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Magical Drop F
Score: 76%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: MonkeyPaw Games
Developer: MonkeyPaw Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Classic/Retro/ Puzzle/ Family

Graphics & Sound:
Magical Drop F is an import, so sharpen your kanji skills and get those translators ready! Trying to play an import game is a bit like traveling to a foreign country, where you can't even piece together which way to go or how to do simple things. Luckily, under the menu titles in Japanese, you'll see subtitles in English that are actually part of the game graphics. So, selecting options for gameplay isn't that daunting, but reading through the in-game dialogue will be a challenge if you don't know some Japanese. It's unfortunate that some translation couldn't have been cribbed together for Magical Drop F, but gamers that crave this frantic puzzle action will be glad to see the game on PSP, in any form. The graphics default to fullscreen, in the middle portion of the PSP screen, which you'll want to adjust using the included feature that stretches/zooms the image. Luckily, Magical Drop F is only as retro as the '90s, so while the graphics are somewhat dated, they're vibrant and full of life. A good sense of humor pervades Magical Drop F, and the sound effects behind the madcap action are perfectly matched to the visuals. Compared to comparable block- and bubble-matching titles that are more familiar to US audiences, Magical Drop F feels less aimed at a casual audience looking for some chill-out time. The spirit of the game, at least from outward appearances, is zany and full of typical but funny anime types mugging for the camera and becoming hysterical at the drop of a bubble.

The classic puzzle-game action you'll find in Magical Drop F feels somewhat like a fighting game, showing that the Puzzle Fighter model was brewing in various corners at the same time this was originally launched. The best example of this is Battle Mode, within which you'll have the option to play alone or with a friend, and to battle for supremacy against several rounds of opponents. As bubbles drop from above, you have to grab sets of the same color and throw them back up to form groups of three, which can also spark a chain reaction. For players that don't want the immediate competitive pressure, there's Endless Mode, much like the challenge of classic Tetris that just marches inexorably down the screen. Probably the hardest mode to comprehend is called Travel, which is basically a story-driven campaign. If you can read Japanese, this option may be thrilling, but know that it requires frequent interaction with other characters. If you don't know what the options are for dialogue, you're going to have a tough time driving the Travel mode forward, other than simple trial and error. Beyond these play modes you have the added incentive of unlocking images and videos to be viewed from the "extras" menu option. We can't help but like Magical Drop F for its simple and humorous style, and the bubble matching/popping mechanic has obviously proven itself. Playing the import is less than ideal if you aren't capable of reading kanji, but between Battle and Endless, you can still enjoy yourself. Replay value, if you're committed, is good since there are tons of potential opponents. Each has a slightly different special attack, which you can adopt when playing as any of the available characters in Battle Mode. By the time you successfully defeat the full cast and master each special attack, you will have put some serious time into this game. It's the first few hours that will make or break you...

The level of challenge here is significant, depending on where you jump in. During the first few levels, you may be deceived into thinking this will be an easy ride. Certain opponents will quickly disabuse you of these notions, crushing you under wave after wave of falling bubbles. Using special attacks is part of it, but moving quickly is your greatest opportunity. A training mode embedded here will help, but let's face it: The rules are pretty darned simple. Controlling the flow of bubbles down and back is also pretty simple, once you get the hang of it. Certain tricks you learn along the way, and because opponents have slightly different approaches, you can craft a strategy to oppose each one. Because of the steep difficulty curve, most players will be a bit turned off by Magical Drop F. Playability and pacing is important, and where games like Bubble Bobble got it right, Magical Drop F missed the mark. It hits players with too much, too soon, perhaps because it landed originally in the arcade, where one never expected to play for 30 minutes on one quarter. Now that we've had the benefit of slower-paced Match-3 games, including new interesting mash-ups like the PopCap collaborations with Square, it's hard to go back to such a raw, unfiltered puzzle game.

Game Mechanics:
The hardest thing to get used to is the switch between (X) and (O) being reversed. This has been true in other games, and Magical Drop F does offer alternate control schemes, so this isn't a dealbreaker. There are some strange button mappings by default, including a control scheme that has you pushing the Home button in place of Select or Start, to access the in-game menus. You can select basic options from within the game, but the bigger changes must be made by pushing the button you usually use to return to the PSP main screen. It's a shame that the game didn't build in a way to save from this screen, but it does give you the option to manage previously saved games. Otherwise, all is pretty spare. You have two buttons for grabbing and throwing bubbles, plus one for triggering your special attacks. It's not that the game's controls are difficult, but we mostly felt like the pacing of the game forced a rush-performance. This is true in almost any battle, but especially so as you move upward in the ranks. The concentration required to master Magical Drop F is considerable, so don't grab this one thinking it's a casual experience. This is a matching game from a period before these games were considered anything other than serious challenges for core gamers. We have a long love affair with bubble match/pop games, going back to the late '90s, but this is probably best viewed as a collector's item, and remains overshadowed by more balanced games that arrived on the scene later.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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