With the recent release of Magical Drop II on the Virtual Console, Wii owners got the chance to experience one of the more enjoyable puzzlers available for the Neo Geo system and a game that's become quite popular among fans of the console over the years. Now SNK-Playmore has decided to up the ante and release the game's sequel Magical Drop III, and despite making use of the same basic gameplay elements, the game also offers up a ton of refinements and new features to make it what many Neo Geo fans consider the pinnacle of the series and perhaps the best puzzle game to ever see a release on the system.
Somewhat reminiscent of Puzzle Bobble, the game challenges you to use your clown in order to grab up balloons that are falling from above and put together groups of three or more of them in a vertical row in order to rid the board of them. This can also set off chain reactions of like-coloured balloons that are adjacent to the balloons being popped as well. You can even quickly put together another group of balloons and create chains that can earn you big points. Of course if you find yourself unable to keep up as the pace quickens, you can always make use of special item balloons that can allow you to take large chunks off the board if you can access them at just the right time.
There are three different modes to choose from. The main mode and the one you'll likely spend the most time with is the Challenge Mode. Here you'll take on a CPU-controlled opponent and it's a race to see who can keep their balloons from reaching the bottom of the playing field first. If you're feeling like shooting for a high score, you can tackle the Survival Mode, where you'll play one continuous game that will end when your balloons finally reach the bottom of the playing field. The final mode is probably the more unique of the three and pits you in a board game-type challenge where you'll move spaces each time you win a round in an effort to reach the goal at the end of the board.
Magical Drop III features an amazing single-player experience, but if you want to truly capture the magic of the game you can grab another player and take on the game in two-player mode. This is where things can get hectic and you'll need to put all of those skills to good use. Even as much fun as it can be to take on the CPU, you'll never get the full experience of the game's competitive spirit until you take on another human opponent.
The best puzzlers always have that unique combination of an easy-to-pick up control scheme coupled with an almost limitless degree of playability and Magical Drop III has both in spades. Players of almost any age and skill level should be able to jump right in to the game, yet the more you play the game, the more you'll come to understand just how much depth there is if you'll take the time to figure it all out.
The visuals in Magical Drop III are as charming and vibrant as ever. Not only is the playing field itself beautifully-crafted, but the characters themselves are equally impressive and feature a wealth of their own unique in-game animation sequences. It would have been easy for the developers to take the easy way out given that the game is merely a puzzle release, but you can't help but appreciate the attention to detail that was shown the game's visual presentation and it really pays off in the finished product.
The musical score of Magical Drop II was upbeat and catchy, but the soundtrack in this third iteration of the series is downright amazing. Each and every track you're treated to throughout the game features the same personality and charm that's featured in most other areas of the game. It's uncanny how perfectly balanced the music is in the way it always carries the mood and intensity of the action taking place onscreen so well. It's yet another facet of the game where you can tell the developers went the extra mile.
Magical Drop III doesn't try to re-invent the wheel when it comes to its overall gameplay design, but what it does do is carry over many of the best elements from its predecessor and then toss in a wealth of new gameplay twists and game modes for players to enjoy. And not only is the game an extremely competitive and intense multiplayer puzzler, but it's single-player modes are every bit as fun and challenging as well. In the end, Magical Drop III represents one of the best puzzle releases available on the Virtual Console and one well worth checking out for fans of the genre.