Feel the Magic: XY/XX Nintendo DS Review

It’s finally here – Nintendo’s DS has hit the high streets in both the US and Japan and already we are starting to see some of the hints of the dream behind the machine. Feel the Magic, Sega’s foray into the arena, boasts some truly excellent methods of manipulating the hardware, and really offers something novel for the gamer.

Graphics

FTM is highly stylised, with wonderfully slick cel-shaded figures making up the games FMV. None of the people in the game have any features; all skin is portrayed as flat matte black, with points of interest being picked out in the colours of hair and clothing. The FMV – is this is indeed what you can call the short sequences of animation that precede key events in the story and the Result pages – is wonderful to behold, and is certainly an anticipatory precursor for what’s to follow.

The in-game graphics are equally as dazzling; while relatively basic in terms of detail, everything is carried out with undeniable pizzazz. While some levels have been designed to show off a stripped-down look (think some of Wario Ware’s levels involving stick men and sprites with two frames of animation), a majority of them show some true originality in presentation – show me someone that’s not left bemused by the scrolling cow background of two of the levels and Ill show you…hmm…someone that actually has cows scrolling through the air in their home.

The start of each level shows a brief 4 part comic to advance the story and explain exactly why you’re in some of the scenarios in the first place. Again, these are highly stylised and show off a heavy Japanese/Anime-esque flair that will no doubt please many players. While again very basic, these are highly serviceable and really do look the part.

All in all, I doubt that this game has come moderately close to showing what the DS can do – but certainly what it CAN do for this game is impressive. The choice of style and level design is spot on, and really does the game ultimate justice.

Gameplay

A game like Feel the Magic really needs no story to explain it – it’s a mass of quirky mini-games that will see you acting like a loon and loving every minute of it – but…well, ok, there is a story to tie all of this (vaguely) together. You play a young man who one day spots the woman of his dreams walking down the street; after this, everything becomes a blur of events as you try to impress her, keep an evil suitor out of the way and stop giant candles from invading the earth. Somehow, this bare strand manages to keep everything rolling, and a large part of it is down to Sega’s quirky presentation – the story is never overpowering, and never limits what you can do. So, lets get on to what you CAN do.

Players of manic mini-game titles like Bishi Bashi Special, Wario Ware and, more specifically, much underrated title The Incredible Crisis, will be on familiar ground immediately; FTM is all about skill and technique in short bursts (much like a lot of things in life). From the start you are thrown into the chaos headfirst; using the stylus, you must deflect the path of charging bulls, move obstacles out of the way of rolling shopping trolleys and help a bystander regurgitate swallowed goldfish. Add to this the use of the microphone, and you will be blowing a boat out to sea and shouting to get your girls attention in a crowd. All you have to explain the task is a short scrolling introduction to each level to give you the gist of things and then you’re on your own; this results in some manic bouts of frenzied screen-rubbing and huffing into the mic as the stages get progressively harder. All of this adds up to one of the most bizarre and frankly enjoyable gaming experiences that the industry has seen in some time.

Of course, there always has to be a downside, and FTM is no exception. For the large part, the game just really feels too short; while each scene will have several sub-levels (aside from the boss sections), they are over extremely quickly – a common problem with mini-game reliant titles. Also, it doesn’t help that several of the earlier levels are repeated later in the game at a slightly harder difficulty level; while this is cunningly weaved into the story, it still doesn’t change the fact that you’re replaying something that you actually played not that long ago.

The final irritation stems from the irritating use of the stylus at some points; while for the vast majority of the game it is a fantastically novel way of playing, some scenes require a level of precision that you just cant get from the stylus with any ease. Picture the scene; you have to guide a character through a very narrow tunnel/path/whatever, keeping constant contact with the touch screen. Not so hard…now picture the tunnel/path/whatever weaving all over the place, and tiny little obstacles getting in the way. Not so bad – oh, wait, no, my hand got in the way and now I’m dead. I have to do the whole section again, as you cant save in the middle. Now imagine this happening a LOT on some levels. To be honest, it’s a minor problem, but some stages are made harder simply because human beings aren’t designed with triple-jointed wrists; sometimes you just cant keep out of the way of the screen, and this can quickly grate on the nerves. Luckily, this problem is relegated to around two stages, and isn’t a big enough disaster to seriously detract from the game.

In conclusion, in my opinion this is the best use of the touch-screen at present time on the DS; it has used it in ways that actually make it feel integral rather than just a tacked-on extra, and really shows the potential of the machine.

Sound

The tunes and samples of this game echo the zany graphics; the music is a blend of poppy anthems and slightly more atmospheric, darker themes that tie in with the action well. There is very little true voiceover in the game, although various characters have a couple of sound bites that are repeated throughout the levels; the girl will say “Hi!” with stereotypical Japanese cuteness, whereas our hero will wail “Waaaa!” in terror on practically every level. Every scene is preceded by a group chant of “Rub It!”, which again adds to the surreal bizarreness of the game. These endearing little snippets are surprisingly sufficient for the title, and capture the mood of the game well.

Lifespan

Unfortunately, the main game will not take a vast amount of time to complete; while some scenes will have several sub-sections to master, others, like the boss encounters, will only have one. Add to this the fact that some levels are repeated and the game really does feel like its over too quickly. That’s not to say that what’s here is shallow and insubstantial; the games do have a relative sense of completion thanks to the rudimentary story. It just leaves the player wanting more (not a bad thing).

Finishing the main game unlocks costumes of varying degrees of scantiness and erotic appeal (that Sailor Moon outfit cant be there for another reason, can it..?) that you can equip your girl with; she will appear wearing them on the Scene Select menu. These outfits can also be obtained by inserting various Sega-developed GBA titles, which is a nice added bonus. You will also unlock different modes of play and difficulty levels by completing the game, all of which go towards offering replay value to this title.

Overall

A corker of a title that is accessible by anyone, and offers something for everyone; if you want to see what the DS can offer then you owe it to yourself to own this game. Admittedly, if you’re after something that will last you days upon days then perhaps Mario 64×4 would be a more worthwhile purchase; however, if its instant gaming gratification that will suit you then buy this without hesitation.

9 out of 10
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