Kingdom O' Magic
Kingdom O' Magic is a point-and-click graphic adventure for the humorous at heart. Playing as Sidney the Snakeman or Shah-Ron, you journey to more than 100 locations in this RPG-style game, tickling your funny bone as you converse with more than 90 characters. The gameplay and quests vary depending on the character you play.
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What impresses first about GT Interactive's Kingdom O' Magic is its complexity. When I say "complexity" I don't mean the difficulty of the game, the demands it makes on players. Those, in many respects, are no more than other adventure games. I don't mean the intricacy of the controls, the keystrokes and mouse points required to move the game's characters through their world; control of this game is simple. You simply move your cursor -- in the shape of a hand -- from one place to another and click.
When I say "complexity," what I mean is this: as I write this I find myself conscious of a desire to do right by Thidney the Lizard Bloke -- he seems real to me -- to convey to you the charm and humor of Shah-Ron the Girly, to make you understand the thrill inherent in discovering that King Afro has the toilet paper!!
Kingdom O' Magic's strength lies in the fact that it is unlike any other adventure game currently available and yet it's no different. (Or perhaps its strength is that it leads reviewers to speak in paradoxes.)
All the stock elements from the countless fantasy adventures that have preceded it are present in Kingdom O' Magic. Action occurs in a strange Middle-Earthlike Kingdom where gorgons, Orcs, ringwraiths, elves and giant spiders are commonplace. Gameplay centers around three quests, each of which requires players to wander through the Kingdom as either the seven-foot lizard Thidney or the proud-bosomed girly warrior Shah-Ron, engaging in glorified scavenger hunts. The quest structure is not new. In fact it's quite old; folks of various lineage have been questing in the Western imagination for at least 1200 years, ever since someone figured out how to spell "Beowulf" and wrote down his story. Since then we've enjoyed and/or endured Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tolkien's Hobbit stories, Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and '80s, and finally, Beavis and Butt-head's Virtual Stupidity.
So the case could be made that to direct your energies into creating another adventure game, another quest story, means embracing a format that while innovative and stunning in the 8th century, has descended since then to the level of cliche. And if you were talking about any game other than Kingdom O' Magic, I would agree with you.
But Kingdom O' Magic finds success not despite the fact that the fantasy adventure format has become a cliche, but precisely because of that fact. SCI acknowledges the stale elements of its chosen format by exploding them whenever possible, and turning them savagely on their ears when explosives are not available.
I convinced a dwarf to join my gang by winning a disco contest ... I thwarted a ringwraith's threatening advance by telling him to "sniff off" ... I was killed by a gingerbread man.
All of this carries me again to the idea of complexity. I am attracted first to the elements of Kingdom O' Magic that make it a parody of the fantasy adventure format. The elements are there, without a doubt, and they're brilliantly done. But to lock onto that aspect of the game alone would be unfair. There's so much more to it. What makes Kingdom O' Magic rich, complex, what gives it its instant staying power, is the game's focus on character and story. Kingdom O' Magic is done well enough that the game would stand on its own even if there were no other quest games around needing parodying. Characters in Kingdom O' Magic are real, equipped with all possible dimension -- that is, they possess personality; none is reduced to being a mere vehicle to move the action forward. Very few of the characters are predictable; most are surprising each time you approach them. If you don't believe me, watch for the pixie when you play. Approach. Talk to the pixie. I'll say little more, except to assure you that the pixie will defy your expectations.
This focus on characters means that Kingdom O' Magic sometimes resembles a book, a carefully crafted novel, more than it does a CD-ROM-based game. This also means that I played the game for almost a week before I felt the need to begin actively working on fulfilling the obligations of my quest. I was running around bumping into other characters for the sheer entertainment value of listening to what they said. In a supreme moment of triumph I pushed the Water Elemental too far with my incessant questions and was rebuffed. I was, the Elemental told me, "monumentally annoying."
Coupled with this focus on character comes an emphasis on conversation. Not simple dialogue, but real conversation, exchange between two or more distinct personalities. Kingdom O' Magic obviously sprung from minds that like words -- which is to say these characters love to talk and they do it a lot. It would be easy to overlook the importance of the talking in Kingdom O' Magic, to dismiss it as window dressing or a device designed just to assure you that your money was not wasted on those big pretty speakers on your desk. But understanding the nature of the conversation can be essential to your success in the Kingdom O' Magic. There are times when your skill at conversation can be as important as your skill wielding a sword. Many times your ability to choose the right words can spell the difference between triumph and a quick exit to the "game over" screen.
