Polished. If you had to describe Magicians & Looters in one word, that would be it. Morgopolis Studios seems one step ahead on everything. On this website, the developers advertise Magicians & Looters as a Metroidvania game because they know the comparisons to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are coming. But here’s what nobody expected to hear: Magicians & Looter is better than Symphony of the Night. How’s that for a $1 game on Xbox Live?
The graphics didn’t blow me away at the start, but the more I play Magicians & Looters, the more I appreciate the care and detail from Morgopolis Studios. Every character, enemy and environment has personality, and the animation is silky smooth. However, it’s the little things, such as unique death effects for every enemy type, that make this game special. I would be more descriptive, but I don’t want to spoil the subtle visual surprises of Magicians & Looters.
It wasn’t until I opened up most of the areas and traveled back and forth between them that I realized the brilliance of the music. Every track complements what you see and experience in each area. The crazy thing is that the music isn’t even as impressive as the sound effects. Again, the attention to detail is outstanding: every enemy type seems to have its own voice, and the voices change as they meet their deaths. The satisfaction of hearing glass break when you kill the floating eyes, for example, is a unique pleasure. Unlike Symphony of the Night, with its goofy and self-important voice acting, Morgopolis also has a legitimate sense of humor wrapped into its sonic package. When you die and lose everything in an explosion of items and loot, you hear a melody that suggests embarrassing physical comedy. When you equip a weapon, you get an amusing voice-over playing off of the weapon’s name. One boss calls you a “mama’s boy” and tells you to stand still so that he can kill you. These touches make the proceedings more fun.
Let’s get straight to the point. Here are the following ways Magicians & Looters tops Symphony of the Night’s gameplay:
1. As the Angry Video Game Nerd points out (start this video at 3:37), Symphony of the Night takes too much time in regard to continuing the game after death. Not only that, but if you don’t save right before your death, you have to redo your equipment if you had changed it, and you lose random items that you might have picked up. Magicians & Looters, on the other hand, streamlines the approach: when you die, you start at the last check/save point, and you get to keep everything you found before you died. Everything is also equipped the way you had it before you died. Diehard Castlevania fans might say, “Where’s the challenge in that?” The fact of the matter is that Magicians & Looters removes the annoying bullshit of Symphony of the Night and remains a challenging game. You won’t blow through Magicians & Looters.
2. Symphony of the Night’s item and inventory systems are annoying as hell. First of all, I don’t use most of the items I find in Symphony of the Night. The game just throws a bunch of random shit at you to feel esoteric and mysterious. In contrast, every item in Magicians & Looters can be useful, depending on your strategy. Second, the inventory menu of Symphony of the Night is a cluttered mess. The simple inventory screen of Magicians & Looters is much more pleasant and informative.
3. Symphony of the Night at times can’t decide whether it wants to be an action/adventure game or an RPG. This is most evident in the leveling system, which encourages players to grind through enemies again and again for experience points. Please. This shit is boring and, as Magicians & Looters proves, unnecessary. In Magicians & Looters, you gain levels by finding a number of orbs. Thus, exploration in Magicians & Looters is more satisfying than exploration in Symphony of the Night, and fighting enemies is a choice, not a necessity (though enemies do drop money that can be used to buy certain items). With its superior leveling system, Magicians & Looters feels like an action platformer with RPG elements, not an action platformer that wants to be an RPG, which is silly.
4. Even though Symphony of the Night provides a multitude of attacks, the combat is kind of awkward. Having to do Street Fighter-like input for attacks in a platformer is stupid. Magicians & Looters doesn’t require you to perform any fighting game gymnastics for special moves, and each move has its own advantages and disadvantages, resulting in smooth, creative and strategic gameplay. You can even do combos in Magicians & Looters, though the game will punish you if you try to spam your way through it. Magicians & Looters also shows up Symphony of the Night when it comes to hit detection and defense. You don’t run into enemies and take damage in Magicians & Looters as in a common platformer; you sidestep or avoid enemies when you get close to them. This means you only take damage when an enemy connects with an attack. Throw in defensive moves like rolling, ducking and blocking (these vary by character), and you can have some very intense battles with standard enemies.
5. Magicians & Looters features three characters that you can switch between at save points. Ultimately, you have to master each of them to complete the game, utilizing them in the right situations. With this dynamic, the gameplay in Magicians & Looters simply does a better job of staying fresh. Symphony of the Night has its transformations, but let’s face it: you are limited with what you can do as a bat, hound or mist.
And here’s something that all action games can learn from Magicians & Looters: if you have a story, offer an abridged version. The story in Magicians & Looters started to get on my nerves big time, but the game soon asked me if I wanted the abridged version. Hell yes! THANK YOU FOR SPARING ME THIS NONSENSE.
For a cheap indie game, Magicians & Looters is surprisingly lengthy, offering a lot of areas to explore and a lot of things to find. But it’s the attention to detail and gameplay that will make this game worth revisiting.
Some people might say this review talks too much about Symphony of the Night. They might also say I am too hard on Symphony of the Night. Here’s the thing: Magicians & Looters greatness must be put into context. Sure, I could have reviewed it as a game in a vacuum, but it’s much more than that. Morgopolis Studios has corrected the flaws of Symphony of the Night, a great game in its own right. As such, Magicians & Looters not only demands to be played — it demands its own place in video game history.