Cloudy with a chance of fun
Magic Clouds, the new platformer from indie Aussie developer Mobstar Games, follows in the gameplay tradition of such golden oldies as Mario Bros., Bubble Bobble, and Burger Time by keeping its play simple, thus making the game fun, and, above all, keeping those gamers coming back! Magic Clouds isn’t a very ambitious game, but you wouldn’t necessarily want it to be; the game has everything it needs to offer enjoyment, without delving into the deeper mysteries of game design. Magic Clouds essentially offers bold graphics, good controls, an interesting gameplay hook, and plenty of challenge.
Your hero in Magic Clouds, Max, has a tough row to hoe. Dr. Dust, a thoroughly amoral scientist, has kidnapped his lady friend and is about to turn her into a prize butterfly for his collection. All that Max has at his disposal to stop this lewd lepidopterist are an unlimited number of rain cloud-creating magic stars, some solid platform-jumping skills, and five lives. With these scant resources, you must navigate a host of static, wildlife-filled levels, while scouring each of its native faunas before continuing to the next level.
All of Magic Clouds’ levels are closed, single-screen environments, so you will live or die by the use of your magic stars, which are your sole offensive and defensive weapons. Shooting an enemy with a magic star creates an immobilizing rain cloud over the offending critter for about five seconds. If you hop on the cloud while it’s raining on a baddie’s parade, the cloud will wallop the baddie with a bolt of lightning, thus reducing him or her to cinders while also forcing him or her to spit out a piece of collectible bonus fruit that garners you points. If you fry multiple, proximate enemies with linked clouds, you can rack up additional points. Every 25,000 points earned will earn you an extra life. In addition, you can create clouds at leisure, and you can use them as additional platforms for gaining altitude. If you stand on a cloud for a second or two, it will carry you slowly toward the top of the screen. This trick becomes increasingly useful as the game progresses and as the platform layouts become harder to negotiate.
Point-mongering is really important in Magic Clouds, because there’s no other way to augment your five starting lives. The game’s 50-odd levels are divided into five themes — including a beach area, a jungle, and the underworld — which are separated by boss fights. It’s a good thing that you can continue from the beginning of each theme, because Magic Clouds begins to get insidiously difficult fairly quickly. Max is a big wimp, so a single touch from any enemy — no matter how cute or seemingly benign — will put him down for a dirt nap. Additionally, the game’s levels become jam-packed with wildlife in a hurry. Animals like crabs and turtles are pretty stupid, but as you progress through the game, you’ll encounter some fiendishly clever little buggers, like penguins, grubs, and pterodactyls. These guys have varied attack strategies that can bump you off in a hurry if you don’t pay careful attention and stay one step ahead of where they’re headed. The bosses, by contrast, are more stationary, gargantuan beings that send a lot of heat your way. Getting past even the first boss, who happens to be a giant clam that fills the screen with deadly pearls, is almost impossible on the first couple of tries. The inclusion of boss fights in a puzzle platformer is a great idea, but the relative degrees of difficulty between the levels and bosses could have used a little modulation, because it can be very frustrating to have to replay eight or nine difficult levels over and over again after dying constantly while fighting the boss.
Magic Clouds’ graphics and sound make a solid showing on the Sony Ericsson K700i. There aren’t really many demands placed on the game’s visual presentation, but the mobile offering is fun to look at nonetheless. The background graphics are nicely detailed, and there’s some cool character animations thrown into the bargain. For instance, an enemy turtle will start to cry when you catch him in a thundershower. One small game complaint concerns enemy visibility. Occasionally, you’ll freeze a large group of enemies, and another animal will escape your notice entirely by ducking behind its stationary compatriots. The game’s sound makes full use of the K700i’s MIDP 2.0 capability, with some interesting multiphonic synth tunes and a light sprinkling of effects. The lack of star-shooting and lightning bolt effects is disappointing, however.
In all, Magic Clouds is a cute little casual game that possesses a good blend of puzzling and platforming attributes. It’s also a great value, because it has 50 nontrivial levels to defeat. We recommend this game to anyone looking for a bit of nostalgic, vertically oriented, mobile action.