Magic and Mayhem: The Art Of Magic
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The gollop brothers (renowned for the X-Com series) took a little stroll off the beaten track with the first Magic And Mayhem game, and the sequel improves on it in almost every way. A mythical fantasy setting, sporadic cutscenes which develop the story, and occasional puzzles all combine to make a highly addictive game which will keep you playing for endless hours.
The Art Of Magic is something of a revelation in that it refuses to play by the normal RTS rules, mixing spellcasting and combat with mildly challenging puzzles to provide an experience like no other. While victory in combat is often determined by the side with the most units on the field (no surprise there then), clever use of the spells you collect along the way can often give you an edge over your opponent. Minor niggles include dodgy Al for computer NPCs (although it's a huge improvement over the original in this department), and collectable items that are often difficult to see.
Other than that, The Art Of Magic is a great example of strong gameplay taking priority over superfluous eye candy, and it's worth your money for that alone, particularly for a measly five pounds. Go and buy it - you know you want to.
Download Magic and Mayhem: The Art Of Magic
Magic & Mayhem, it has to be said, was one of the last games to dump flashy graphics in favour of good old-fashioned gameplay. Cleverly designed levels and tricky puzzles went hand in hand to produce a gameplay experience which was simple yet somehow hugely addictive. You would imagine then, that any follow-up to such a game would be more of the same, with knobs on. That's what you get with Art Of Magic up to a point, although there are noticeable differences. The artwork is a lot more detailed, the graphics are 'proper' 3D, and a new, more ominous music track has replaced the atmospheric yet slightly repetitive score in the first game. The 3D camera is a cinch to use and comes in very handy for spotting those health items and other goodies that are lying around the levels. In short, Art Of Magic is a hell of a lot more polished than Magic & Mayhem.
I Am King Of Goblins
There's obviously a new, if spectacularly unoriginal plot. The Lord Of Chaos has supposedly invaded the land after some do-gooder pops his clogs disturbing the balance of the realms. You play the part of Aurax (yes, that's his name), who sees his father get killed at the start of the game (yawn) and vows to beat people up from there on in in the name of justice. To make things even worse for old Aurax, an evil wizard kidnaps his sister early in the game and runs off to God knows where, leaving Aurax to plod through the realms looking for her. So begins another battle against the evil ones then. It has to be said that the cut-scenes that develop the plot (using the in-game engine) are fairly polished and blend seamlessly with the actual game, which goes some way to making up for the yawnsome storyline.
The entire game, as was the case with the original, revolves around capturing and keeping control of places of power. Places of power that come under your control increase the rate at which you regain mana, which, as any pointy-hatted veteran will attest, is essential for casting spells. There are a set amount of places of power in each level, and more often than not there is an adversary running round the place trying to capture them before you do. In this sense, it's not entirely dissimilar to a realtime strategy game, with both sides building up their units (creatures in this case) and amassing a huge army as quickly as possible, before wading into the opposition. Many of the levels can often be cat-and-mouse affairs with both sides holding equal amounts of places of power, resulting in you and the enemy wizard running all over the place recapturing places you just lost. This can be frustrating. Your creatures are generally not very strong, so even if you have a lot of them you can't kill off the enemy. Most levels are won by simply grabbing as many places of power as possible, luring the enemy wizard to you while you're standing on one of them (mana comes back faster when you stand on a place of power) and blasting the hell out of your foe while he's distracted by your minions. You have to kill them off in one attempt because they regenerate health at a ridiculous rate, and some of them have healing spells too, so weakening them and running off to bring your mana back to full before finishing them off is never an option.
I Walk In Dark Shadows
Not all of the levels involve killing things. There are many levels that involve sneaking around unseen, or even morphing into different creatures so you can move around unnoticed and get an object essential for your level objective. These levels tend to be trial-and-error affairs in which you move around the map (pressing fast-save every now and then) to get used to the layout of the mission and then, when you know where everything is, going through the motions to get hold of the object. Yes, these levels are as boring as they sound, and the game would have been a sight better if they had been left out, but you can't just skip them since completing one level opens up somewhere new on the world map, so you have to do every level to advance. Art Of Magic is not going to win any awards for originality. It's a highly playable game, but it can be a bit repetitive after extended play. Having said that, it's an improvement in terms of presentation over the original title, and the gameplay that made the first game so addictive is still soundly in place. No classic then, but definitely worth a look, particularly if you haven't played the original.
Wave your wand in wonder...
The Portmanteau is basically your spell book. Spell ingredients can be dropped onto the talismans below, and depending which talisman you drop them onto, they make different spells. A wide selection of spells quickly becomes available reasonably early in the game, and before every level you need to decide which ones to bring with you. Obviously, no self-respecting wizard would go anywhere without a healing spell. You'd better bring one of those then, and at least one attack spell, and of course at least one creature-creating spell. Without one of each of these, you will soon become an ex-wizard. Ihist me, been there done it.