by Travis Fahs3
Life is Magic Android Game Review
Do you believe in magic?
Red Robot Labs’ first Android title, Life is Crime, tried to stand out from the crowd of social sims vying to be the next Mafia Wars with its novel GPS hook that transformed map data of your neighborhood into a game level. For their follow up, they’ve decided to tackle the equally crowded social RPG genre with the same gimmick, transforming your home town into an alternate fantasy world.
This is interesting for a few reasons. Social RPGs generally don’t have a great sense of place compared to traditional RPGs. In the average social RPG, there’s no overworld to explore, and everything is handled through menus, removing that discovery element that can be so rewarding. By using mapping data to create its universe, Life is Magic literally serves up an entire planet to explore.
It does this through two basic views. One is the overworld, where you can find dungeons and towers to explore and conquer. In this view, you can zoom out to see hundreds of miles on screen, or all the way in to get a view of a town or two. You can delve into dungeons anywhere in the world, and your success will be logged in a leaderboard, letting other adventures see your triumphs.
The second view works like a classic RPG “town,” and is based on your real-world location. Here, you’ll find the 10 blocks or so around you represented as a medieval village. Your local grocery store may sell weapons and armor instead, and the bookstore might be peddling magic spells, but everything retains their real-world names. Here, too, you can compete with other players and “claim” these local hot spots by asserting “influence” on the buildings, although this mechanic is pretty inane.
Life is Magic bolsters its silly GPS hook with a polished presentation and mechanics. The turn-based battle system is obviously inspired by Japanese RPGs, but the magic system packs a bit more strategic depth than the usual Dragon Quest clone. Each magic spell creates and/or expends a token of a specific element. This means that certain spells can only be used after other spells have generated the necessary elements. These elements carry over from battle to battle, and building them up before a tough fight becomes an important part of the strategy.
The social aspect of the game is a bit peculiar compared to many other titles. Although there’s Facebook integration, there isn’t a classic friend list, and you’ll likely be playing mostly with random players. You can form a party with two other players, but you’ll only be able to see one of them upon invite, which can sometimes leave you with an unbalanced party. Once you find a good team, however, it’s enjoyable to level up together. The low sale value of loot means it’s often better just to gift items to your partners, which creates a strong sense of cooperation often missing from other similar games. Of course, if your friends can’t keep up with your progress, you might just ditch them and move on.
This is all very amusing for a couple days, but the massive world doesn’t do much to stave off the repetition that hinders so many games of this sort. The use of the GPS could be very interesting, if there were rare or unique items and locations to be found, but no matter where you are, you’ll find the same seven or so building types, selling pretty much the same merchandise (or random variants thereof). If you live in an urban area like I do, you’ll have at least a dozen shops to choose from without leaving your bedroom, leaving very little incentive to take the game on the road or use Travel Tokens to teleport to other areas.
There are only three basic dungeon types at each level, and only three levels of basic dungeons. This means you’ll be fighting the exact same series of monsters over, and over, and over, hoping to get that next piece of loot that will help you delve a little further. This progress feels too slow after the first couple days, and it can take hours of grinding just to be able to make it one fight further in each dungeon.
In-app purchases are fairly inoffensive here. High-end gear is restricted by level, so you can’t just buy your way over your head. There is, of course, one incredibly rare currency that certain items and spells require, and you’ll need to pay or go through the usual “free offer/app” shenanigans to get these crystals, but they’re not needed to play the game. The most obvious ploy is a meter that depletes as you complete actions, and refills in real-time unless you pay, but this is actually a blessing in light of the game’s repetitive nature.
Life is Magic makes a good first impression, with its colorful, well-animated graphics, solid battle system, and unique tie-in to the real world. Once you’ve settled in, however, it falls into the usual repetition as grinding becomes a chore. If Red Robot had given players more to discover, the location-based exploration could have become a real gameplay element, but instead it’s more of a novelty as you try to take over your favorite neighborhood chicken shack for no greater reason. As it stands, it’s still one of the better games of its kind, but it fails to elevate the genre to new heights.
Is it Hardcore?
Summary: Transforming maps of your real-world surroundings into a fantasy world sure sounds like fun, but there isn’t much to discover, leaving Life is Magic to stand on the merits of its fairly typical gameplay.