English Review: Magical Drop II (Neo.Geo AES)
Magical Drop II (Neo.Geo) 01.29.2023
This puzzle-game made by Data East was released in 1996 on many systems: Neo Geo (AES, CD and MVS formats), Saturn and Super Famicom.
The very manga-oriented intro highlights a few characters from the game, all drawn from tarot cards. It offers the bare minimum but at least has the merit of being effective!
This is followed by a “How to play” session which briefly presents the gameplay mechanics. Using the joystick, you control a little clown located at the bottom of the board, the goal being to burst all the balloons that flood the screen. With the A button, you can shoot balloons towards you (you can also accumulate several of them, but only if they are of the same color). With button B you will release them. To pop the balloons, nothing could be simpler: just make a column of 3 balloons of the same color (the adjacent balloons will also explode if they are of the same color). There are four basic colors for balloons: green, yellow, blue and red. Of course, there are many items that spice up the game: ice balloons that cannot burst (they will turn into normal balloons if you manage to pop the standard balloons located next to them), bubble balloons that you have to crush so that they explode, special items that will explode all the balloons of a specific color present on the screen (which depends directly on the color of the item), horizontal and vertical arrows that will burst an entire row/column (depending on the arrow direction of the item), gems, etc.
The overall goal is to pop all the balloons before they inexorably reach the bottom of the screen, threatening to crush your poor clown.
3 main modes will be offered to you in the Japanese version (against only 2 for the Western version, a very weird choice from Data East):
Puzzle Mode: this is actually a Survival mode (similar to the standard mode of Tetris for example). The longer you hold, the faster the scrolling speed of the balloons will increase and the more vicious the patterns will be.
Time Attack Mode: in this mode (a good one to exercise your brain by the way!), you will have to succeed in a succession of very short levels in a minimum of time, in order to accumulate bonus points. This Time Attack mode folds quite quickly but it is a good introduction to assimilate the basics of gameplay.
It is interesting to note that in the 2 modes above, the screen is particularly wide. Thus, you will have to navigate between many rows of balloons. To save you from heavy and exhausting movements in the long run, the developers have added very practical little doors (located at the bottom of screen, in each corner), allowing you to teleport the clown to the left and right ends of the screen.
Finally, let's mention the most interesting part of Magical Drop 2, which makes it so exciting with an almost unlimited replay value:
- The Versus Mode against the CPU (renamed "Story Mode") or even better, against a human! To overcome your opponent, there are 2 solutions: either you beat him by flooding him with balloons, or you manage to burst the 200 balloons on your own board before him. A gameplay mechanic that I have not yet mentioned takes on its full meaning and interest there, chain combos! Indeed, if you manage to perform combos by exploding groups of balloons successively, you will send balloons into your opponent's board, significantly complicating the task for him. By achieving a chain combo x6 or x7, there is little chance that your opponent will be able to recover, even if the turnarounds are more frequent than it seems! These chain combos are not easy to perform at first (the timing is quite tight, more so than in Magical Drop 3 I reckon) but once you understand the principle, it's a pure delight and the game then takes on a whole new dimension! The ultra-intense parts (quite short by the way) follow one another at a frenetic pace. You risk losing track of time! Only your numb and aching wrist may remind you that you should turn off the console or at least take a break...
The versus mode is all the more interesting when you face a human player of a similar level. In solo mode, the first games won't be too much of a problem for you, but the last 3-4 are on a whole different level! Good luck beating the Empress, she does chain combos at lightning speed...
As I was mentioning earlier, the characters are based on tarot cards. There are 7 basic ones (The Fool, The Star, The Chariot, The High Priestess, The Justice, The Magician and The World) but you can unlock 3 additional ones (the 3 bosses: The Devil, The Strength and The Empress) with this code:
At the character selection screen, press down on the following characters: The Fool, The Magician, The High Priestess, The Chariot, The Justice, The Star, and The World.
Characters have different power levels (power has a direct influence on how fast balloons scroll and how many balloons you can pop) and dedicated items. Playing The World character, you will most likely crush your opponent in versus mode!
The graphics are very colorful, in the purest kawaii style. Some animations in the background accompany the games, indicating the mood of the characters depending on the situation (joy, sadness, anger, etc.). You will notice in the roster the presence of a very large number of women and young girls, often quite naked... The Empress with her tight black leather outfit and her whip apparently managed to escape Western censure... Either way, waifu fans will be in heaven!
The musical environment, very playful (or rather hysterical, should I say!) fits perfectly with the universe. That of the puzzle & time attack modes become quickly annoying, especially given these are always the same... Fortunately, the versus mode offers a little more varied melodies, since there is one per character. It will take a little time to deal with the sound effects, particularly... deafening!
In conclusion, Magical Drop 2 is a very good puzzle game, to be preferred in multiplayer mode and ideally against an opponent of a level equivalent to yours to take full advantage of it. Halfway between Puzzle Bobble and Tetris, it offers an excellent compromise between dexterity and thinking/reflection, even if it will probably be a little too action-oriented for some people's tastes... I place it roughly at the level of Magical Drop 3, perhaps a very slight notch below the latter (for its reinforced multiplayer aspect with a largely expanded roster; and also for its slightly more elaborate music generally). Thanks to Tony who sold me this original copy in very good condition (despite a slight sunfade on the tranche of the insert), thus allowing me to get closer to the full AES japanese set. “Only” (or “still” should I rather say!) 3 games to find to complete my full set, and not most obvious ones to grab: Big Tournament Golf, Metal Slug 1 and Over Top... Just that! And I'm not even talking about upgrades...
My score : 15 out of 20 (single-player mode) & 16.5 out of 20 (multiplayer mode)
A little family photo...