Several months back, we touched on a Singapore-based startup called Manga Castle. It took that long for the developer to show us the fully Facebook-integrated version of their anime-style social game, Magic Castle, which operates as a stand-alone site connected through Facebook.
Reminiscent of apps like SuperPoke!, Magic Castle combines social interactions with virtual spaces to make a simplistic, yet charming social game that marries classic social gaming mechanics with a cute, anime style. Nevertheless, it’s a title that suffers from a lack overall purpose, and is often unclear as to what the point of many of its features are.
Starting out, players choose one of a handful of preset avatars that are representative of some of the more cliché anime personalities: the overly jubilant man, the serious guy, the bubbly girl, and so on. Right off the bat, players are granted a colorful cauldron in which they can mix pairs of random ingredients (broken hearts, chili, whips, and other randomness) together.
This is where things get interesting as players never know, for sure, what will come out of the brew. By buying cheap ingredients and mixing them, players will create random items that can be used on Facebook friends. This is where the well-known “poke” mechanic comes in, as these items can be used to harass or help one another.
Consisting of things like pranks, novelty items, and healing abilities, players can use their brewed creations (e.g. a slingshot or pimple outbreak) on one another. It’s a nice concept, and one that has proven popular in the past. Moreover, the anime/manga style adds a different flavor to the game that most of its predecessors did not have. The downside to this, however, is that “poking” one’s friends in this way doesn’t have a clear point or effect, a realization that led most players to give up on doing it long ago.
With each interaction, players gain experience, but can also raise and lower each other’s health and mood. As an example, a slingshot used on a character will lower its health while a healing item will restore it (which can be sent by friends). Other “pokes” also affect one’s mood, which is reflected in the Magic Castle profile. It seems that experience gates what abilities one can brew and what ingredients can be bought, and we’re also assuming health affects the actual ability to brew, while mood appears as just a fun extra for one’s profile. Unfortunately, the game never explains the true purpose behind any of these.
What does work well for Magic Castle is that brewing items comes with a sort of riddle. Since players do not know what will make what, there is a section called “Hints” that gives users subtle clues as to what two items are needed to make a specific spell. If you’re a fan of riddles, trying to resolve them and purchase the right ingredients is actually pretty fun, and once discovered the spell can be rebrewed (over a set amount of time) to be either used on friends or sold for a small profit.
This profit, though extremely small early on, can be used to purchase not only new ingredients, but decorative items for a virtual room as well. All in 2D, it’s best described as a static, anime-style, Pet Society type of room, that can, of course, be visited by friends. It may not seem like much, but the addition is a feature that is generally quite popular with social games.
If there is any one significant complaint with Magic Castle, it’s that the game seems confused in what its overall purpose for playing is. It has a lot of game elements, yes, but new players seem to be left with the question of “what do I do?” Should players strive to decorate the best room? Is it just a toy to poke friends with? Is the goal to be the highest level on the leaderboards? Or is it a puzzle-type game for discovering new brews? Independently, none of these are bad things, but they all feel like parts just thrown together with no unifying factor.
The only other problem is that the decorative items for the virtual space are vastly overpopulated with goods that cost virtual currency. On the whole, very few cost in-game coins, and even then they are very expensive compared to the miniscule profits earned through selling brews. The combination of these two aspects makes playing for decorative purposes discouraging.
Despite its issues, most of the problems with Magic Castle are easily fixable. And while the game may be made up of older concepts, it’s actually rather refreshing, in a nostalgia-inducing-way, to see it steer away from the mold of city-builders, farming, and other popular genres, and focus more on simplicity. While not for everyone, Magic Castle is a cute and simple game that could potentially have some staying power.