DS Review

Feel the Magic

Ben toys with this DS debutant

It's lovely when a new piece of hardware launches. It's always very exciting, so when two launch together that excitement is twofold. An unfortunate side effect of such an event however is that you get a lot of "this console is better than that one" fanboy nonsense appear on net forums. I'm unable to tolerate most of it but occasionally the odd thought of interest crops up. One of the more interesting angles to materialise from the recent DS vs. PSP debate was that which questioned Sony's understanding of the handheld market. After all, Nintendo created the market whilst Sony are new to the scene, noobs so to speak. Still though, once the same could be said of the console market so be wary of underestimating Sony!

Don't forget either though that the DS might be inferior in terms of raw power but the Gameboy saw off many a competitor in its lifetime thanks to Nintendo's grasp of the fundamental differences between the needs of gamers on the move and gamers in front of the TV. One such example of this is the quite fantastic Wario Ware Inc on GBA, a wonderful amalgamation of dozens and dozens of mini-games, ideal for those bus-stop or work-dump moments. It's interesting then that one of the first games to appear on Nintendo's machine is one very much fashioned in the Wario Ware mould - Sega's Feel the Magic.

You could perhaps wonder if Sega do indeed believe that Nintendo make games for "kiddie's" as Feel the Magic can very much be seen as a more mature iteration of Nintendo's franchise. Though as I discussed in a recent article, how can this maturity be defined? Agreed, Nintendo's games are very colourful and very lively but none of them are ever presented subtly. In comparison, Feel the Magic's stylised block-colour 60's-influenced menu screens and cut-scenes instantly feel quite sleek. Mario, Yoshi and co are possibly the single most asexual group of characters to ever grace a video game (Luigi's somewhat camp undertones aside) whilst Feel the Magic focuses its somewhat absurd narrative (which is often frankly surreal) on a young man's pursuit of a very shapely potential-girlfriend. But again, is this necessarily more mature? Feel the Magic's games may not feature the cartoony childish stylings of those found in Wario Ware, but then the games in Sega's title are nowhere near as sophisticated, as addictive or as wonderfully designed. What sounds more mature to you?

Still though it is very unfair to criticise Feel the Magic before even mentioning the virtues, as in fact it is a very solid game. It doesn't attempt to be as swift and instantly gratuitous as Wario Ware and instead chooses to ease you (or delay you, depending on how you look at it) into each scenario with some wonderfully programmed animated cut scenes. The games themselves are also each slightly longer, though like Wario Ware's boss-battles each game comes in several phases, each of increasing difficulty. It's important for Nintendo to showcase the DS's technological innovations from the off and Feel the Magic is an ideal title for such a cause. Lucky then that there are times when you'll be delightfully amazed by what Sega has come up with.

The games themselves are reasonably varied though after all of the promise offered by the DS's technology there are times when things can seem a little unadventurous. Though saying that, up to now literally all of games you've played have used a joypad or keyboard, so even just the chance to sample something new is always enjoyable, especially when on the whole it's very well executed. One level that struck me in particular involved moving a yacht across the sea to save a stranded girl. You do so by blowing into the microphone and I was amazed by the accuracy with which the DS picked up on extremely subtle variations in the strength of my breath, allowing for a truly amazing level of control.

In the vast majority of games though you'll be using the stylus and screen and nearly all of the games are well designed and very playable. Moments like the bus-stop bowling, heart painting and parachute maths are really quite excellent and I was happy to replay them over and over just to pass a few minutes. Though the vast majority of the time you'll simply be tapping and rubbing the screen in various assorted manners, things rarely feel stale, though this can at least be attributed to the short length of the title. Once you've completed a level in Story mode the said game then becomes available in the freeplay mode, allowing you to return freely to your preferred games.

Of course though, as well as the ones you'll play over and over there are also some that are more easily forgotten, as well as those that even frustrate a little. One game in particular requires you to battle some sort of Triffid-like monster by avoiding its attacks and burning its arms (I told you it could be a tad surreal). You can see what the developers were trying to do but in reality they should also have realised that it doesn't quite work. Not only does the accuracy of your movement seem a little questionable in this instance, but the game itself simply isn't really that fun. Also disappointing is the extremely repetitive music that goes on and on and on and on. It's not too bad for the first few minutes of each session but very quickly you'll be turning the volume down through fear of suicide or self-inflicted head trauma. There are times too when graphically things are simply dreadful. What makes it all the more disappointing is that the game is so well presented; the graphical style instantly reminds you that the GBA is now old fashioned, that technology has moved on. The combined 2D and 3D visuals used in-game are often normally very well executed. It therefore stands out even more when some levels employ horribly basic stick-man-like graphics more akin to the Spectrum than the N64. Granted, some graphical compromises have to be made to allow for accurate touch control, but at times the game is plainly hideous.

I guess the main criticism though is that there simply isn't enough of it. You almost get the impression that Sonic Team ran out of ideas toward the end, so they repeated some of the boss battles again and then went home. Also, as much as the use of the stylus and mic is lots of fun, I never felt the same compulsion to return as I did with Wario Ware and the truth is that if I had that in the front cartridge slot of my DS I would probably play that instead. Feel the Magic is good and nearly always enjoyable but rarely is it exceptional. You'll like more than you don't but at the same time when you've finished you'll look back and fail to recall as many standout moments as you'd have hoped for. So, whilst it's not exactly a missed opportunity as such, as at times it's really very good, you can never escape the feeling that as a whole it could have been pushed just that bit further and as a result it never truly achieves its full potential.

E3 Trailer