Approximate Release Date: August 14, 1992
I would have loved Magic Sword as a kid.
It’s not that Magic Sword is a great game – it’s okay – but it’s interesting. If you look at similar games like Altered Beast or the action stages of ActRaiser, there aren’t many things to do. You jump around, you swing your sword, maybe use some magic, and you have a good time. The quality varies, but Magic Sword has the basics down perfectly.
Magic Sword adheres to that same basic framework but adds some systems on top of it to give itself an identity. You start outside a tower, and need to climb to the very top and I assume kill a very bad guy. The tower is separated into 50 floors, with bosses scattered throughout. As you climb the tower, you can use keys you collect to open prison doors to get items or to recruit followers. These followers have their own health and special qualities and will level up the longer you use them. Even though they had their own health bar, they seemed able to stay out of too much trouble so I never had to worry about them too much.
But the game doesn’t really go anywhere with these ideas. All of these additions feel superficial or half-baked. Magic Sword provides the player with a limited level select feature, which just makes it plain how similar the game on level 1 is to the game on level 33. The enemies are repeating, the bosses are repeating, the people you rescue are repeating, and there aren’t any new obstacles or challenges. Why are there 50 levels to conquer but only 20 levels worth of ideas? The game feels very rushed, and the awful framerate when large groups or translucent enemies are on-screen only adds to that notion.
But the biggest issue I have with these kinds of games, which Magic Sword doesn’t attempt to rectify, is when you have a game where all the non-boss enemies die to one standard attack the game becomes dull at a certain point. It’s hard to make interesting enemy encounters when the player can cut everything down in one swing. And as a player, I’m unlikely to use any consumable items or special attacks because I want to save them for the bosses. Will I use them on the boss? I’m just as likely to forget those options exist.
But to complain too much about this is tearing Magic Sword down because it doesn’t fit the modern standards of good or desired game design rather than talking about what the game actually does or doesn’t do well. Capcom clearly tried to elevate this game above other games of its type, and whether it worked as well as it intended isn’t totally relevant. After all, sometimes an interesting try is better than a boring success.
Tomorrow: Cowabunga! It’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time time!