Magic: The Gathering: Battlemage

     There's a legend behind this game. See, when my oft-mentioned friend Dan left to join the USMC, he left his old Playstation and games with me as a parting gift. But with it came these words of warning:

"Don't play Battlemage. It sucks."

     I could tell, honestly. The disc was totally unscratched, and the manual was in the jewel case unlike about half of his games. So I didn't touch the cursed disc for nearly two years.

     Holy crap, this thing sucks. I'll mainly call it a 'game' since it's in Playstation GD-ROM format.

     I have a love/hate relationship with 'fantasy.' I've been known to dabble in D&D; on the other hand I find the vast majority of medieval 'high' fantasy boring as hell. I've loved the Lord of the Rings movies thus far; but hell if I'll actually read Tolkien any time soon. And so on and so on.

      Which brings me to the immensely popular collectible card game Magic: The Gathering. The fact that something in my brain just doesn't want to memorize the rules beyond the basic concept of the game makes me something of an outcast among geeks. Most of my friends carry a deck around with them, ready to throw down at a moment's notice. Pokemon and the more recent Yu-Gi-Oh may come and go, but rest assured there will still be another series of themed Magic cards coming out when the shelves clear. Long after atomic bombs wipe humanity off the planet in a gory spectacle followed by a few years of agonizing living death begging for the rays of a dead sun, rest assured, the cockroaches will take over. And once that's done, they're going to whip out their tiny little Magic: The Roach Apocalypse decks.

     So, speaking as someone acting as a sort of moderator between those who grok and those who don't grok*, basically you have a deck of cards of varying types that you play in order to beat the other players. Or sorcerers or planewalkers or whatever you want to call yourself, Sir Lanced-a-lot, The Anal. Land cards, for example, supply you with Mana, which are basically magic points you spend to evoke a monster or spell effect. Monsters and spells inflict ticks of HP damage on other players and their servant critters. So, much as I gave up on Battletech for making me keep track of how often my mech overheats and gets its chest shot out in a pitched battle, I've resolved to take a more or less neutral stance on Magic: The Franchising.

     Though I will say I like it lots better than the ill-fated Ani-Mayhem CCG. Yeah, Akane's big sister from Ranma is really an even match for a Dragonball character riding in the Tiger Special from Dominion Tank Police.

     Where was I? Oh right, I was going to talk about Magic: The Gathering: Battlemage. The extra subtitle is for extra suck.

      But first, let me call attention to the fact that there are actually places on the internet where you can download videos of people playing Magic. I don't personally care, and I figure anyone out there who knows Magic likely knows about the live streaming CARD GAME FOOTAGE. So as a public service, I ask you to not narrate card games at your friends on the internet unless a fistfight breaks out or the demons come to life. Being given a to-the-minute report of just how boring the match is to you is inflicting an exponential amount of boredom upon your friends. And they'll tell their friends how boring it is, and they'll tell their friends, and so on and so on. Next thing you know, the entire world is bored and they launch a nuclear war just for something to do. For an idea of what happens after that, please refer to the roaches playing cards scenario seen above.

(Now THAT's what I call a tangent, folks. -ed)

     Finally, getting to the game. M to the G to the B is a Playstation game that makes me pine for the quick and streamlined play of the card game. You control one of seven Wizards who came to the world of Dominaria in the galaxy of Domino's or something to beat the mystical shit out of the other six. Standing between you and victory is also a clunky real-time battle engine. Basically, regardless of which character you select at the beginning they'll appear as a functionally immobile lump in Druid robes. The game also contains over 200 faithfully duplicated cards with their lovingly detailed paintings. But here the creatures are given AI that makes them function like the Goblin Special Ed battalions from Warcraft. Even the buttons act retarded. After a few fumbling attempts I realized I did, in fact have the instruction manual. Even after skimming it, I ended up relying on mashing one or more buttons down at a time to occasionally select and cast something that might show up on the map.

     The instruction manual offers you this bit of sage advice:

"Listen to the mystic voice say the name of the spell as it's being cast. If you hear the voice and you haven't cast the spell, get ready, because it's been cast by a rival and it's probably coming your way!"

      Get ready for what, exactly? Who knows. You character gave up the use of his/her legs in exchange for ungodly worldly power. So, let me paint you a scenario. You tap R1 and bring up your cards. Hitting left and right to cycle through them in no particular order. Mashing the selection key until it clicks and the Mystic Voice asks you to please tap Mana. Immediately after that, she says "Grizzly Bear. Ring of protection: Black." About five minutes later a brown twitching sprite walks up to your wizard, stares at it for a second, then swipes and teleports back to where it came from. Your life jewels go down to zero and you get your hopes up that the game is almost over, but alas, you actually have 20 life points. The game just only displays five at a time.

      The graphics and sound are every bit as nasty as the rest of it. If nothing else I have to applaud M:TG:B for ensuring an even quality of awful throughout the presentation. The opening cinematic is your first clue as a couple of faceless retarded wizards convulse and wobble 'mystically' while their spells and creatures do battle. One gets knocked off his pillar by a blue Genie, only to come riding back on the back of a giant purple spider. The interface screens are intricately detailed but about as coherently designed as the Excel Saga DVD menus. Protip: Click the upward-pointing arrow between wizard portraits to start a match. I can understand the deck construction screen taking a while, but just selecting a Wizard requires each player clicking the portrait to go to the real select screen, choosing, then going back. Repeat for Player 2. The in game characters are significantly worse than anything else so far, then again how many games can make the directly overhead perspective look good? If you said Mission: Impossible, congratulations; you're a retard.

     I figured the Magic video game was going to be a fast-paced, simplified game akin to Front Mission or any other number of strategy role playing games. Instead we're treated to a digitization of the card game, with an vain attempt to integrate it into a realtime engine. To put this all in perspective, imagine a game of cards with melodramatic presentation. Wherein Gladys of the Pineview Cul-De-Sac invokes the King of Spades, who slowly plods to the discard pile. "GO FISH!!" Bob, seller of propane bids.

     So I don't play cards either. Just take my word for it, I know a bad game when I see it, and Battlemage is a collapsed star in terms of suckage. For the bargain bin price of this you could probably just as easily get a pack of actual Magic cards. Or a roach trap.

*Stranger in a Strange Land is a pretty good book. By encouraging you to read it to find out what 'grok' is, I'm making up for saying Tolkien is boring.

Oh... there in the lower right. That explains EVERYTHING.

Imagine trying to figure out this interface without looking at the book your first time.