Review by bluej33

"A fun albeit short-lived puzzler that is often overshadowed by its more popular competitors"

If you asked me to name a single genre that was most improved because of the DS, I'd most likely answer the puzzle genre. It's debatable, I suppose, as a number of classic genres have been improved and a few new subgenres created, but the puzzle genre really has received a breath of fresh air thanks to the innovations provided by the DS. The touch screen, in particular, has allowed a reinvigoration of game mechanics that previously had grown old and stale. One such innovative game is Magnetica, and while it may have been overshadowed by its more popular brethren such as Meteos and Tetris DS, it's a fun game that deserves checking-out if you're a puzzle fan.

The premise of Magnetica is genuinely creative. It does not involve blocks of any sort -- in fact, there are no four-sided items with which you can interact in this game! Instead, you'll deal with circles -- marbles, actually. When three or more like-colored marbles come into contact, they'll spontaneously disappear. Marbles will proceed along a path and it's your job to take control of a marble launcher to get fling marbles to get three-of-a-kinds to get rid of all the marbles. This is done using the touch screen and it works quite well -- there only problem with accuracy (or lack thereof) lies with your own skill at flinging the marbles around. There's a sense of urgency to this, though: if any marbles reach the end of the line, you'll lose. It is by keeping the marbles out of this hole that you'll beat “levels”, and this is likely the mode of play with which you'll spend most of your time.

There a three main game modes, however. The first is Quest, in which you'll proceed through quite a few levels to ultimately beat the game -- there's no plot of any sort, however. I've already described the basic gameplay mechanic, but it gets considerably more complex than this. The game adds some twists to the basic implementation that really keeps things from getting boring. For example, it'll add more colors of marbles making it more difficult to line them up, add multiple marble launchers, varying paths for the marbles to take, plus a number of power-ups. These will fiddle with time, in general, allowing you to slow down or even stop the flow of marbles to help keep things under control.

This is all fairly interesting and fun, but you're not going to get anywhere by simply lining up three marbles at a time. As you progress through Quest, the “levels” get quite difficult. For example, the path will cross over itself or spin around, making it more challenging to hit the marbles you want to and sometimes even trapping yourself. To take big chunks out of the marble supply, you're going to have to set up some combos. See, there's another principle that I've so far neglected to mention: like-colored marbles are magnetically attracted to each other. So if there's some open space between two red marbles, they'll immediately come together.

So, you can naturally use this to your advantage and create these insanely long chains of vanishing marbles. The trick is to set it up, however. You begin by deciding on your central group of marbles, then begin by setting up marbles on either side of that middle set. Then, when everything's ready, you launch the correctly-colored marble at the middle pair. They disappear and, if you've done everything correctly, cause a chain reaction of vanishing marbles. It's really fun and satisfying and the game screen can get quite hectic. However, there's also some strategy to this: in later levels it becomes critical to your success to set up these chains. But if you wait too long, you'll probably end up trapping yourself. And when marbles start coming faster and faster in later levels, you'll find it very hard to dig yourself out of a whole.

The Quest mode is probably the most engaging and entertaining part of Magnetica, but there are some other fun features to play around with as well. There's a Challenge mode which essentially throws you a never-ending stream of marbles and you're left to try and achieve high scores. This mode is fun for those who've beaten the Quest and aren't finding a lot to do with the game any longer. But better than that, in my opinion, is the Puzzle mode. It takes a very different approach than Quest and rather than focusing on quick action and spur-of-the-moment decisions, it challenges you to think things through and set up really complex combos. You're given a short strand of marbles and a limited amount of marbles in your launcher. Your task is then to get rid of all the marbles in the string using only the marbles in your launcher. It's easy early on but later you have to think very creatively and try out some strategies that may seem like they wouldn't work. It's a lot of fun and contrasts nicely with the hectic action of Quest mode.

Graphically, Magnetica is unimpressive, though no more so than you'd expect any other puzzle game. It's hard to mess up colorful moving magnetic marbles, and the developers haven't done so. The music and sound effects are similarly bland, which is slightly more of a disappointment. That said, the game's presentation is top notch -- menus are crisp, clean, and easy to navigate. Additionally, the dev team has done a really great job of making these marbles just the right size. Maybe this is just because my DS Lite is getting a little worn down and confused, but with games like Meteos it's sometimes tough to grab the block I'm looking for. Such a problem is nonexistent in Magnetica, however.

Magnetica's biggest shortcoming is just the fact that there's not as much replay value here as there is in most quality puzzle titles. Quest mode spans very many levels and the puzzles are a great way to spend some time, but after you complete those there's not a lot to come back to. There's no free play mode, which would have been nice (though you can replay Quest levels as much as you'd like), and challenge mode loses its appeal after a while. The game's fun basically relies on the different “maps” you play on, as each map is going to require a slightly different strategy. There was great potential here for a level editor or even downloadable maps, but sadly Magnetica was released fairly early on in the DS' lifetime and such implementations were basically unheard of.

That said, it's still a fun game. If you're a hardcore puzzle fan, you should definitely pick this one up to go along with such games as Tetris DS, Meteos, Planet Puzzle League, and Puzzle Quest. It's not quite as good as any of those games, but it's still fun and innovative and offers a break from the traditional puzzle game mechanic. It suffers a bit on the value side of things, but if you can find it used or just discounted, I'd strongly consider picking it up. It's a fun game and while it's not quite worth 30 bucks, there's still a lot of puzzling excitement to be had.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 04/21/08

Game Release: Magnetica (US, 06/05/06)

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