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Magical Drop 6 Review - A Solid Entry Shrouded By Legacy

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Magical Drop 6 Review - Windows PC

Magical Drop 6

Developer: Highball Games
Release Date: April 25, 2023
Available as: Digital

It amazes me how the Magical Drop series made it up to Magical Drop 6 when it never felt like there were more than a handful. For many Magical Drop fans, the series had remained stagnant since Magical Drop 3 and very few future entries will be able to capture the essence of the older titles. It didn't get to number six for no reason, however, largely due to the legacy that Magical Drop had left behind. One of Data East's fondly remembered arcade puzzlers, this was a title that was easy to understand with deceptively in-depth mechanics. It's arguably due to how easy it is to play that the series itself sees a dedicated and growing fanbase. Unfortunately, Magical Drop 6's reputation may have preceded this entry by a long margin.

Across all main titles, the basic gameplay of Magical Drop remained unchanged, inspiring many current puzzle combat titles that came after including Gematombe. Each game is a best two out of three rounds with both players aiming to clear a quota of lines. If a player's board fill, they lose, however clearing the board doesn't net any side any bonuses. In previous Magical Drop titles, the board automatically scrolled to prevent this as an empty board is the opposite of what a player wants in MD. Any side can collect as many gems of a single color as they can. When three or more gems are lined up vertically, they disappear along with any other gems connected to them of the same color. A chain can form when another reaction is made by lining up three or more gems, but before the chain before it disappears.

The story mode features all major playable characters split into three paths like a relay race.

How a game usually plays out is that the player sets the board so that there will always be at least one ready-made chain available. It's just a matter of throwing gems into others as one chain resolves to keep a streak going, which increases the intensity of the player's attacks. Every chain causes its character to attack, filling the opponent's board with junk. This can help with the second win condition and the fast-paced gameplay pairs with the "meet the quota" win condition. Magical Drop is a game where time is always against you and certain characters that can disrupt an opponent's board are far greater than other "fairer" characters.

Magical Drop 3 is often considered to be the "gold standard" of the Magical Drop series as it is also a sentimental one for Neo Geo fans. This would be the final arcade game that Data East would develop and the final arcade title in the Magical Drop series. The fourth game was Japan-exclusive on the PlayStation. It would be a decade later in 2011 when Magical Drop 5 was released as a PC exclusive and a decade more for Magical Drop 6 to release as well. This marks the first time since 1999 that a new Magical Drop was released on consoles. While the Data East years have long passed, Magical Drop 6 manages to maintain the spirit of the classic trilogy at least.

All of the characters are voiced in Japanese, eliminating the awkward English voice acting from the original International trilogy release

I'm reviewing this game shortly after one of its major patches that have helped in balancing the game somewhat. Apparently, to unlock one of the game modes, players had to clear Story Mode in Normal Mode. To be fair, most puzzle games in the 90s had strict stipulations to encourage their players to try the challenging difficulties once they learned the games in easier difficulties. It's 2023 and video games have long since made advancements past "difficulty gatekeeping" and "password screens" outside of novelty purposes and the developers may have realized this as well. Certain characters that also needed specific requirements to unlock were also unlocked by default now, including Justice and Fool. While ongoing efforts are being made to balance Magical Drop 6, perhaps it's a bit too inspired by its retro origins in terms of progression.

Story mode only exists to unlock the Path of Destiny mode as that's one of the main modes used to unlock characters for other modes. The Story Mode begins on a game board-style world map, with the Lovers character as she fights her first rival. Upon defeating them, the player then controls the opponent until they fight the next foe, in this case, World. Then a path splits into two branches, determining the player's ending. Going for the "Evil" ending means the player's opponents will be Empress and Black Periott while the "Good" ending may be against Fortune or other "Lawful" characters. In between each duel, there are mini-games that are essentially "clear X number of colored gems in a certain time" kind of missions.

Path Of Destiny is the game's true main mode, expanding more on its board game genre.

After getting any of the game's endings, the player will unlock Path Of Destiny, the game's true main mode. It's the exact same structure as Story Mode except Magical Drop 6 really went down the Mario Party path. If at any time the player's thought while playing Story Mode was "This looks an awful lot like a board party game," this mode is why. It's the exact same ordeal as Story mode including mini-games and "cursed" spaces. While these matches tend to drag, it is also one of the modes that players can unlock the rest of the characters to play as. Beating the characters in Story mode only allows the player to fight them in Match mode, something I completely misunderstood at first.

With certain characters, different unlock requirements are needed to allow access for all modes. Just because one character is unlocked in Path Of Destiny mode, doesn't mean that they are unlocked in Survival or Caravan mode. With a non-linear progression method that deters the players away from the main mode the developers want them to play, you would think the developers would make story mode less of a headache and more of a treat for fans of the series yes? After a post-launch patch, the developers are in the right direction but that's only easing the requirement of unlocking PoD mode.

No, leave me alone. (Begins a new game in Hard difficulty)

In the past, the player needed to play in Normal mode, again mirroring games of that era, in order to reap the "true" rewards of clearing the game. Easier difficulties were known as "practice rounds" but 30 years later, gatekeeping like this wasn't the best idea. What baffled me was that despite looking to the past, the game is brutal when it comes to its Story mode. Each game is a best two out of three rounds. If the player loses any game in story mode, they are sent back to the main menu. There are no continues. Just a single "whoopsie daisy we have a problem!" and suddenly "MAGICAL DROP SIX!" Back to the title screen!

I don't know why they even bothered to punish the player like this as it's incredibly easy to abuse. All players need to do is simply exit the main menu if a game is going wrong. For some reason, exiting this way will save the game to the last known event within the "game board world," meaning the player can reset as many times as it takes. Why not just add a "restart" option? Perhaps the difficulty wouldn't have been an issue if this simple fix was addressed in this way. Aside from this, the art design and aesthetic is all personal preference. It was clear the developers were going for a modernized look and the designs are as close to their original appearances as possible.

The minigames are vastly unique, especially the ones towards the end of story mode.

The base gameplay is the same, there are enough flashy effects and other gimmicks going on that blend together quite well. The problem I had with Magical Drop 6 was that the gameplay itself was fun but unlocking everything made everything into a chore. It felt like I wasn't fully allowed to enjoy myself unless I did things the game wanted me to, like "Clear X mode on Hard mode to unlock this character!" Even if I wanted to play my favorite character, Empress, I'd have to clear PoD mode with 100 coins which isn't a difficult task but it breaks the flow at times.

This makes recommending Magical Drop 6 a bit of an interesting notion as fans of the series can finally enjoy a new title for the first time in over a decade. The older titles have been re-released in some capacity and I recommend anyone who enjoys this game to check the original trilogy out. It was never a game that took itself seriously and was identified by its colorful quirky cast, all with their strengths and weaknesses. By that benchmark, Magical Drop 6 succeeds in carrying the torch left by Data East almost 30 years ago despite being somewhat shrouded by its legacy.

Magical Drop 6 is available on Steam, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. This review was made possible thanks to

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