We've seen movies about making movies so here's a game about the gaming industry. However, it's not as straightforward as you'd think so prepare for a reality-warping journey into the mind of a game tester.
The Magic Circle begins with a brief tutorial and then the game is over... or not. After jumping into it again, you're taken to yet another introductory area. At this point, you'll understand that you are a video game tester and the game's programmers can communicate with you via floating eyeballs. They ramble nonsensically about the development of their masterpiece and personal issues but one thing's clear; these people have a passion for making games. The voice actors provide commanding performances that verge on overdramatic at times yet the sheer gusto of their delivered lines is definitely captivating. As you wander around exploring the world in a first-person perspective, it's hard not to have an appreciation for the gaming industry as a whole. Overall, the odd premise blends with its broad narrative to craft a compelling world that'll keep you hooked until the end.
You may be wondering; how the heck do you play The Magic Circle? Answering that question isn't going to be easy but here goes. The majority of the gameplay is contained within an area that's a combination of fantasy and sci-fi settings. This is explained to be parts of games that the developers have previously abandoned. It's your job to traverse it and eventually destroy one of the developer's eyeball avatars. You do this by exploring the lands while running into various creatures. When you come across one, you can trap and edit it to both take and apply attributes. A creature who is currently your enemy can become an ally by simply commanding it to. Seeing as you can't attack, you must gather an army of various allies while equipping them with attributes such as being fire-proof, having the ability to fly, and different attacks. Does a rock seem useless? Why not strap a propeller on it, hop on, and ride it between waypoints?
Once you manage to finally capture the much sought after developer avatar, there's a surprising amount of gameplay left. Without giving too much away, you get to interact with the developer's game conference demo which is pretty fun but the next part is even more impressive. Basically, you make your own game by placing preset rooms, objects, story points, and such. When you're done, a reviewer scores your game (which kind of felt weird for me) and you can even watch someone stream it. In the end, it's awesome that The Magic Circle boasts so many drastically different gameplay styles that all follow a central theme.
The main portion of the gameplay forces you to think outside the box so you can proceed with the unfolding insanity. Although there are multiple ways to handle every situation, many gamers might lack the required imagination to progress. Therefore, The Magic Circle is definitely not for everyone. Those who love to challenge their lateral thinking will love it while gamers looking for a casual experience will probably end up too frustrated to continue. Another aspect that can be off-putting is the narrative. It's delivered very well but the subject matter that ranges from absurd to personal can be rather convoluted and pretentious at times. Personally, much of it went over my head but I can see how others will delight in the complexity of it all. Finally, you can easily play through the entire game within a few hours. On a second attempt, I can imagine that someone could take as little as an hour which is simply too short.
The Magic Circle may only appeal to a niche crowd but one thing's for sure; those who enjoy it will remember their time exploring its mysterious world for years to come.
- + Innovative gameplay forces you to think outside the box in order to progress
- + Each section is like a whole new game
- + Voice actors deliver their lines with gusto
- - Less imaginative gamers will constantly get stumped and not know what to do
- - Convoluted narrative is quite pretentious
- - It's a very brief overall experience