The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - PC Engine - Magical Chase









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Magical Chase - Palsoft/Quest - PC Engine - 1991

A deceptively cartoonish shoot-'em-up released near the peak of the console's lifespan, Magical Chase summons a surprisingly complicated and challenging title. Players are set in the role of a broomstick-riding young witch who battles an array of opponents deployed on a series of surreal, somewhat occult yet instantly appealing levels. Beginning with a simple selection of firepower, players shoot standard shots from their broomstick, knocking out foes along the way. However, you have a strategic asset in the form of two small yellow stars that shadow your character. These can be used a shields to assist you in absorbing certain types of shots or used to deflect others, offering a significant reflective capability. This unique gameplay mechanic allows you to counter. You can change their position on the fly, moving them into upper or lower positions in addition to the standard configuration in front of the ship. Its important to your survival during trickier sections. This simple system works by adding a layer of strategic play that adds some depth to the mechanics without making its gameplay overly complex or getting in the way of the relatively straightforward gameplay.

The initial waves of opponents you face during early stages are fairly predictable in terms of patterns and firepower, making them relatively easy to knock off, though some of them offer unexpected resistance with subtle movements and counters. Most of the enemies fly past in somewhat predictable patterns that are easy to anticipate, you're rewarded if you pay close attention, allowing you to navigate past the majority of opponents easily. However, larger-enemies arrive in the form of sub-bosses with more complex patterns, multiple hit points and layers of defenses providing a greater challenge. They'll deplete your power-bar quickly if you aren't careful. This is especially true during later stages during pitched battles where multiple foes streak across the screen and fire simultaneously. Its difficult to avoid taking on hits in certain sections, requiring a great deal of flexibility. However, an additional reward comes when you dispatch these characters. They subsequently leave behind small crystals in their wake that you can collect when you beat them, allowing to accumulate crystals if you defeat enough enemies as you progress through the levels and beyond. Crystals roll-over when you're defeated and continue that allows you to purchase even stronger items.

At sporadic points during each stage you'll encounter shops in the form of balloons which you can fly in and open. Here, you'll encounter the shop's unique Pumpkin-headed proprietor, who sells a variety of power-ups. You can now spend the accumulated crystals on various items displayed in the screen, which is simple in design and easy to navigate. These include energy boosts, firepower enhancements, shields. You can select from numerous store items that can be used to increase your life-bar, including large hearts for extra lives or continues. Most significantly, there's a generous assortment of weapon power-ups such as three-way firepower and smart bombs that can be utilized immediately. Several weapons are split into sub-categories which can be enhanced to create highly-effective projectiles, though not without significant expense. Spending your banked crystals wisely, you can exit the shop in a much-stronger position with added capabilities, increased energy and shields.

These enhancements bumps your character's abilities up noticeably and typically adds just enough capabilities, to help you endure the remainder of the level. This naturally depends if you spend the crystals wisely. Not everything is useful in each stage, which can result in frustration if you purchase the wrong items. Fortunately, Magical Chase offers generous continues, allowing you to try again quickly if you encounter unanticipated difficulty.Additional foes you encounter during this portion provide secondary preparation for your encounter with the end-stage boss. Comprised of several large sections and multiple stages, each one provides a challenging endpoint to the stage. Making note of their complex patterns and avoiding their streams of fire can be difficult at first. Its well-balanced gameplay carries over to its bosses. You might need to take multiple-attempts to destroy some of the end-stage bosses, but they're never excessively challenging or frustratingly cheap.

The game maintains a fairly good pace and consistent level of difficulty throughout the excursion. You can progress at a steady clip, working through stages quickly without encountering undue levels of difficulty, but there's enough to keep you challenged throughout. Occasionally, there are some cluttered areas that can be a little frustrating to navigate thanks to dense objects to avoid and numerous enemies appearing on-screen. However, this is mitigated by Magical Chase's strong technical aspects. The game runs at a consistent frame-rate throughout and doesn't suffer any noticeable slowdown, allowing you to arrive at a predictable pace and hold a steady momentum during each stage. The above-the-line visuals are fairly impressive, with multiple scrolling layers, smooth animation and appealing design making for an instantly accessible and durably enjoyable aesthetic.
Its imaginative characters and environmental designs are immediately appealing. Vibrant backgrounds and levels scroll by smoothly throughout. There are some moderately-impressive 3D effects scattered about, such as the first-stage bosses cube end boss. These represent creative diversions but implemented with a light touch. These sporadically positioned mostly during boss-encounters. Largely occurring in a fashion that doesn't overshadow the game's solid 2D appearance. Populated with an appealing cast of light-hearted, witchy companions and enemy characters forming an engaging personality. Magical Chase has an unmistakable personality with excellent music accompanying the proceedings. Implementing an appealing soundtrack that brings appropriately motivating, yet never overwhelming tunes and sound effects to the forefront.
Magical Chase's superlative presentation and accessible play mechanics are superbly implemented for the most-part, and its consistent quality makes for an appealing title with near-instantaneous and extensive appeal. One significant drawback in the game's otherwise laudable structure comes in its shop system. Surviving the game's levels can be a difficult without using the power-ups in the shops. However, you need to use different items and retry certain stages to find the best options. This trial-and-error system usually works, eventually. Unfortunately, it can become repetitious at certain points as you need to replay each stage from the beginning when you lose all your energy. Once you discover which store items are the best to use, the game play becomes much smoother. Requiring a modest amount of skill and persistence, the accessible shoot-'em-up marks one of the best titles in the system's superlative action library. Magical Chase is an immediately appealing and enduringly entertaining shoot-'em-up with a classic structure and robust style that rewards insistent players with a resplendent excursion.

- Michael Palisano