It was always likely that WiiWare would provide the perfect platform for the criminally overlooked puzzle genre. These games have always been popular, but given their nature they are often unfairly ignored when sitting next to higher-profile releases such as Super Mario and Metroid. With WiiWare already providing us with the likes of Dr. Mario, Pop, Toki Tori and the prospect of Tetris in the future, the puzzle genre is unlikely to be diluted on Nintendo’s new download platform. The question is: how does a relatively unknown game like Magnetica Twist weigh up against the bigger names?
Magnetica Twist (known as Actionloop Twist in Europe) is developed by the Mitchell Corporation, based on their 1998 arcade game PuzzLoop. The game makes passing references to Bust A Move and Zuma (although given the times of release it’s likely Zuma was heavily influenced by the original PuzzLoop). This instalment is based on the DS version which was released to high praise in 2006 and offers the same range of modes and gameplay, but given its WiiWare price tag, is somewhat cheaper.
The gameplay is intuitive but oh so difficult to describe. Basically, different coloured marbles are pushed around a set route (usually a swirl shape) with increased speed as the game progresses. When a marble touches the end of the route the game is over so it is your job to clear as many colours as you can. To do this you control a Bust A Move-esque cannon which allows you to aim and fire marbles from the centre of the screen. Essentially you’re looking to match three identically coloured marbles to remove them from the screen. On the surface that’s all Magnetica Twist is – but bubbling beneath are some interesting mechanics that serve to mix things up a little.
Each of the marbles is attracted (magnetically) to marbles of the same colour. This means when you clear a cluster of balls, if the colours of the marbles on the varying sides match, they will be brought together through the rules of magnetism. This relieves pressure on you as it keeps the chain from reaching the end and it allows for some satisfying combos.
If you’re not pulling off many combos though, the pressure can really mount. Given the swirl shape of each level, when the strain is on, marbles that are on the outside of the swirl may be blocked off. At these points you may need to use a “Lob Shot” to clear the screen. To do this, you hold down the “A” button and a targeting reticule will move slowly away from the cannon. This target represents the place in which the marble will land when you release the “A” button and thus adds an element of skill and timing. While the game may appear simple in concept, there's actually an incredible amount of depth, much more so than in your average puzzle title.
Weighing in at 1000 points Magnetica Twist is not one of the cheaper WiiWare titles, but the range of options is extremely satisfying. On offer we have Quick Play (for one or two players), Challenge, Quest and Multiplayer modes. Quick Play is just a standard “beat the high score” affair where you are asked to continually clear the screen as new colours are introduced and the speed is increased. A rocket appears every 10 levels and pushes the marbles faster but you can destroy it by hitting it with a Gem Stone. This mode is particularly fun with two players as you work in co-op to clear the screen. A nice touch is that you have to lob over your friend's cannon to reach marbles on the other side.
The Challenge mode is a bit like “Continuous” on other puzzle games, where the flow of marbles starts at a steady pace and ends up moving at an almost mind-boggling speed. This mode comes in normal, hard and very hard. Only the adventurous should explore the latter.
Quest mode is an attempt at including some target-based gameplay. Each stage you’ll be given a new objective to complete, for example: “Clear 50 gemstones in 120 seconds.” The stages get progressively harder but if you do get stuck there are always choices of two other objectives to help keep you moving. Each set of stages culminates in a boss encounter which includes more marble clearing, but is a nice addition nonetheless.
Finally, there’s multiplayer mode, which is laden with options. After choosing whether to play head to head or co-operatively, you’ll choose which type of game you’d like to play. In co-op there's: Today's Pick, which is a set of random challenges that change on a daily basis; Annihilation, which has you clearing a set number of marbles before time runs out; Colour Split, similar to Annihilation but each player is assigned just one colour; and Co-Pilot, whereby two players share a cannon with player one firing the marbles and player two piloting angle.
Battle mode includes three different modes, which include avoiding the rocket, a race to clear all the gemstones and also sending blockers to your opponent's side to make it more difficult for them. All of the multiplayer modes work solidly and are genuinely fun to play. It’s obvious the developers are trying to cater to the Wii’s emphasis on “family fun” and have succeeded with flying colours.
What’s nice about the multiplayer mode is that it can be enjoyed alone (with the computer stepping in) or with friends. Given the sheer range of multiplayer modes on offer and the slim chance of having friends with you 24/7, it’s nice to be able to replace friends with a computer controlled opponent sometimes. An extension to multiplayer mode is a records mode that tracks your reaction times and games progress. What’s really cool, though, is your relationship with other Mii’s on the same console. People you play together with lots will have a thick line drawn between them and if you beat said player a lot more than they beat you, you will be rewarded by the line being thicker at your end, symbolising your dominance. It’s a neat touch and furthers the depth and detail that Magnetica Twist provides.
Magnetica Twist is absolutely stacked with options, so it’s certainly not overpriced given what is crammed in there. Sadly the game has one major flaw in its controls. The Operations Manual (and in-game tutorial) tells you to play the game holding the Wii Remote in its standard position and twisting to turn the cannon in the centre of the screen. Anyone who played Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz will know that controls involving twisting can be excruciatingly painful on the wrist. This game is no different. To turn the cannon full circle almost requires you to make an arm breaking manoeuvre and quickly becomes tiresome. It’s sad, because the game is genuinely fun and you want to play it, but, the limitations caused by the movement of your arm and wrist stop you.
The game's saving grace is that it can be played by holding the remote in the “NES” position, using the 2-button to fire and tilting forwards and backwards to turn the cannon. This position is playable for longer periods but is still not ideal. Given that there is no option to use the Nunchuk or Classic Controller we expect most games to play t with the remote sideways. Quite interestingly, we could find no mention of playing the game this way in the Operations Manual which is rather worrying given the developers “favoured” mechanism is so horrible.
Graphically, the game is nothing special. Your Mii sits neatly in the cannon in the middle of the screen and marbles are bright and vibrant. There are varying types of marbles, although colour blind players will have a hard time with playing as we've yet to spot marbles with shapes inside. Backgrounds are simple textures which change colours depending on the mode and level but it is all extremely basic. Having said that, this is a game that doesn’t rely on a complex style so the graphics suit the purpose. Similarly, the music gets the job done, opting for bouncy synthesized riffs that grate after a while but can easily be turned off and replaced with your own music selection.
It's probably worth quickly mentioning that there is no WiiConnect24 or Wi-Fi play available in Magnetica Twist, which is a shame given the range of multiplayer options included, but we can always wish for an update.
We're of the opinion that Magnetica Twist offers one of the finest puzzle experiences currently available on WiiWare. Having said that, the lack of online and controller issues make it difficult to recommend. If you like your puzzle games you might be advised to pick this up, but genre sceptics might be persuaded to wait for the inevitable release of Tetris, which promises to feature a robust online mode. As it stands, Magnetica Twist is a solid puzzler that is packed with content but is unfortunately marred by controller hiccups.