Data East's retro competitive puzzler is now available for current generation consoles. It may look cute but Magical Drop III can be one tough game to master so get ready to pop a few balloons.
I'm not 100% familiar with the entire Magical Drop series but I do own the original and Magical Drop F for PS1. I enjoy both of those games a great deal as their gameplay makes for a frantic and fun-filled multiplayer puzzle game experience that's hard to come by nowadays. So, when I saw that Magical Drop III was available as an ACA NeoGeo release, I just had to buy and play it and I'm glad that I did.
For the unfamiliar, Magical Drop is played by controlling a clown who happily moves left and right at the bottom of the playfield. You command him to pick up and release balloons and when you match three of the same colour, they turn into a giraffe. Just kidding; they disappear, obviously. The basic goal is to achieve as many chain reactions as possible which will require you to move fast so your opponent can't get the upper-hand. It's a constant tug-of-war that can get quite intense so practicing to become as nimble of a clown as possible will definitely help you beat your opponents.
Speaking of opponents, the characters in Magical Drop III are incredibly cute which is weird because they're modeled after tarot cards. Also, some of the characters' boobies bounce which is pretty awkward in a game that looks like it's marketed towards kids. Anyway, the visuals are super-colourful and everything comes to life with superb animations and charming music.
One thing that Magical Drop III accomplishes much better than most of these arcade ports is provide a decent variety of modes. Besides the standard Arcade Archives Hi Score and Caravan modes, you can also choose between the Japanese and English versions but be warned; the former requires you to be able to read Japanese in order know what the majority of the onscreen text says.
Within the game, you can either play Challenge Mode, Survival Mode, or Magical Journey. Challenge is basically a standard arcade mode where you beat a succession of opponents with a few story sequences thrown in. There are a lot of stages to play through so make sure to set aside an hour or so to beat it. Survival Mode is self-explanatory as you just survive as long as you can without letting the balloons reach the bottom of the playfield. Magical Journey is the coolest mode as it's basically a board game with each stage tasking you to pop or collect Burst Balloons so you can move forward according to how many you got. Last but certainly not least, you can play against a friend. Although it's a ton of fun to do so, it is disappointing that there is only a standard vs. mode with no other variations.
Of course, Magical Drop III isn't perfect so I'll discuss its less desirable aspects. First of all, I found the mechanic where you can mess with your opponent to be far too powerful. The most annoying occurrence is when one column of balloons descends much faster than the others and ends your game before you have a chance to react. I understand that doing well should negatively affect your opponent but this is just too much and it can feel very unfair. Finally, although the fast-paced gameplay is a blast and very easy to learn, it's also a little too simplistic and becomes repetitive after a short while. Therefore, you're better off playing Magical Drop III in short bursts.
Magical Drop III is definitely one of those puzzle games that you'll be happy to add to your collection and play it every now and again but don't expect it to keep you entertained for longer than an hour at a time.
- + Fast-paced competitive puzzle gameplay that's intense yet easy to learn
- + Very cute characters
- + Solid amount of modes
- - Punishment mechanic often feels too drastic and unfair
- - Only one multiplayer mode
- - Gameplay lacks longevity