As a reviewer of fine video games, I realize that Magicka isn't making it easy on me. On one hand we have a hilarious indie title, on the other hand it was released in a terribly buggy state that made it almost unplayable at times. And while Arrowhead have been patching like crazy ever since they released it, it's still buggy. In fact, multiplayer is still very prone to random crashes, which is incredibly sad considering that it's very much a multiplayer game.
First things first, though. Magicka is the tale of one to four wizards that are given a quest by their mentor Vlad (who is, it should be noted, not a vampire). They set out on a journey through the lands, blasting everything that gets in their path into pulp with their magical powers. They also tend to kill each other, repeatedly.
As it happens, friendly fire is always on. As fun as it is to throw flaming boulders at your enemies at the flick of a wrist, it's even more fun when one of your friends is standing nearby and also gets caught in the blast. And with plenty of enemies on the screen at the same time, keeping track of your allies can get tricky. But with a resurrection spell at hand, who cares? As the game itself is quick to point out, you will die. Often. Deal with it.
The magic in Magicka is built up by eight elements, which you can mix and match to create various effects. While you can charge up a magical attack by only using, say, Lightning and release sparkly death on your enemies, it's a lot more entertaining to mix in some Fire or Arcane while you're at it. The fiery boulders mentioned above are created by mixing Fire and Earth, while Fire and Shield creates a wall of flames. Mix in some Life and you can create explosive eggs that work like land mines, or take pity on your friends and heal them. Or perhaps electrocute and heal them at the same time?
Of course, with tons of enemies charging you it can get tricky to stay calm and mix elements on the fly. If you panic, which I tend to do, it's easy to rely on the same spell over and over - my standard spell being a mix between Lightning and Arcane - which defeats the purpose of the system. Or, even worse, you try to mix elements that simply won't work together and stand around defenseless while the goblins rush you. Don't laugh, it probably will happen to you too. Did I mention that you will die a lot?
If you are a control freak, Magicka might frustrate you to no end if you're playing with others. For the rest of us, it's hilarious. You just need to buy into the whole concept, that dying is a part of the game and that your friends can be just as deadly as any enemy you encounter. The game's plot is just an nonsensical, making fun of everything from other games to popular culture tropes. It's a hilarious little game, with enough challenge and multiplayer fun to keep you occupied for a long time.
But there are flaws. First of all the controls are tricky to get used to, and they can be as much part of the challenge as any boss you encounter. With eight different buttons for the magic, two for melee attacks and blocking, and the mouse to control movement it can be a lot to take in at the same time. Practice makes perfect, absolutely, but it's a big hurdle to get across before you start to feel comfortable. The game ramps up in difficulty quite quickly as well, which combined with the tricky controls can cause a lot of frustration.
But most importantly, we have the aforementioned bugs. Arrowhead Studios have been patching, they've done an awesome job so far, but the sad fact remains that they released it in this state. And their work is far from done - especially multiplayer tends to crash, drop you to desktop or create strange loops where a scene plays over and over again. As much as I'd like to ignore that aspect, I've played buggy games before and I've very much enjoyed my time with Magicka, it's a sad state of affairs when you have to replay an entire chapter because the game blew up or when simply getting into a game with friends can be a whole project on its own.
Magicka does support local multiplayer though, which is nice. Cursing at your friends to their faces is a lot more satisfying than doing it over Skype, after all. But I feel like I have to take the bugs into account when giving out my final grade, with the caveat that in a few weeks time it might be a lot more stable. If the game had been running as smooth as intended, if every loading screen wasn't a nail-biting experience, Magicka would have scored higher. It is still a hilarious, wonderful gem of a game.