The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is a console port of the original which released on PC in July last year. You’d be forgiven if you haven’t heard of it as it had no marketing and only sold 16,000 copies as of March 2016. It’s easily the most ‘meta’ game I’ve ever played, designed as a satire of game development and the gaming industry as a whole. The premise of The Magic Circle is that you’re within a game stuck in development hell, and have to wrestle development of the game away from its three developers, all of which have a different vision for the game.
There are humorous moments throughout The Magic Circle, it is intended to be a satire after all, but these moments are a bit too sparse. It is fun to hear the developers argue as you trundle through their world. But the cutscenes lose their charm as they drag on, and while they deliver some valid criticism of the industry, it can feel contrived at points. The longest cutscene has one character actually beg you to skip it. Which I chose not to do, just out of spite. At least the voice-acting is decent, as the cast is small but experienced, including Stephen Russell, who most would recognise as Nick Valentine from Fallout 4, and Ashly Burch from Life is Strange.
But even Stephen Russell has trouble with some of his lines as Old Pro, the character guiding you through the game. Early on, he states that the players needs to “ghost the Sky Bastards.” Even in context the line struck me as weird and confusing, and in a game that attempts to explain a lot of the mechanics all at once, you’d hope they would be clearer.
The Magic Circle’s gameplay is where it gets really interesting, once you’re able to figure it out. Combat requires you to trap enemies and ‘edit’ them to fight for you, like Pokémon. Editing allows you to change what they fight for and against, and what weapon or powers they have. There’s nothing quite like making your first fanged mushroom called ‘Milly.’ Editing creatures is confusing at first, but once you figure it out it allows for a lot of creativity, as there’s so many different combination. It’s an oddly rewarding experience to lead an army of sci-fi mushrooms, floating heads, and fire-breathing rocks. Plus it’s the only game where I accidentally released an alien parasite that killed off my minions one by one.
The puzzles are often challenging, but can be solved a variety of ways. One puzzle required jumping over a lava pit, and to pass I created two teleporters, threw one over the gap, and walked through it safely. But if I hadn’t found the teleporter upgrade I could have used my creatures as stepping stones or figured out something entirely different. My only issue with the puzzles is that many could be solved or bypassed once you find the flying upgrade. It can only be obtained in a hidden area, but if you find it too early, the game becomes too easy.
Most of the game takes place in an ‘unfinished’ open world, transitioning from a sketch-book fantasy environment to retro 8-bit sci-fi. The Magic Circle’s environments aren’t the most graphically impressive, but they are unique and fun to explore. You could blast through the game in a few hours, but I felt compelled to explore every corner of the world. The game even rewards players for breaking out of the map, something that I’ve missed in today’s ‘RETURN TO THE BATTLEFIELD’ era.
Gold Edition certainly feels like a console port. Aiming feels a little clunky on the thumbsticks, and navigating the menus is done with either the thumbstick or the d-pad, never both. I would pause the game and select ‘Options’ using the thumbstick, and then have to use the d-pad once in the options menu. It’s a small thing, but left me feeling frustrated every time it happened. The game also crashed a couple of times, but I decided that was just part of the meta experience.
The Magic Circle: Gold Edition doesn’t achieve everything it sets out to do. But I don’t regret my time with it. It’s been a while since I’ve played a quirky game, and The Magic Circle is quirks within quirks within quirks.