Overall Score 78%
Magic Ball 3
Oh dear! It seems as though the evil wizard has returned. Yes, that's right, he's back in our dimension and he's stealing our reality again. All those important things that we need to survive here in our dimension, like cowboys, pirates, knights, windmills, sheep and skeletons. Gone, all gone. There's only one thing to do. The evil wizard derserves nothing less. We must venture into his dimension, ensiege his enchanted castle, and wreak havok with our Magic Ball in breakout style - old school! The only way to get our reality back, quite plainly is to smash it back from his dimension to ours!
How on Earth Alawar Entertainment came up with such a story to justify its new breakout clone, we may never know. The blurb on their website proclaims that this game has changed breakout games forever. A claim which I feel needs to be taken with a dose of salt. Magic Ball is without doubt the best looking breakout clone I've ever played, but there is certainly not that much in the gameplay that has revolutionised this tired genre.
Magic Ball 3 is an extremely polished production. From the splash screens on startup to the gorgeous graphics, clever and artistic level design and great music and sound effects, it is clear that Alawar Entertainment is a very professional organisation.
The levels are comprised not of tiles, as in standard breakout, but of true 3-D blocks which interact with each other and the environment as well as the ball. There are over 80 levels which, once cleared in order, can be replayed at any time. The blocks have their own physics, and are affected by gravity. The level designers have created some wonderful levels that are so visually appealing that they could be called art in their own right. It's almost a shame to blast them to pieces with your Magic Ball, but when you do, the mayhem and chaos is unparalleled. There are a couple of innovations like cannon emplacements that when hit by your ball shoot into the scenery for more carnage. Also dynamite (no need to tell what that one does when hit), and warp tunnels for you to aim at.
Standard to these sort of games are powerups that fall to the bottom of the screen and need to be picked up by the player for certain effects. Some of the more interesting ones in Magic Ball 3 include the Champagne bottle, which makes the ball behave as if it were drunk, and the yo-yo powerup that connects your Magic Ball to the paddle with an elastic band. The lack of a manual or even a simple key or legend makes it difficult to know what a few of them do. For example, there is a moon and star icon that makes the level turn from day into night, but seems not to affect gameplay in any way that I can tell. My personal favourite are the fiery meteorites that rain down on the level; destroying fortifications and generally swathing a path of destruction in their wake.
I personally found the overall difficulty level of the game a little easy. After clearing the game once, perhaps an option to play again on a harder (faster) mode would have made the game slightly more replayable. You can pick up a powerup that increases the ball speed, but even this tends to have less effect each time the ball is sped up and, after about 3 times, seems to have no effect at all. The paddles are quite large and responsive, and the collision model is extremely forgiving. Magic Ball 3 is a game that is easily accessible to the casual gamer and young kids will love it.
Graphics, as mentioned beforehand, are clear and colourful. The 3-D models are of wonderful quality, and lighting effects, shadows and textures are hard to fault. Not only that, but the action is smooth and the framerates are kept high even when there is a lot of action going on. As a bonus, holding the right mouse button down allows you to change your viewing perspective of the level by simply moving your mouse - no awkward groping at the keyboard in the middle of the action. Abundant sound effects and a different in-game tune for each of the 4 level themes are also of a very high quality. The game simply looks and sounds a treat.
With all of the apparent hard work and creative talent that has obviously gone in to the production of Magic Ball 3, I can't help but feel that it's a shame that the end result is yet another breakout clone. As for Magic Ball 3 changing breakout games forever? I would say that although it does showcase some innovative elements, I personally will not still be playing it in a week. I've been playing breakout clones on and off since I bought my Atari 2600 back in the early '80s. These days they look better and sound better, but still play pretty much the same as ever.
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