The Magic Circle is more about games than it is a game. It’s a parody of game design, game testing, player entitlement and auteurism, and as such it’s a fascinating and captivating experience to play that’s like no other.
You step into the shoes of a game tester, entering the game The Magic Circle after it’s been in development hell for over a decade. Minimal staff remain, having been fired or driven off by the obsessed lead designer, Ish. Maze, a former esports star is trapped with Ish, having to lend her voice to the game as part of a contract signed years ago; she can’t quit but instead tries her best to be fired. Meanwhile, a new, plucky programmer has joined the team, having been a lifelong fan of Ish’s work, but her real agenda is quickly revealed. Then there’s the entity within The Magic Circle that needs your help in finishing the game so he can finally be free.
The small cast are superbly voiced and explore the aforementioned concepts with each other and you through tremendous writing. It’s smart, funny and entertaining throughout. Meanwhile, an aesthetic that shifts between black and white fantasy and brightly coloured pixelated industrial design, provides a strikingly unique visual playground to explore as you test the game for Ish and soon alter it for the mysterious entity.
With the few remaining staff involved in their own personal battles or self-delusion, you are left largely unchecked. Before long, thanks to the mysterious AI entity within the game, you’re whisked away into a large area in-game that’s inaccessible to any normal tester. Here the ability to materialise previously deleted game assets, as well as edit objects and enemies, is introduced and the meat of the game is revealed: explore the game-world and hack enemies and objects to acquire the ability to get close to the in-game representation of the new programmer, hack her and gain god-like abilities in-game to allow you to finish what was started over a decade ago.
Editing objects and enemies is the crux of the experience. By changing their allies, foes and abilities you can create powerful friends to aid you as you explore the strange and hostile world. With no weapons and only the ability to edit, having an army of modified monsters follow you around to protect you is mighty handy. Meanwhile, imbuing them with the ability to fly, resist fire or shoot projectiles aids you in overcoming the puzzles set out before you. Before long you can search the world unimpeded.
Additionally, thanks to the ability to edit objects and enemies, you can explore different methods to overcome obstacles. However, the scope is fairly narrow, usually with one primary way to solve your quandary and any other solution feeling exploitive. As such, once you’ve mastered this editing mechanic it doesn’t take long to fully explore the world and make you way toward the programmer’s avatar.
Beyond this point, The Magic Circle becomes an entirely different experience, and we wouldn’t dare ruin that for you here. Expect more excellent dialogue, enhanced versions of your previous editing abilities, and a delightfully entertaining and revealing glimpse at game design.
It’s unfortunately a short experience, and one that doesn’t lend itself to repeat playthroughs, however, it’s amusing and impactful whilst it lasts and should be at the very top of everyone’s ‘must play’ list. The Magic Circle’s parody approach and unique mechanics that change your role from player to developer are truly fascinating to explore and you absolutely must experience it.
Thanks to Xbox and Question for supporting TiX