"Bring Me Back to the Old Days"
Magical Drop was probably one of the greatest puzzlers back in the day. The now defunct Data East created a stellar series which held its own to Puzzle Bobble (or Bust-a-Move to you westerners). Magical Drop helped popularize the frantic multi-color "bubble" shooting puzzle craze of the 90s. These days, Data East is long gone, but the Magical Drop series continues on. Magical Drop V is the newest release for the series, this time put out by Golgoth Studios, the new acquirers of the Magical Drop license.
So how does MDV hold it up? Well, the aesthetic design of the Magical Drop series is still apparent here as an overdose of bright colors. There are plenty of cutesy anime characters based around the major arcane of the tarot too. The story… well, the story of MDV doesn't really exist nor is it important. In fact, I think there is some sort of a story, but the entire time, amidst the whines and cries of high-pitched Japanese anime voices, I couldn't really tell what was going on, nor do I think was I supposed to…. But who knows… it's a puzzle game… so let's talk more about the gameplay itself.
Magical Drop V pits you against the computer or other players. At the bottom of your screen, you have a little jester guy who runs back and forth sucking down color balls and throwing them back up. The goal is to match colors, make big combos and chain reactions, and to destroy the matching color balls or "drops". This is all very much like Bust-a-Move and not much different from the standard Magical Drop fare. Your opponents, of course, will suffer the consequences of your mad skills, as when you destroy color balls / orbs / bubbles / drops on your screen, they will gain more on theirs. Pretty simple, right? I mean, this is what Magical Drop has always been about.
So why does Magical Drop V feel so off? Well... first, the controls are not the most fluid. In fact, they are downright janky. Playing on the PC, the initial keyboard setup was obtuse and uncomfortable. This game was made for an arcade cabinet, but even if I had hooked up a legit arcade stick to my machine, I doubt it would have improved anything. This is pretty bad, considering the only thing you are doing is moving a jester back and forth and throwing balls. I mean, back in the day, you'd sit at the arcade, playing Magical Drop, using your mad MD skills to impress people. Those Neo Geo cabinets had joysticks and overall everything seemed much more slick. This is an action arcade puzzler we're talking about here, so why not make the controls spot-on?
Unfortunately, the waterfall of fail continues for Magical Drop V. In an era where online play is so important (because the days of playing Magical Drop in the arcade are essentially over… at least in the western world), Magical Drop V has major issues with connecting and finding people with whom to play. It took me days to actually find other players to connect with and challenge. Okay, maybe Magical Drop V isn't the most popular game, but even once I got team play going, it ended abruptly with a connection error.
Once you've exhausted online modes and single-player modes (which more or less means you've grown bored of dealing with the wonkiest, weakest Magical Drop game to date), there are a total of 13 characters, with only 3 needing to be unlocked. Yay.
What boggles my mind most about Magical Drop V is that it seems like they attempted to market it as a throw-away piece of casual gaming software, yet the series has never catered to that type of player. Magical Drop games have always played into the hardcore, dedicated, fast-thinking puzzle gamer. I'm talking about the type of gamer who wants an insane challenge and is continually upping their skills to challenge the toughest CPU modes and players. Why try to weaken the series, dumb it down, or just make it seem like a piece of shovelware when it has such a deep legacy of being a great Japanese puzzler? It might not be the worst thing on the market, but it doesn't feel together.
Still, there can be some enjoyment to be found in Magical Drop V if you just stop thinking too much and push on. Though I'd still rather spend my time figuring out how to get a Neo Geo cabinet in my house to play Magical Drop 3, I suppose there is something to be said for this quick and dirty Steam Magical Drop release.
GameDynamo's Score for Magical Drop V (PC)
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Three things describe Rando: Good beer, good food, and video games. On occasion, Rando flies a zeppelin through time seeking power crystals.
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