Sunday, November 6, 2011


NEC Home Electronics / HUNEX / Human
Super CD-ROM

Magicoal appears to be an action-RPG in the Zelda vein, but rather than having players go around slashing things to pieces, it has them employ a myriad of magical powers to complete various tasks. Indeed, while blade wielding has its place in the playable characters' skill sets, the game's hack-and-slash mechanics are somewhat lacking, and approaching missions with the mentality that enemies must be carved up will lead to a very clunky experience. You'll enjoy far more success and have a great deal more fun if you set about eliminating your foes via magical means: call on gigantic claws to emerge from the turf, summon elemental spirits to turn the tide of battle, and sic relentless fire dragons on your hapless adversaries.

The misfit spellcasters who take center stage here don't begin their journey as masters of magic. You must be vigilant to acquire knowledge of the most effective spells. Make sure to scour every nook and cranny of each town and cave you come across, and don't allow any NPCs to scuttle off before they've conversed with both of the gregarious protagonists. Incantations the heroes learn are documented and explained in a "book" you may peruse at your convenience.

While you'll need to do plenty of exploring and experimenting in order to fill out your spell tome, the quest itself is fairly linear. Your two-wizard caravan (each member of which can be controlled by a separate player) travels from one (usually mazelike) area to the next. Even if you're unable to read Japanese, only a few zones will prove difficult to get through, with the simple solution to any given conundrum often being to examine every inch of wall for the sake of stumbling upon "secrets," be they obscured entryways or buried trinkets. Be aware that an underground waterway will stand as an exit-less tomb unless you think to destroy two seemingly purposeless statues, and a certain bumbling young sorcerer will refuse to be of any assistance to you unless Melvy (the female member of your duo) has in her possession a particular item at precisely the right time. Maintaining amiable relations with your characters' newfound acquaintances is essential for making headway in some sections.

Even if you tackle the game without another player's assistance, both wizards will be at your command and ever available for you to switch between. While Magicoal manages to avoid devolving into a nigh-unplayable dual-character absurdity a la NES X-Men, you'll often notice your computer-controlled ally acting like an idiot (standing in place while firing at a beast on the other side of a wall or stumbling face first into attacks unleashed by enemy creatures) if left to his or her own designs. Some boss fights can be arduous experiences if your dimwitted companion sabotages your efforts by blundering around.

While its gameplay is anything but refined, Magicoal is an appealing game aesthetically. Its visuals are bright and colorful, and its music calls to mind the brilliant Emerald Dragon soundtrack at times. Its many cinemas frequently offset mediocre character sketches with chuckle-eliciting skits.

Be prepared for some trying times if you have a go at Magicoal sans the aid of another player. But there really is a lot to like about it, and its makers clearly put a great deal of heart and effort into their creation.

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