Magical Drop V is the first game in the series to have a real release outside of Japan. While the arcade versions of the first three games in the series were localized, the meatier console ports and two additional games never made their way out of the country.
Not only is Magical Drop V the first game to be localized aside from arcade releases, it’s also the first game in the series to be developed outside of Japan. Data East, the developer for previous titles in the series, went bankrupt in 2003. MDV was developed by a French studio named Golgoth Studio, which is why we finally get something other than an arcade cabinet.
Gameplay – Tossin’ Dem Balls
The gameplay in Magical Drop V is the same as in the previous entries to the series — and if you’re not familiar with the series, think of games like Puzzle Bobble/Bust A Move and Puyo Puyo/Puyo Pop. The Magical Drop games play more like the former, but are fast paced like the latter. These are known as drop puzzle games, and the MD series is the most competitive of them all.
Gameplay consists of grabbing colored bubbles and throwing them at other bubbles of the same color to get rid of them, which sends an attack to the opposing player. Larger groups of bubbles and combos are worth more points — and you want to constantly combo. Making combos is the biggest part of the game, and is something that takes a lot of speed, a good eye, and practice.
True to its roots, MDV is brutal in its speed. Picking up and throwing bubbles goes fast, and facilitates making combos as another group of bubbles is bursting. As such, making combos not only comes from setting up what’s on the field, but also from dynamically moving bubbles mid-clear. Hesitating before making your next move is the killer of the new player.
Victory comes by either filling the enemy player’s field to go below the threshold or by filling your quota. Each bubbles equals one point toward your quota. So while you’re attacks to your opponent may be cleared quickly, you will still win if you are taking out bubbles faster. Completely crushing whoever you’re against is ideal, but you’ll find yourself winning via quota more often than filling their field.
Being successful at the game comes down to your ability to quickly notice possible combinations and make them happen without any delay. Matches against skilled players are combo-fests, and players new to the game or the genre generally have no chance of winning unless their reflexes are fast enough. You need a lot of practice to even say you’re decent at Magical Drop V — and even then you could hop into the online multiplayer and get completely demolished by someone with more experience. The game might be cute, but it’s definitely not meant for people who like to take things slowly.
There isn’t a lot to say about Magical Drop V‘s visuals or online play. The visuals are cute and crisp, and the online play is functional (albeit empty). The game actually looks and plays very well. Some of the voices are annoying, but it’s easy enough to turn them off or simply drown them out. The technical problems with the PC version of the game, however, are worth noting.
At the time of writing, the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network versions of the game are not yet available. MDV became available on Steam in November, and let’s just say it’s a good thing Golgoth put off the console ports.
On release, most of the people attempting to play the game would receive crash after crash. Those that could play would run into de-syncs in multiplayer, poorly scaled character images, and an atrocious translation. I would have been happy enough with those downsides if I could just play the game, but I couldn’t. It would crash two to five minutes within launch. It was really and truly terrible.
Something’s not quite right here..
Luckily Golgoth Studios seem to be dedicated to making Magical Drop V all it can be. They have released multiple patches to fix these issues, balance the game, and are intending to add features.
Crashes are now far more rare among the playerbase, the in-game text has been edited for grammar, and the character images have been scaled properly and look, well, not bad.
Even better is that Golgoth will be releasing a new patch soon with some new features and a load of more fixes. It’s really nice to see a dev spend time with its fans on the forums and address the problems with the game. MDV was an especially bad case, considering the initial unplayability of the game. It needed that extra attention.
The controls also leave something to be desired, and this is something that needs to be addressed. The default controls have you moving your jester with the A and D keys, while picking up bubbles uses K and throwing them uses L. This really isn’t ideal and can get painful after long playing sessions. This can be remedied by changing your keybindings or using a controller.
I Heart You, MDV
Despite the game’s initial problems, Magical Drop V is still a solid entry to the drop puzzle genre. Beneath the sloppiness of its initial release lies a game with a strong core and a huge learning curve. The series has always been that way, and I’m glad to see that Golgoth continued that trend in V.
My one complaint with the game that hasn’t (or won’t be) patched is the lack of people playing online. I’ve never seen more than 20 people playing online, which honestly isn’t a huge surprise considering the cutesy visuals and genre. It would be nice if there were cross-platform play when the game is released on XBLA and the PSN, but it’s highly unlikely. If there ends up being a larger playerbase on the PSN, I might end up grabbing it there as well.
Magical Drop V is basically all I wanted from a new drop puzzle game. It’s fun, challenging, and skill-based. The inability to play with the keyboard for extended periods is a definite downside, as is the lack of people actually playing online. One of these can be fixed, the other.. who knows. I just know that MDV is fun, and it’s even better with friends.
Magical Drop V can be found on Steam for $9.99. It will be arriving on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network sometime later this year.