PC/Mac Reviews

The Magic Circle Review: All These Squares Make a Circle

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Games attempting to be satire have had varying degrees of success. The Stanley Parable was perhaps the most successful example of making a game that satirized the concept of choice in video games. So, seeing a game on Steam, made by a team comprised of veteran developers who’ve worked on Bioshock, Dishonored and Thief, featuring the voice talents of James Urbaniak, Ashly Burch, Karen Dyer and Stephen Russell, you instantly assume it will be a success. Thankfully, The Magic Circle ends up being one of the best examples of satirization in video games.

The Magic Circle is about a game that has been in development hell for years. The head of the development studio has had five backer campaigns to try to get the project finished, but due to his own indecisiveness, he’s remade the title multiple times. You are brought in by one of the games designers in order to test out the level design. However, after your character dies in game, you are able to exploit a broken mechanic to allow you to edit the world. Within this world, another force has been trapped for years. It’s goal is simple: it wants you to finish the game so that it can move on.

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The concept of The Magic Circle comes from the idea of having a game without player combat. Instead of fighting enemies, you are able to trap them and re-write their code. This includes being able to change who their enemies are, what their attacks are and how they travel. This leads to you to navigate the world to find new enemies with specific behaviors so that you can steal them and change your team.

This can create some really interesting creatures, as their abilities define their looks. One of the early creatures you find is called a “Howler.” These are basically rabid dogs. However, you can add the ability for them to fly, make them fireproof and have them breathe fire. This creates a red fire breathing dog with a helicopter blade.

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It’s not just creatures, though, that you can edit. By the time you finish the main chunk of the story, you can have living rocks and mushrooms on your team. There are definitely moments where you ask, “Hey, can I edit that thing?” For the most part, you can, which creates some really cool and really nightmarish creatures

This also serves to create some cool puzzles. At one point, you need to cross a fire pit but you have nothing to help. What you can do is add the ability to float to a creature and make them fireproof. Pick it up and throw it across the pit to create a moving fireproof ledge. These moments, though they may be small, are great ways to create puzzles out of creature behavior.

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The writing is incredibly strong in The Magic Circle, as well. Hearing the insane ramblings of each character as they try to justify the game’s existence becomes hilarious. Moreover, the entire title has a heavy emphasis on people taking games too seriously. The intern, Coda, played by Ashly Burch, has created a deeply personal connection to this unreleased title. The studio’s head, Ish, believes the game to be much more deep than what it really is. These two play off of each other great, creating the sense that they believe that this game is more than a game. They think it will be a revolution.

Then, you reach the end of the game which is, honestly, brilliant. Rather than having a final boss, you are given the task of actually creating a demo for the game. All of your skills in designing enemies are put into play. However, it’s much deeper than that. You need to connect the rooms of the demo, add in health potions, add in treasures to reward players and more. Your demo is graded by the public and that’s it. You can also go back at any time and rework the demo how you want to. Moreover, you can have Coda do a Let’s Play of the demo. These little details are great and hopefully the developers will release the ability to let others play through your demo through the Steam workshop.

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The Magic Circle is, easily, the best game about satirizing games ever created. While the writing in The Stanley Parable may be better, The Magic Circle actually creates a whole game around satire. While player choice isn’t at the forefront as it is with Stanley, creating a game about creating a game while you are creating a game ends up being a fascinating…game. There is nothing else like The Magic Circle and that makes it a one of a kind experience.

SCORE: 10 out of 10

A code for The Magic Circle was provided to Pixel Related for review. 

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