? In this game, there are left-facing magnets, right-facing magnets, and blocks to place in the middle. The further the magnets are apart when you complete a connection, the more points you earn. The game always gives you two blocks in the center that can be switched in position. You place them by moving the conveyor belt along the bottom of the screen (as opposed to moving the falling blocks themselves). They key to earning a high score is to clear multiple lines at once involving lots of connected blocks.

Difficulty is increased in two ways: by adding more magnet colors and by increasing the falling speed. Both of these make the game harder and require much more planning to make the most effective matches. Magnetis isn’t necessarily difficult (at least until the speed increases significantly), but you do need to be efficient to rack up the best score. To help you out, unconnected blocks will disappear after a while, which tends to eliminate stupid decisions as long as they weren’t made right next to a magnet. Magnetis, like most puzzle games, is repetitive, made worse by the lack of special blocks that would change up the gameplay. All you have is magnets and non-magnets, and the only change you’ll experience is the addition of more colors: not that exciting. The game can be played in the normal mode (go until you die), or with a time or block number limit. Multiplayer features both competitive and cooperative modes for up to four players, but lacks online play. You can play on the same computer, but who’s really going to do that on the PC? A very disappointing limitation. Your single player mode stats are uploaded to a central server and compared against others, but this is a small consolation prize for the lack of real multiplayer action.

Magnetis takes a different take on the puzzle genre and attempts to ride it all the way towards victory, but ultimately the game lacks the long-term interest required to finish the journey. The mechanics are interesting, connecting magnets to remove blocks, and the vibrant display makes it easy to see what’s going on, but the lack of robust features and varied gameplay hurt the overall value of Magnetis. The game would have really been great with online multiplayer, but instead its restricted to a high score list and same-computer competition. In addition, there are no special items: just having magnets and standard blocks gets boring after a while, and it reduces your strategic options. The difficulty is balanced well and ramps up quickly, keeping you on your toes as more colors appear and blocks fall faster, so attaining a high score does require planning, skill, and a little luck. Ultimately, Magnetis only held my interest for a short period of time; for puzzle fans, though, its $5 price tag would likely be justified. I would simply like to see the neat core mechanic coupled with online play and more varied puzzle elements.