Magrunner is a first person puzzle game developed by a small indie developing firm, Frogwares. After first being released on the PC in the summer of this year, it’s now made it’s way over to consoleland and the Xbox 360. Portal-esque in it’s style, can Magrunner take over the mantle as one of the top XBLA puzzle titles?
You play as Dax C Ward, a Magrunner and test subject for the Gruckezber Corporation training facility. When a system malfunction shuts down the facility and all havoc breaks loose, you need to use a combination of Dax’s only ‘weapon’, the Mag Glove, and your intellect to escape the complex. You have a helping hand in the form of Dax’s all knowledgeable mentor, the mutant Gamanji, who guides you along the way helping out whenever possible, but for the most part, it’s down to your mental ability to get you through.
The basic game mechanic involves magnetism and the charging up of items in order to pass through each level. Your only way of doing this is via your Mag Glove, an addition to your arm which can fire two colours independently, and whilst this brings massive comparisons with Portal and the Portal gun, it’s also where the similarities end. Whereas in Valves finest, the game revolved around creating ‘portals’, in Magrunner that is not the case. The Mag Glove fires magnetic charges which work as north and south polar opposites…..similar colours get attracted to each other, whilst different colours repel. Okay, so scientists may argue this is most definitely not the case in a real world situation, but for Magrunner, this works perfectly fine. Therefore, whilst a charge pad hit with the red gun will drag any other red charged items towards it, quickly power it up with a bit of green and all red items will be repelled in the opposite direction. With charge pads, cubes and platforms all amongst the chargeable items, a bit of brain power is needed to help you get through each section. There are two types of magnetic fields in the game, spherical and cylindrical, and trying to combine the both of these differing types throws yet another challenge your way. The chance to also create your own charge areas later on in the game makes for a test that may only appeal to those who are Portal veterans.
It all starts off easy enough and a combination of simple to solve early levels and hints from Gamanji mean you quickly fly through the first few stages. The story takes a bit of a twist early on and from that moment onwards, the difficulty also moves up a notch. You will quite easily spend twenty minutes with your brain in overdrive before something just ‘clicks’ together, you get your head around what’s going on, and you finally find your way past the obstacle at hand. It can get frustrating, (especially on the larger later levels), but stick with it because once you’ve mastered the art of in-game magnetism there are plenty of ‘woohoo’ moments along the way……and believe me, woohoo moments are good! Any decent puzzler worth its salt will look complex but ultimately be simple to solve. Magrunner is no different and what could start off looking like an absolute nightmare, will quickly become obvious to you the more you play, especially once you are able to fashion your own charge areas on any part of the level.
Each stage is well presented and whilst the story is neither here nor there, without it, things would seem a little bland. Visuals are crisp and colourful throughout and as most of the action is of the slowpaced variety you never experience any lag, stutter or the suchlike. The main mechanic of flicking through charge types quickly is pretty damn seamless. There are numerous short loading segments (between each stage for a few seconds), and unfortunately these can slightly detract from the job at hand and spoils the whole flow of things. If Frogwares could have got by without them, or maybe just throw one in every few levels, then things would have felt a little smoother and consistent. The audio is pretty basic in itself but it does a job and the background sounds set the scene perfectly.
Achievement hunters will be happy to hear that of the 400 gamerscore on offer, you can quite comfortably pick up a quarter of those in the basic first few levels alone, more so if you’re quick fingered. Most of the achievements after that are story based and so will unlock the further you progress, with only a small number left to elude all but the keenest hunters, who will no doubt need a few saves on the go.
Let’s make no bones about it, when you first load up Magrunner Dark Pulse, you can’t help but throw it in as a Portal wannabee, a portal clone if you like. And whilst that wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, there’s much more to Magrunner than to just compare it to one of the finest games ever to grace the Xbox Live arcade. It’s not by any means perfect, and at times gets downright frustrating, but if you’re after something to tax your brain whilst you spend half hour lazing on the sofa, then you won’t find an awful lot better. It’s price is more than sensible as well, and for less than seven quid, it’s been priced to sell and sell it should do.
So, does it take Portals crown as best XBLA puzzler? No, but it isn’t really that far away.