Magicama - Beyond Words






Genre:   Adventure puzzle game

Developer & Publisher:    Mulawa

Released:  April 2007





by Becky


As Magicama – Beyond Words opens, you see a satellite photograph of the continent of Australia, with a bull’s-eye icon on the eastern coast. Placing the cursor over this icon brings up a picture of a gold cloth and a small wooden box. Click on the icon and you are transported to a pastoral scene, looking at a sign that says “Mulawa” – the only word of identification in the game. So what’s in the box that designer Peter Hewitt of Mulawa has left behind?

Well, first you must find the box. Searching the landscape for this hidden “treasure” leads off the many challenges in Magicama – a collection of thirty games in all. Although some of Magicama’s games could be termed puzzle games, others are board games or card games. A few are variations of familiar games; most are truly novel. Many involve color and motion. None come with instructions. Just figuring out what some of these games are about is a challenge in itself.

Brain-Teasers for the Rest of Us?

First, a disclosure – I am not a puzzle achiever and I rarely play board or card games. I usually play adventure games, and these I play as much for the exploration and the story as for the puzzles. I’ve played “pure” puzzle games in the past (Pandora’s Box, for instance), but I’ve rarely had the patience to see one through to the end. The fact that I finished Magicama (with the occasional help of in-game Hints) means that anyone can prevail and enjoy this engaging and successful game.

Magicama takes you up and down the Australian coast through detailed photographs of verdant landscapes. Sometimes these photographic locations involve moving in a linear path; sometimes they are environments with 360 degree panning. The locations are identified on the map of Australia, but other than that you know nothing about them. They provide a setting for a seek-and-find game, but they do not tell a story. As you search the landscape, you’ll hear classical piano music playing in the background. Unusual, but it works.

Spicy Variety – Plus Brain Training

The games in Magicama present varied and very clever challenges. For instance, several employ different kinds of shapes, which you connect, spin, fit, stack, paint or count. Pictures appear which must be remembered, associated, or put back together. You’ll decode patterns and experiment with moving objects and their angles, outlines and colors. You’ll follow paths, block anticipated movement, strategize, configure, and weigh things.

The games are presented in a fashion that is extremely easy on the eyes. Each has its own colorful presentation. Some of the game boards have photographs or abstract designs as backgrounds. Many of the game pieces, buttons and frames have attractive textures. Discriminating colors is essential. No need for sound discrimination or tone matching though – and no mazes, sliders or math calculations.

When you have completed each game, a gold frame appears around that game’s image in your game journal. After completion, you have the option of taking on a timed challenge. (It is not necessary to do this in order to finish the game, but you will get an added graphic finale if you complete all the timed challenges.) Timed challenges can be attempted multiple times – failing to finish before the time has expired has no affect on your current score.

After completing the first (and easiest) level of each game, you can return to the map where a new location becomes accessible. One possible gameplay strategy -- playing just one level of the first game, then going on to the beginning level of the second game, progressing this way right through to the thirtieth game. Gleefully sampling a bit of everything, you will realize the full scope of what awaits you -- and will begin to see the way the designer’s mind works. However, you may be derailed from this initial survey approach, as certain games are bound to lure you into spending hours before you can tear yourself away.

Players will find that they are naturally good at some of these challenges -- and rather bad at others. I loved the games that tapped right into the way I think and analyze problems. But part of the Magicama experience is accepting unfamiliar challenges. The games that initially confounded me were very good brain trainers, teaching me new ways of seeing and thinking, and giving me many “aha!” moments. By the time I had beaten them, I was better at noticing details and patterns. I could more readily see the “whole” instead of just the parts. And I began to think more flexibly after reconsidering assumptions and trying out new strategies.

Three Winners

I can’t take the time to describe all thirty of Magicama’s games. So I’ll say a few words about three of my favorites.

Number Eight: A black drawing surface with six stars of different colors. Above the stars – swathes of webbed color in different formations. Your mission – copy these swathes by experimenting with the stars and deciding how they should be associated with one another. The game requires experimentation and close observation as you employ your palette to create elaborate, detailed and colorful artwork.

Number Four: A unique jigsaw puzzle. The pieces are variously sized rectangles, with pieces and images overlapping. When the pieces are misplaced, their images can become pixelated or obscured. Putting them in their right spots brings the picture into proper focus.

