In the golden days of the arcade, a slew of puzzle games came by the dozen; Puyo Puyo, Puzzle Bobble, Super Puzzle Fighter, and Magical Drop to name a few. Even Nintendo had a taste for it with Dr. Mario. Now revived from the ashes comes Magical Drop V, a true sequel from Ignition and Golgoth studios. Thanks to their efforts, the series is rescued from the annals of time. At the current moment the game is currently out for the PC on Steam which is the version I’ll be reviewing today:
Magical Drop is a puzzle game in which players pick up colored balloons from the top of the screen and shoots them back up in order to clear them. The game’s default controls are extremely simple, moving your little helper left and right to position yourself. Match up at least three of the same color in a vertical line and watch it disappear. Like any head to head puzzle game, chaining together consecutive clears allows you to send dead balls to litter their screen and wreak havoc on them. A match is won by either clearing a set quota of balloons, or a player loses when the balloons reach the bottom of the screen. An extra ability that sets Magical Drop away from other puzzle games is it lets you add more rows to your own pile. With practice, caution, and some planning, you can devise some devastating tricks.
For a new update in a long forgotten series, I was disappointed at the lack of single player options, which consists of a simplistic story that takes you through 10 stages. Despite what difficulty you picked at the beginning of the game, the story CPUs can varied between easily beatable to hair-raising difficult. This can either be plain frustrating when trying to advance to the next stage. Clearing a story mode gets you that respective character’s ending and gallery. Gone are the survival mode, the challenge mode (which is really what story mode is), and the adventure mode from MD3. This is as barebone as you can get.
The biggest addition to the series is an online multiplayer which pits you and up to 3 other friends in either 2v2 or Free-for-All style mayhem. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to play against any human opponents as the matchmaking seems to be a ghost town at the time of this review. There are standard quick matches and custom settings. I even created a public lobby, but no one showed up for 20 minutes. Again, it’s a very barebone online component, but I have yet to test out this significant part of the game. Fortunately, I invited a few friends to play locally and it was certainly a throwback to the past. It is fast, frantic, and at the same time nostalgic.
With all the redrawn characters, HD resolutions, and familiar characters, the biggest gripe I had with the game was its lackluster and dry presentation. Despite the bigger resolution, everything feels lifeless and lacking in personality. Magical Drop 3 was all about fast and busy, where as MD5 feels empty especially in matches where there are so much empty space left utilized. The character portraits and animation pales in comparison to the wonderful spritework seen in its arcade days. The epic orchestral pieces that permeate the backgrounds are out of place in such a lighthearted game. Probably the coolest edition to the game is in fact from another game. Bruce, a character from a previously unreleased Data East game Ghostlop, is included as a playable character in MD5. Instead of shooting balloons, his stage is a PuzzleBobble-meets-Ikaruga where you shoot up either red or blue balls to pop its respective color. Unfortunately in terms of character balance, Bruce feels wildly over powered against another player playing standard Magical Drop.
As much as I really wanted to like Magical Drop V, it’s a setback for the series and while it looks shinier and cleaner, there is a distinct lack of energy in the game. The difficulty ramps between piece of cake to losing even under the best games you played. Those looking to play a fun puzzler can start here and the charm of the series is somewhat intact, but its soul seems to be still suck somewhere between the 90s and today. The core gameplay is still there and is as great as ever, but everything else from visuals to audio seem to be unfitting. Just make sure you have friends to play with to experience it.