Magic: The Gathering Battlemage for Playstation

An old and deservedly unpopular game, Magic: The Gathering for Playstation is a failed attempt at turning the enormously popular card game into a real-time strategy title. With a clunky interface, brain-dead creatures, and a suspiciously efficient computer player, this game isn’t worth the plastic it’s printed on.

There are two game modes, Duel and Campaign mode. Duel Mode is just that — a duel between two players. There is no ability to play more than two players at once, an exciting and fairly chaotic feature of the card game. The player chooses his deck and character, though the differences of the latter are negligible, if any.

The deck creation feature, while nice, is needlessly cryptic and difficult. Why the creators insisted on putting the actual card information in the “Archive” section, providing no card info during deck creation, is baffling. The buttons used are esoteric, obviously for effect, where a simpler interface would have worked better and reduced an unnecessary learning curve.

Campaign mode is no better than Duel Mode. The game’s sorcerers are at war with each other, fighting for control of the land’s resources. Each wizard begins with one province under his control. Taking over neutral lands require diplomacy and negotiation with the leaders of the province, while areas owned by a rival wizard must be fought over. Spells are traded and purchased.

After figuring out which on-screen button actually begins combat, the camera goes overhead and the real ugliness of this game shines through. All graphics are poorly drawn 2D sprites that move atop a remarkably underwhelming battlefield. The soundtrack is dull and unimpressive, and the voice that announces spells and creatures cast grows annoying after the first three minutes of gameplay.

R1 brings up the player’s hand of cards, and after deploying some land cards, he or she can summon creatures and spells.

After getting a creature in play, the character usually sends it out to attack the opposing wizard, or keep it close to defend against attacking creatures. Don’t count on defenders to actually create any defense, though, unless they are actually sent after attackers. Enemy units will often just walk around static creatures, and even if controlled creatures are moved to intercept an attacker, they frequently get stuck on terrain or even nothing at all, spinning inanely while the player is pummeled.

Thankfully, instant spells and sorceries are fairly quick and effective, more than could ever be said of the creature spells. There are still some shortcomings though; spells that resurrect fallen creatures can take too long to cast, and because the “effect” must travel across the map, may not arrive before the creature disappears, an annoying and cheap waste that never happens in the card game.

What’s even more annoying is how quickly the computer-controlled player can deploy his units and spells. While the human player has to move his lurching cursor to the opposite end of the map before his summoned creatures even start to approach the enemy, the rival wizard’s creatures are often on the move before they’re even done summoning. This sort of agility makes even competing with the enemy more difficult and discouraging than it should be.

This abomination is hardly the intellectual chess match the card game can be.

Fans of Magic: The Gathering should feel insulted by this game. Its poor production, grainy graphics and mindless action have thankfully been replaced by many more M:TG computer and video games, all of which are far better.

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