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Magicka 2: Worst. Wizards. Ever.


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The wizard is an authority of the arcane, enrobed as if to protect countless secrets and tricks from unworthy eyes. Sometimes the wizard comes with a beard, which just screams wisdom (especially when tugged hard enough), and sometimes the wizard comes with a hefty book in hand. Sorry, did you say book? Please, this is a TOME.

If the wizard demands respect, the Magicka series of video games just couldn't be bothered to give it. Cast as incompetent, catastrophically clumsy killing machines, the faceless wizards of Magicka have their hearts in the right place. It's the fireballs that are in the wrong place. Meanwhile, lightning is zapping a fellow wizard instead of a monster horde and, hey, you over there - maybe go easy on the spell that tends to immolate us all?

Gallery: Magicka 2 (Dec. 2014) | 7 Photos

The creators of the first Magicka, Arrowhead Games, have grafted a similar conceit to many of their games. Their house style is "dial-a-chaotic-event," with up to four players each priming straightforward attacks in a deliberately convoluted way. In Magicka, for example, you might enter a sequence of face-button presses that determines a spell's elemental basis (ice), its strength (lots of ice), how it's dispersed (in a circular area) and who gets hit by it (we're all frozen, thanks). It's needlessly complicated and tough to get right, especially while you're swarmed by critters and stomping on your burning robe from the last spell gone awry.

While Arrowhead Games has gone on to create a new and bungle-prone Gauntlet and the upcoming Helldivers, in which you dial for supply drops that might crush you, Pieces Interactive and Paradox proper are continuing with Magicka 2. The PC-focused publisher is bringing Magicka's vibrant wizard combat to PlayStation 4 as well, where it already feels primed to be a 2015 breakout.

My session with Magicka 2 had the expected outcome, inasmuch that I expected my co-op wizards would destroy me repeatedly before we even escaped a sprawling cave. Choosing between five magical elements on the DualShock 4 controller is an easy one-tap start, but the web of decisions from that point on (square, circle, triangle, square again?) ensnared us all to hilarious, infuriating effect.

I hereby summon a bolt of cleansing lightning!

Oh, I see, we were standing in a puddle. Let's not do that again. I'll just throw a magic boulder.

Oops, I didn't think it would be that big, or that you'd all be knocked off the cliff like that.

Guys, I have a sword! I think I can give it elemental powers! Fire sword!

Nope, sorry, that was a fire mine beneath your feet. I should do a healing mine behind us, so we can heal as we step over it in retreat!

I've frozen myself, sorry. But I guess I can cast elemental protection on myself, too? I'm going to put on stone armor.

Wait, no, that's healing? Hang on, I'm healing myself. Uh... no, is this elemental immunity I've cast? I'm immune to healing now.

And so on.

Slapstick comedy is still a rare occurrence in video games, especially when the punchline is meant to come from the player. Magicka 2's structure allows for a deft blend of that comedy and the traditional monster-mashing quest, but what truly sets it apart is a curious paradox: in increasing the complexity of the mundane, it's making itself more accessible.

You've probably seen the hesitance. That shrug that comes with, "Oh, I don't really play games." As I've played games over the years, I've become acutely aware of how much I take for granted - the levels of complexity that I see as mindless muscle memory, the intimidation that I've become numb to. Though Magicka 2 requires basic maneuvering skills and a willingness to be accidentally charbroiled, it's also neatly color-coded and presented from an illustrative top-down view.

And everyone bumbles. Magicka 2 is a full-blown cooperative simulation of haphazard wizardry, in which the barriers are equally artificial for everyone. The button inputs are bonkers, so twisted as to create a kind of equality amongst players. I've no doubt that a couple of hours will result in mastery and memorization for skilled players, but at least everyone starts in the same place, in cooperative ineptitude, most likely on fire.
[Images: Paradox Interactive]

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