Bad games typically fall into one of two categories. Many are bad because they're mechanically awkward or otherwise deeply flawed in terms of controls, making them frustrating to play. The second category is much rarer. These games are poorly conceived but otherwise inoffensive with regard to gameplay, often rendering them inept in an endearing sort of way.
Magus, exclusive to PS3, neatly falls into the latter category, offering up tons of unintentional laughs at the expense of its boneheaded writing and simplistic gameplay. It's a rare gem of a game that manages to be immensely entertaining despite having no obvious redeeming qualities whatsoever. Magus stars an imprisoned god of the same name, whose defining physical characteristics boil down to "bald white guy." After breaking out of jail, he blunders through a vaguely defined quest for power, often spouting the sort of profanity that you wouldn't normally expect from an all-powerful deity. Players shape Magus' personality to an extent during the game's many branching dialogue sequences – basically, you can decide whether he's a regular jerk or a huge jerk who taunts his enemies and belittles his friends – but none of these choices have any bearing on the story, making it a pointless exercise.
Magus' endless dialogue and rudimentary stat-tweaking elements give an illusion of depth, but the facade melts away immediately once you enter combat for the first time. At its heart, Magus is a barebones third-person shooter. In addition to a set of unlimited-ammo ranged attacks, players have access to special skills and elemental-themed abilities across multiple mana types and cooldown periods. Ideally, the resulting gameplay would mix Torchlight's refined dungeon crawling with Gauntlet's arcade action. Instead, it's more like Skyrim with a head injury, with gameplay that attempts to incorporate several good ideas but executes them poorly in every regard.
The vast majority of enemy encounters in Magus are so simple that your default ranged fireball attack is more than capable of carrying you through any challenges you face. Enemies materialize in clumps at pre-set points within each level. Often, your first indication that you're in danger arrives when a lizardman teleports into the scene or falls from the sky and lands on your head – Magus' uniquely blunt way of telling you that combat is about to begin.
During each battle, most enemies will charge directly toward you in an attempt to bludgeon you to death. After picking off any snipers in the area, you can win every single battle in the game by corralling the remaining enemies and circle-strafing them with your default weapon. There is no variation whatsoever in these encounters, and combat plays out in exactly the same way from the first ten minutes of gameplay up until the final boss.
Magus might sidestep its monotony if you could skip these fights, but often your progress is blocked until you clear out every enemy in a specific area. This leads to awkward moments in which the gate to the next area refuses to open, despite there being no enemies in sight. In these situations, the cause can always be traced back to a stray enemy that got stuck on the level geometry. Once you backtrack far enough and kill the last remaining monster – probably flailing around with its leg caught in a tree trunk – you're free to continue to the next dull encounter.
As if the combat wasn't basic enough, an overpowered helper character accompanies Magus throughout his journey. Recent games like The Last of Us and BioShock Infinite have partner characters who serve important supplementary roles, providing you with resources or helping out in a pinch. Magus takes the trend one step further by letting its partner character play the game for you. Magus' helper Kinna is invulnerable, unstoppable, and completely AI-controlled, and she will gladly slice through entire levels while you kick back and watch her do all the work.
Here are just a few of my favorite parts of Magus:
· The "Dragonbone" suit of armor, which makes your character look like a giant chicken, complete with oversized claw booties. Pair this with a stately crown and you've got the most ridiculous-looking protagonist in the history of video games.
· The dialogue, which includes gems like "Why don't I use these godly powers to get us out of this shithole?" and "I come with orders from the king: Die."
· The "Speed" skill, which speeds up Magus' animation to such a ridiculous extent that it turns every level into a Benny Hill episode. Seriously, once you see it in action, your brain will automatically start looping "Yakety Sax" in response.
· The Mines area boss, a portly slave master who clipped through a background object, causing him to levitate helplessly in mid-air for the entire battle. I stood underneath him and unloaded magical fire into his crotch until he was dead.
· The unicorn enemies, who stand on their hind legs and emit unsettling grunts that sound exactly like someone cupping their hands in front of their mouth and making a horse-like noise into a microphone.
· The final level, which is literally a giant circle filled with repeated rock textures and hundreds of spawning enemies. You loop around it once, then climb a spiral staircase to the next floor. Then you do it again. And again. Once you reach the top floor, you fight the final boss. Then you're allowed to choose one of two short, anticlimactic endings.
Unlike Deadly Premonition, Earth Defense Force 2025, or other games that hide genuine depth behind an awkward presentation, Magus has no hidden quality, charm or saving grace. It's entirely witless, and none of its mechanics strive for anything beyond mediocrity. Despite its issues, though, Magus is surprisingly breezy to play. No matter which difficulty setting you choose, you'll have no trouble plowing through its challenges, and you'll reach the ending in just a few hours. While other bad games become too frustrating to finish, Magus is accommodating in its monotony. You can earn its Platinum trophy in an afternoon, with plenty of daylight to spare.
Still, I can't in good conscience recommend Magus at its galling retail price of $29.99. For under $10, it could be a solid way to entertain some like-minded (and hopefully non-sober) friends for an evening. Magus is a work of unintentional comic genius, but that's about all it has going for it.
This review is based on a PSN download Magus, provided by Aksys Games. Images: Aksys Games.
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