Everyone loves Magical Michael, 'cause the tricks that he does are ever so cool. However, at the moment, no one is particularly loving him, as a failed experiment on his part has caused hundreds of dangerous bubbles to be released across the world. Now it's his task to venture across the planet and eliminate the threat.
If you've played Pang or Mighty! Pang in the arcades, many of the concepts present will seem familiar. To clear a stage, all the bubbles must be destroyed; usually this will be accomplished by shooting them with your trusty magic cane, but there are other methods available to thin the herd. That's how plain the aim of the game is – but while it sounds simple, the execution is often a lot more tricky. Thankfully, Mitchell has kept the controls of the game simple and not complicate matters, as the D-pad and two buttons are all you will need.
Helping or hindering you in the process are a variety of power-ups, destructible parts of the scenery, platforms that disappear when you step on them and bubbles that exhibit different physical properties. Assisting you in your bubble purge are double, power and wide shot pick-ups, a handy shield that resists one hit, and icons that slow down or temporarily stop the mayhem. Some of these are earned by blowing up bubbles while others are hidden within parts of the scenery along with bonus items to help you accumulate points. The game keeps track of your performance and grades you accordingly with an adjective-laden title.
Tour Mode is where the meat of the game lies. The world is divided into ten regions each containing four stages, and eventual progression unlocks more of the world until all of the areas are available. There is a helpful introduction screen that appears before a stage if any new gameplay mechanic is introduced, which certainly eases the pain and gives an indication of what to expect next.
While the early areas are confined to one screen, most of the later levels are spread over both. Hence, depending on the construction in question, it is quite likely that bubbles will travel between both. Therefore, a keen pair of eyes is required. It also brings to the fore quite a sinister streak from the designers, as many stages are almost like puzzles in that you must figure out how to best navigate and destroy all the bubbles present. Technically, there are infinite lives available for you to attempt each stage with, either in order to clear it or better the current high score.
There is a local leaderboard available for each stage that awards bronze, silver or gold medals depending on the score achieved, as well as being available for going online to see how you've done against the rest of the world. The gold score levels are just at the right point to be challenging without proving impossible to achieve. Those who obsess over this sort of thing may get a lot out of this feature, developing different strategies until all the scenery is destroyed and all the bubble kills are chained into combos. The latter is especially important as hitting similar sized bubbles in a chain builds up the points earned for each, which is then reset when the chain is broken.
Beating Tour Mode leads to even more fun: an expert mode is unlocked, which is essentially 40 new levels in themselves. There's also a challenge mode available, which has you complete a region on one life (and in the process, unlock bonus stages), as well as an Arcade Mode, in which you're to beat all the stages with a limited number of lives. You'll also find a Panic Mode similar to an endless bubble-burst and multiplayer bubble battles; in other words, you certainly get a lot of Pang for your money.
The only detraction, really, is the overall presentation. The graphics are nothing special; much of it is only perfunctory, nor is the Michael sprite anything to write home about. Neither are the speech samples, which can get annoying after awhile. The music, however, is inoffensive, charming and appropriate. At least the background graphics for each stage are a reasonable facsimile of the region they attempt to portray.
While Pang: Magical Michael may not be a looker, what it does deliver is an excellent continuation of the Pang series, one designed for both entry-level and experienced players alike. It can either be treated as a simple challenge, a quest to beat and defeat all of the stages presented, or an invitation to explore and get as much out of it as possible. Especially at its budget price, you can't really go wrong taking a chance on this if you're the slightest bit interested.