Developer: Mitchell Corporation
Publisher: Rising Star Games
Remember Pang? Just in case your knowledge of obscure late 80s arcade titles isn't quite up to scratch, Pang (aka Buster Bros) challenged gamers to pop some balloons with vertically-firing harpoons, but we haven't seen the series raise its head since the year 2000. Until now. Mitchell Corp and Rising Star Games have decided to relaunch the ancient series on the Nintendo DS with a magical new twist. It's a brave move to be sure... but by providing a fully-rounded game that's bursting with content, Magical Michael is actually vastly superior to its venerable predecessors.
The classic gameplay is still intact. Magical Michael, a suave magician, has accidentally unleashed some dangerous balloons around famous tourist locations and is naturally tasked with popping them before they can cause too much damage. His default weapon is a vertical linear harpoon that he can use to split and eventually pop his spherical nemeses... but as a magician, he's also got a fair few extra abilities to bring to the party. Powerups include decks of cards that can shred multiple balloons, magical defensive forcefields, strong shots that persist for some time as well as some handy time manipulation skills. Even with his magical powers, dodging and popping the balloons is still a tricky and rewarding task that demands some serious concentration.
The dual DS screens are the perfect new home for the franchise. Levels frequently span both screens, and the enhanced verticality provides plenty of scope for multiple storeys, ladders, traps and barriers. Popping the balloons may require quick fingers and razor reflexes, but working out the best ways of navigating the levels is all about brainpower and cerebral puzzling. This extra layer of gameplay is a welcome addition to the formula that helps to keep things fresh.
The campaign spans an impressive 40 levels, but Magical Michael has a few more tricks up his sleeve. The Panic Mode throws players into an infinite level of incrementally-increasing difficulty, requiring nerves of steel and thumbs to match. What's more, unlockable achievements and a persistent ranking system provide a seriously addictive reason to keep playing. Unfortunately the awards are secret before they're unlocked (meaning that players can't strive towards them)... and the rankings are based on some annoyingly obtuse criteria. Still, it's a thoughtful extra element of replayability that helps to provide yet more aftermarket value.
Magical Michael's presentation is a mixed bag. Whilst the in-game graphics are colourful and functional, the menus are ugly and clunky affairs that are dominated by grey blocks and shockingly basic fonts. The sound design is also fairly inconsistent- and though the music is genuinely excellent, you'll be tempted to sling your DS across the room after hearing Michael's smarmy "It's Showtime!" quip at the beginning of every single level. It's a shame that these aspects of the presentation would have seemed far less cheap and nasty with just a little more polish.
A suite of multiplayer modes serve to round out the package. Both multi-card and single card options are available, and the action takes place on opposite screens so players can keep an eye on their opponent. It's a fast, fun and frantic competitive experience that can be tweaked in a number of ways; and is surprisingly addictive if you can get a mate involved. And if you can't find any friends whatsoever (shame), you can even challenge the punishing AI to a showdown.
Finally, it's worth noting that Pang: Magical Michael is launching at a wallet-friendly £19.99 RRP. Most retailers are already lowering their prices, but it's a bargain even at the recommended level.
- Classic gameplay improved with challenging level design and nifty powerups
- Multiple game modes and unlockable awards provide impressive budget value
- £19.99 RRP that's bound to tumble even further
- Basic graphical presentation and ugly menus
- Rankings and awards are fairly obtuse
- "It's showtime."
The Short Version: By delivering a substantial amount of content and launching at a sub-£20 price level, Magical Michael manages to successfully revitalise the venerable Pang franchise into an accessible frantic puzzle platformer. A few aspects of the presentation are somewhat lacking... but for a budget title, it's easy to forgive a couple of cosmetic flaws. It's a perfect stocking filler that might just surprise even veteran gamers.