Alrighty... it's about time we got around to putting up our Magical Drop article. Seriously, to give you an idea of how long we've been twiddling our thumbs on this, the scans we made and most of the research we've done for the game have been around longer than this site! The reason for delay? We've been waiting to purchase its sequel and we slowed down the rate in which we do SNES articles because we still have to play catch up with the other articles. Now that we have both of them in our possession, we can give Magical Drop the respect it deserves, so we're going to start with the two SNES releases.
Originally made in the Arcades under the name of Chain Reaction, Magical Drop added a little more to the ever-expanding puzzle genre with its characters, theme, and refreshing spin to the object-matching puzzle craze that lives on even today. With the various branches within the puzzle genre such as logic-puzzlers, line-clearing puzzlers, memory-matching video games and more, the folks over at Data East decided to make a more fast-paced puzzler. Chain Reaction was a success and garnered many cult fans, which quickly led to a console port of the game for the Japanese SNES which adopted a catchier name that stuck with the series. The franchise has since become what I'd call a bit of a phenom, getting lavish praise from gamers and critics alike.
Magical Drop has a relatively simple story to tell on the surface. Your job is to choose one of six characters who will then search for a mystical treasure known as the "Magical Drop" which can grant wishes and do the players bidding. You'll be competing against the other characters along the way until you eventually meet "The World", the head honcho of this game who is simply known as the sexy and elegant goddess. Each character gets what they want, but their wish also backfires. It reminds me just slightly of "Twisted Metal", where the characters made a wish with Calypso only for them to come with strings attached. The real story in this game consists of subtle nuances throughout the whole game, which is portrayed both in the pictures and in writing. You see, each character is based around the complex realm of Tarot (or Arcana) cards, and as such, each character represents the characters throughout history and mythology, only with a Japanese-style spin. I guess that makes the game a little more appealing, since the characters more resemble the Tarot visions of Western society but the game was developed by the Japanese, who are typically viewed as the Easterners from my perspective.
The characters throughout the series are based around what are known by some as the twenty-two "Major Tarots". While the first game only has a few, the series ultimately captures what can be considered all of them, with a twist here and there. Characters who seem to be complete idiots on the surface such as "The Fool" actually have a deeper symbolic meaning to his actions and can actually stem back to the more historic meaning behind his character. "The World" more closely resembles the common historical view that she represents in areas like the west, donning a huge shawl that covers her otherwise naked body. In the Tarot World, she is typically the final tarot and thus, one of the most powerful, so it is no surprise that she would be this game's end boss. Most of the other characters in the series are more loosely based around the tales and myths, but just to be clear, all the characters are goofy representations of the original Tarots.
Still, when you take away all of those points, you're left with a mildly entertaining puzzle game. The visuals in this game are nothing too great. The characters are done in a cute anime style, and I give extra brownie points for the creative concept behind the game and character designs, not to mention their silly intros. One thing to point out here is that the SNES version of Magical Drop (and its sequel) seem to be the only ones with miniature animated versions of the Tarot characters. The rest just seem to use some generic Jester who acts in the place of all the characters... so I give more brownie points for that. I also like the nice backgrounds that each character brings with them into a battle and it's neat that the characters change expressions when they win or whenever they're in peril, but when you've played great looking puzzlers like the Puyo Puyo games, Panel De Pon (aka Tetris Attack) and numerous others, Magical Drop seems a bit bland overall. The real offender here isn't the graphics though... it's the audio. The audio in this game... is terrible. Besides the constant squeals the characters make after every move you make, I was hurt; no, insulted, by the fact that there are only two battle themes in the game. This isn't the old days of Tetris folks; this game had at least ten years to evolve. I wouldn't even be hurt if the two tunes were GOOD, but they are very repetitive and frankly, they're annoying. Add the sound effects with the music and then you're just asking for trouble.
Thankfully, the game has an interesting gameplay engine that while substantially flawed (in this game anyway) delivers frantic action that most puzzlers only wish they could deliver. The game plays a bit like an inverted Puyo Puyo, but with a whole lot of strings attached and a few silver linings. The object is to make your character grab items of the same color and throw them at the top of the screen to match them together. You have to match at least three of the same type together before they pop and they can pop any objects connected to them just like in Puyo Puyo... but here's where the catches come in. First, you can only pop items vertically, since you can only grab items vertically. Secondly, you have special objects like ice drops that turn all other ice drops on the screen into the same color that you used to eliminate the initial ice drop.
Third, each character has a special "drop power" that helps them eliminate blocks and make chains. The exception to this is "The Crappy Fool" who doesn't (although this was fixed in the superior sequel), which can make beating the game with him almost impossible. Lastly, there is no way to change the difficulty, so you can be hammered right on the very first stage. Should you make it to "The World", you can watch her move pretty close to the speed of sound as she matches objects together. The drop stack falls at an alarming rate if you can pull off more than two chain combos and the rounds can be over in ten seconds flat if you know what you're doing. This game also has the staple puzzle-solving mode, a high score mode, a versus mode, and an options menu. The only thing of interest within the options is the novel feature to change what your drops look like.
I have to say that this game is almost more trouble than it's worth and a chore to play, with or without a friend. The fairly average presentation, awful audio and perhaps insipid gameplay don't exactly sit well with me, and while the action is fast paced, the game is pretty uninteresting as a whole. To be fair, this game isn't that far behind its Arcade relative, so it's not a bad port... it's just an uninteresting game. The first game in the series isn't always the best; trust me. Thankfully, most of the other games in the series and ports are a lot better. Make sure you get Magical Drop 2 if you have to get one. You'll learn why when you read that article.
- Written by Bel Cain The Eternal -