Number Fourteen: A bit like poker. A bit like solitaire. The luck of the shuffle, combined with strategy and (if you’re good) card counting and memory. A twist at the end that’s discoverable through experimentation. This one was extremely addicting. “Just one more hand,” I keep telling myself, “I know I can beat my best score.”

The Interface

Magicama features a point-and-click interface. Location searches are conducted via a first person perspective. All the games use the mouse to select and place the various game pieces. Your progress is saved automatically.  

Various tools are found at the bottom of the screen (you bring these up by moving the cursor to the bottom). You can turn the sound on or off or get a hint. Sometimes a mouse icon appears, signifying that you can use the right mouse button for different moves. Other tool icons include a map of Australia with links to each location, a game journal that lets you directly access the games you’ve started playing, and a bag that indicates how many points a particular challenge is worth (this changes to a clock when you’ve finished the timed version of that game). Here you’ll also find the game exit icon and a sign designating the running score – points can only be lost if you choose to use the Hints feature.

Hint, Hint – How I Made it Through

The Hint system, accessed through the photo of Peter Hewitt among the tool icons, is a welcome and thoughtful element of this game. I was grateful to get help when I needed it. After finishing Magicama, I went back and (out of curiosity) tried out all the Hints. Just as the games are varied, so are the hints. Sometimes the game places one piece on the board or selects one card for you. Occasionally, it plays an entire sequence. One time, the hint merely slowed a moving puzzle down to make it easier to see. Accessing the Hints feature lowers your final score slightly. But since the top score for this game approaches 20,000 points, the loss of a few hundred points in exchange for hints is an acceptable bargain.

Magicama is fun to play as a family or with a friend. You can each choose an icon at the beginning and play your own game separately. Or you may sit side-by-side and collaborate. A Magicama forum permits noodling with other friendly puzzle lovers. Once completed, several of the games can be replayed indefinitely -- especially those with randomly generated cards or board game-like configurations. This game can be as challenging or as relaxing as you choose and can last as long as you like.

The Downsides

I experienced one glitch in Magicama that halted progress by preventing me from going my merry way to the next location on the map. I contacted tech support, and sent a saved game to Peter Hewitt, who quickly modified it. After that, the game was glitch-free.

A couple of minor issues – in Game Twenty-seven, you arrange shapes to match a template. However, the solution check was inconsistent – at first the shapes had to be arranged with absolute precision, then later I “won” despite obvious gaps in the arrangement. (Did the game sense that this was a puzzle I was struggling with and decide to go easy on me?) In the Turtle game, I would have liked access at all times to a variety of colors so that I could create my own tessellated artwork.

The last downside: the timed version of the Sudoku-like game allows only fifteen minutes for completion. Despite repeated attempts, I never came anywhere close to this time. Clicking the Hints icon gave me only a smiley face, but no help. I finally cheated by copying the game board from the screen onto paper, going through and solving it -- which took nearly an hour. Then I filled in the correct pieces on the in-game board, which alone took a full four minutes. While beating the game in fifteen minutes may be possible for a Sudoku expert or a very fast thinker, it is almost impossible for a Sudoku amateur like me.

It’s Only Words

It is quite an accomplishment to have created a game as complex as Magicama without using a single word of explanation or instruction. The gamer works in the realm of thought -- mind-to-mind with the designer. Nevertheless, by the end of the game I wanted more. Not so much an explanation of how to play -- that was fun to figure out on my own. What I wanted was some context, maybe a bit of a story or an explanation for the quest down Australia’s coast.

I started reading Peter Hewitt’s Magicama journal, which was posted on GameBoomers and is also available here. The entries provided some insight into how and why the various games were created, and how the journey quest related to them. I recommend this as an absorbing read for anyone who has played the game and is interested in the story of its creation.

Who Should Play Magicama?

If you like casual games, and find it relaxing to putter around in a puzzle or board game from time to time, Magicama will bring you visual treats and some unique challenges. If you want to train your brain in a new way, this is certainly a game that will accomplish that goal (and you have the Hints feature to fall back on when necessary). If you are a puzzle aficionado, the decision is a no-brainer (so to speak) -- you must play this game.

Final Grade: A-

Magicama is an Independent Production of Mulawa Dreaming and can be purchased here.

My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2046 MB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio


April 2007

design copyright © 2007 GameBoomers Group

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