Saturday 15 August 2009

Magic Boy

I should invest in some Kennels.

Magic Boy, a game I have on a disk for DOS somewhere but I keep forgetting exists. Developed by a company known as "Blue Turtle" and published by Empire Interactive (or JVC for the SNES version), this game was released for a heap of "similar" platforms back in 1993 - Commodore's Amiga, the Atari ST, DOS and later, the Super Nintendo. Having had a bit of success back in the day, Magic Boy has largely been thrown aside and forgotten about, only occasionally being dug up by strange people like me.

The best way to describe Magic Boy is "A mixture between Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands". Those two titles were big hits with the Commodore crowd, so it makes sense to try and cash in on that "style". You play as some kid who jumps about shooting at monsters, collecting their rotten corpses and then dumping them off-screen. Logically you'd think getting all the monsters, (considered by the manual to be the primary problem) would make you progress, but it seems that Blue Turtle thought it would be better for its DOS users to have to hunt for books as well. I should mention that if you don't find the book in time, the monsters regenerate, and sometimes it's impossible to go backwards without dying, so you can see how needlessly awkward and challenging this game can be.

If by some miracle you do find the book, you're treated to a bonus stage where you can get some more points. With no high score screens within viewing distance, I do have to wonder why they exist though. There's also a two player option if you want to double up the suffering, though even the player in the rolling demo can't do it so I'm not sure why you'd want to have two people give it a go.

My major issue with this game, and why it's left a bad taste in my mouth, is the music and sound effects. The DOS version's musical score makes a mockery of anyone who had invested in a soundblaster (or adlib) sound card and its music is inspired by Popeye's theme (The Sailor's Hornpipe) for some reason. Even the PC's internal speaker could do a better job... if that hadn't been butchered here too. It actually prompted me to check out DOSBox's website to see whether it was a fault on the emulation side of things, but it seems it was just a case of the DOS port drawing a very short straw. One interesting thing I found was that if you turn up the CPU cycles in DOSBox, the music's pitch gets higher. Now is that poor programming or poor emulation... you decide!

So, fed up with the DOS port I thought I'd travel to Amigaville and see what Commodore's computer made of it. The result... wasn't too bad. Levels on the Amiga port end once the monsters have been removed, just like it should be, and the music, though still not brilliant, actually sounds okay through the Amiga's sound chip. The levels also have backgrounds as opposed to just white sparkles on navy blue. The Atari ST port is practically identical to the Amiga and the Super Nintendo version seems to address many of the DOS version's problems as well.

And so we have an instance where a game was actually broken when it was ported to the DOS platform. I've heard of games having their soundtrack removed or damaged and their colours toned down for CGA/EGA machines, but never where a game's primary feature was nonexistent. Now I'm aware I may just have a dodgy version of the game, but the distinct lack of any documentation about this title on the internet means I don't know if was a common thing. I just have to guess that it was.

When I originally started writing this post I was going to give this game quite a bit of beating, but Magic Boy isn't as awful as I first thought. Remember kids, just because you've got the more powerful machine doesn't mean it's games are better! Of course it isn't the most appealing title - it's first level is, after all, "SAND LAND", but it's still decent and may be worth caring about if you've got the right version. Don't go expecting it to outclass Taito's works though.


  1. I'm still reading your blog, and I have subscribet to it's RSS feed. I'm just telling it to say you you still have fans.

  2. I swear the kid gets fatter in game than the title..

    I like seeing this obscure stuff. Missing all the pirate stuff but still, this is cool :)