Magic Sword is a game about The Power of Friendship. What appears on the outside to be an overly linear, side-scrolling hack ‘n’ slasher through a castle that sports faaaar too many treasure chests, keys, and doors (far more keys than there are doors, in fact) belies a rather profound co-operative single player experience.
“Waiiiiittaminute…single player co-op?! How is that even possible?!” I hear your brain explode.
I know, I know! I was surprised too! I’ll try a few different illustrations to give you an idea of what I’m talking about here.
Okay, okay, I’ve got one:
Imagine you’re playing a NES game two-player with your Robotic Operating Buddy (R.O.B.), except he actually works.
Oh, you say you’re not one of the five richest Tsars in Europe, and you don’t actually own a R.O.B.? Well, then this one’s for you:
Imagine you’re playing an escort mission, except the AI that follows you around isn’t completely useless, and *gasp* actually helps you.
I know! It’s ridiculous and unheard of in videogames, and that’s what makes Magic Sword so amazing. For once, the AI on your side isn’t as dumb as dogshit, walking off of cliffs, or any of that nonsense, and you don’t feel like ringing their neck. More than that, you actually feel close to this virtual warrior with whom you share your travails.
My only real issue with the game is just how short-lived some of these friendships can be. As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of treasure chests lying around the castle, which you smash open to collect a lot of keys (treasure chests containing keys – go figure), which you use to open – you guessed it – a lot of doors. Well, behind a vast majority of these doors is a new traveling companion. Unfortunately you can only travel with one companion at a time. Oftentimes you’ll encounter three doors in a row, meaning you’ll travel barely one in-game metre with your new buddy before he disappears and is replaced by an even newer buddy.
Just where they disappear to, I’ll never know, but at least there’s 50 levels packed to the gills with keys and doors, so you’re sure to become acquainted with them again (*how* they get trapped behind other doors to be rescued yet again, is another mystery). Just think of it as an episode of Friends, or something – sometimes Joey just hangs out with Chandler; sometimes Joey hooks up with Rachel; mainly Rachel hooks up with Ross (and then changes her mind); Ross is Monica’s brother; Monica is Chandler’s girlfriend; Phoebe plays “Smelly Cat” on her guitar far too often at the cafe downstairs where Rachel works YOU GET THE IDEA – they’re on rotation. I suppose if you wanted to stick with say, the ninja for a bit longer, you could just *not open the doors* for a while, but when you’ve got this whole Spartacus-frees-the-slaves thing going on, you really don’t want to. It’s satisfying. You open the door, a friendly warrior appears, he or she says “thank you!”, throws you a special item to you, and agrees to fight alongside you. So basically, you get to make nine new friends during the course of the game, and they’re all completely awesome. Like this guy:
It doesn’t matter that the dungeons-and-dragons setting has been done to death; it doesn’t matter that your character is a blatant He-Man rip-off; it doesn’t matter that the game is altogether too easy; it doesn’t even matter that the title is grossly misleading (there is no singular ‘Magic Sword’ as such, rather multiple magic swords that you obtain during the course of the game, and your quest is to destroy the Black Orb, as wielded by the Dark Lord Drokmar…) – this game plays like a good friend. And friends aren’t always perfect.