May 25, 2015 8:33 PM | Sean Flint
In gaming, we often seen games that manage to break the "fourth wall" by acknowledging the fact that they are, in fact, games. The Magic Circle may be one of the most extreme examples of this principle that I've ever seen. Failed by the game's designers, you must become the hero of an unfinished game. Brought into the world unarmed and defenseless, alter enemy behaviors, re-integrate areas that have been cut, and use stolen attributes to create an army of diverse creatures to fight alongside you.
The Magic Circle is an extremely unusual game. The original dilemma I was faced with upon first seeing the idea was wondering whether or not the "unfinished" nature of the game would feel like a mechanic, or if it would just feel like an incomplete product. I worried that the developers would use this principle as an excuse to release a bug-filled game with few textures and incomplete environments. I was wrong, however. The Magic Circle presents a very unique gameplay experience, and does so in a very intelligent manner.
Anyone with experience in game development will immediately recognize terms and nods to development shenanigans that they have included in the game. The game's name itself is a well-known design term, so expect to run into some technical lingo along the way.
Screenshots of The Magic Circle don't do the game any justice. While the world may look bleak and colorless, as you play the game you radiate an aura that textures the environment around you as you move, which makes for a very interesting visual experience. Bringing life into objects often textures them as well, so don't feel like the game doesn't contain pleasant visuals based on the screenshots that are showcased on the Steam page.
A comedic game at heart, The Magic Circle is constantly making fun of itself through the use of clever dialogue with phenomenal voice-acting provided by some of the most prolific voice actors in the industry. Your gameplay experience is guided by the designers, who are constantly at each other's throats with differing opinions, which provides a fantastic bit of comedy in the form of hilarious arguments over mechanics. These designers cannot seem to agree on any mechanics, which leads to your character being left without powers.
Guided by a mysterious voice, you will have to gain control of the tools required to develop the game and use these to give yourself powers and assemble a following of powerful allies. To be completely frank, it is very difficult to understand exactly how the game works without getting a chance to play it. A good example of the mechanics is that, early on, you run into an enemy who you can trap, which allows you to edit its abilities. Once inside of the creature, you can alter things such as which creatures it will consider its allies, as well as which movement and attack styles it would use. However, in order to be able to give creatures different attacks and movements, you must strip other creatures of their abilities. Grabbing melee attack from one creature means that you can turn a lifeless creature such as a mushroom into a powerful ally that will fight on your side.
Along your journey, you will discover various "developer commentaries" and change logs that I feel are the best example of the game's sense of humor. I found the commentaries especially silly, as they give a good insight into the turmoil that the design team is facing. The change logs are in text form, but often contain arguments between developers about cutting or implementing certain features, and the sarcastic, passive-aggressive manner in which these conversations often carry out is comedic gold.
As far as I'm concerned, The Magic Circle takes an extremely unique idea and does a very good job of implementing it. The game constantly provides challenging puzzles that you can approach in any way you see fit. There is no wrong way to solve a puzzle, and the most creative options are often met with clever dialogue and responses from the "designers" and the mysterious voice. In this sense, the game reminds me of Bastion, where many of your actions generate giggle-worthy dialogue.
Whenever a game releases with a new idea, it almost creates its own genre. The Magic Circle is one of the most difficult games to describe that I've ever come across, as there are very few games to use as a comparison. The best way to describe the game is that it is something that you have never played before, but is also something that is definitely worth having a look at. Considering that the game is currently in Early Access, and is already looking very polished, there will definitely be more enjoyment to be had out of The Magic Circle in the future.
The Magic Circle is currently available on Steam Early Access for $19.99.
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