Magical Drop V: Unlikely, unpolished, still very fun

November 15, 2012

Magical Drop is the quintessential Japanese puzzle game. Only showing up in rare instances in the late ’90s in the U.S., and largely earning its following in arcades, it earns its success with its frantic pace and competitive tactics. After years of relative dormancy (even in Japan), we get a follow-up. Developed by French studio Golgoth. For the PC.


There’s a lot more about Magical Drop V that’s peculiar, to be sure. The same core Magical Drop gameplay is here, as are all the old characters (for those who know them), but what’s special here are the four-player head-to-head and team modes, the online competition and the integration of a completely different game you can play while competing against Magical Drop players.

Be warned: the game has its share of bugs, unfortunate given how long it’s been waiting to see the light of day. When we first launched it, it defaulted to German text, and was only navigable with a WASD control scheme in which we couldn’t go up or left. So… there’s that. Hopefully that isn’t something everyone has to experience (or is patched quickly), but, you know, be prepared for buttons to not work occasionally or for the game to freeze up at load screens. Also, the translation is really the worst, and not exactly in an endearing way. The awkwardly-worded character chat between matches is harmless, but for tutorials and menu options, it really needs to be clearer.

The story, as always, is punishing. If you haven’t played the game before, play on Easy. And prepare to lose a lot there, too. The mechanics are simple: you use a button to pull down gems of one color, as many as you’d like, and another button to throw them back upward. Lining up three of one color vertically removes them, and any other gems of that color that touch. It’s this touching mechanic that lets you create chain reactions, the key to taking down an opponent. That said, there’s not a lot of strategy in the game; you have to move too fast and do anything you can to stand a chance.

Magical Drop V‘s new modes are what make this release better than, say, the (recently-delisted) PS1 Classics release of Magical Drop F. Two-player puzzle games are too common to really notice, but four-player mode makes it a much more viable party game option. It’s even more frantic here, but there’s a certain degree of “we’re just having fun” to four-player that isn’t really the case head-to-head. More intriguing, though, is the co-op functionality, letting two share a wider field and both move around grabbing and throwing. It buys you just a bit of time to actually strategize and split up duties in a meaningful way, and practicing as a team can be very rewarding.

The Magical Drop community is dedicated and very competitive, so the addition of online play and leaderboards is crucial. We weren’t able to connect too often before release, but we didn’t notice any rough lag issues that would drag down the experience. The leaderboards are also great, because taking down the not-a-cupcake A.I. with flair takes some serious skill and the fight at the top of the charts should be heated.

The most interesting element of this release is the inclusion of Ghostlop, an unreleased Data East arcade game that’s best described as a cross between BreakoutBust-a-Move and Ikaruga. You hit a button to throw a ball up at a formation of red and blue gems, and another button to switch your ball’s color between blue and red. If you’re the same color, you get rid of the gem, and if you’re not, you bounce off. (There are also gray gems that take two hits of any color.) If you don’t catch the ball at the bottom, it keeps bouncing, but triggers another row to appear at the top.

It’s a fun game, and definitely worth playing as it’s different from games that did see release. What’s weird about the whole thing is that it’s accessed at the character select screen, by picking the game’s protagonist. This means you can play three Magical Drop players against a Ghostlop one in multiplayer (or any other combination). The games really aren’t at all similar to play, with the only parallel being the screen space needed to play. It remains to be seen whether this is competitively broken, but you’re probably going to be much better at one than the other.

Golgoth Studio did a solid job recreating the series’ aesthetic in HD, including the never-drawn-particularly-well character art. We miss the deliciously-pixely original look, but we’re fine with how this turned out. The soundtrack features some interesting takes on classic themes, but in some ways feels best listened to elsewhere. Some of the arrangements draw a bit too much attention to themselves when they should just be blending into the background and letting you focus on the hectic puzzling.

With peculiar timing and little fanfare, Magical Drop V‘s probably not going to take the game world by storm. For those who remember the series’ arcade heyday, though, it may be a great reminder of a better time. (If not necessarily a universal improvement.)

Pros: New multiplayer modes, online play, Ghostlop!
Cons: Technical issues, poor translation

Score: 4/5

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