Perhaps more than anything, it is the almost endless flow of conversation that creates the sense of complexity, the sense that the Kingdom O' Magic could be a real place, and the characters living inhabitants of the place. The subtle use of conversation to drive the game's action results in a blurring of the line between game and story; you may accurately consider Kingdom O' Magic as an interactive story, not just a game. A case in point: notably absent from Kingdom O' Magic is any structured, systematic approach to hints. Instead, hints to your next move, to the location of some juicy necessity, are woven into the conversations that occur between characters. As in our own lives, no one is handing you any information in Kingdom O' Magic. This makes moments of confusion, perhaps some moments of frustration, but in the end it's worth it because this structure also makes for an entertaining, engaging story.
SCI is quick to pat itself on the back for its use of conversation as the method of revelation in Kingdom O' Magic: "It allows," they say, "relationships with characters to develop over a number of separate conversations and leaves a lot of material hidden for you to discover on subsequent visits to the game." I compare other methods of character interaction that I have encountered with SCI's approach in Kingdom O' Magic and I can't argue with them. It's important to note that while they say that the use of conversation leaves things hidden, there is no self-conscious, obvious hiding of material, no blinking alert that "Hey, everybody, here's something hidden" as there is in some games. Absent are those annoying instances of characters uttering cryptic, obviously loaded phrases and then skittering offscreen.
Paragraphs O' the Mundane
(aka Installation & Setup)
So, all is well with Kingdom O' Magic, nothing clunks, nothing makes itself objectionable?
Unfortunately, no. Even Kingdom O' Magic is not perfect. The game will not function in Windows 95. Now I am not unaware of the firestorm I may potentially unleash with a complaint like that.
There are probably some among you who will anoint Kingdom O' Magic precisely because it resists Windows 95, those of you who believe that Microsoft's operating system is evil, that it's a tool in Bill Gates' attempt to own the world by the time he's 50. And I'm not here to tell you you're wrong. Others will simply want to tell me that I'm stupid. I'm not saying they're wrong, either. What I will tell you is that I possess little technical savvy and Windows 95 has been a tremendous aid in leading me into the world of computer gaming, as I suspect it has been for many others as well. Kingdom O' Magic could not find my sound card during setup, nor could it find my mouse until I reinstalled it, and once I got the game to recognize my sound card in DOS, Windows 95 then couldn't find the card. SCI says that Kingdom O' Magic probably should work in the Windows 95 DOS window, but they make no promises. But I will: I tried to run the game in the Win 95 DOS window and it didn't work, and it probably won't for you either.
Therefore, if you're like me, leaning heavily on the Windows 95 crutch, Kingdom O' Magic may cause you some initial frustration. It's a little like very hot salsa in a way: terrifically enjoyable, but it can really shake up your system.
As with most of the other elements in Kingdom O' Magic, I was impressed with the graphics. The entire game unfolds through 3D animations; no live actors appear. You won't miss them. Graphics, particularly close-ups, are intricate and obviously carefully done. Characters do tend to move stiffly at times, and with some limitations to their flexibility they are not always fluid. But those limitations are nearly always overshadowed by the strength of the character's personalities.
Requires DOS 5.0 or higher, 486 DX33 with 8 MB RAM minimum, 2X CD-ROM drive or better, 10 MB free hard drive space, GA graphics, SoundBlaster and 100% compatible sound cards, mouse
Macintosh: Macintosh version available in autumn '96 according to manufacturer
In the end, whether you enjoy Kingdom O' Magic or not may be a function of your personality. The game is subtle in its use of conversations to drive the action, but the characters themselves are anything but subtle. Most of them are brash and vulgar and refreshingly dysfunctional in one way or another. I tend to enjoy that humor, the theater of the bizarre. Monty Python. There is a decided Python-esque quality to some of the elements in this game. That is not to say, though, that Kingdom O' Magic pirates from the Flying Circus. Instead, I would say that they share the same sense of humor; if you share it as well, you'll find a lot to enjoy in Kingdom O' Magic.
But an appreciation of Monty Python is not prerequisite to a pleasing experience in the Kingdom O' Magic. This game, it is fair to say, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good story. If I may end with an anecdote, one I think illustrates just how intriguing Kingdom O' Magic can be: I have been playing video games for years now and my wife has always tolerated the games, but has never been interested in any of them. Until now. Now she can't get the Kingdom O' Magic theme song out of her head (it's quite catchy, lots of brass, good beat) and it is she who is leading our quest after the Lost Lava Lamp of the Ancients. Take my word for it, that's high praise.