The DS can do a lot of peculiar things that other handheld systems can't - and it does most of them in Feel the Magic XY/XX, an exciting and unique little sampler pack of potential. As a visual treat, it’s equally stimulating, indicative of the kind of happily offbeat games the DS would one day come to be known for. But when those qualities are a game’s greatest assets, the best you can really say about it is that it’s a novelty act - an immediately entertaining curiosity that loses … well, its magic ... quicker than most games do.
The disjointed, dream-like story involves unrequited love, scorpion attacks, nightmare plant monsters and midnight raids on high-security facilities. The actual game is a collection of mostly stylus-based minigames that test your reflexes and tease your retinas in turns. The sensual, suggestive visual style is a kick - think a lavender-tinged iPod ad as it would appear during a crazy dream.
The game works the stylus to the max, as you might expect from one of the first games for the first real touch screen-based console. While most of the stylus moments make sense (tapping charging bulls as if in a shooting gallery, for example), sometimes the d-pad would have been a better way to go. To drive a car, for example, you use the stylus to clumsily grab a steering wheel and rotate it to the left or right. In some minigames, the challenge is the stylus control scheme rather than the game.
The novelty drops off a cliff once you've seen all the game has to offer, which happens pretty quickly. The endgame bogs down by presenting you with reprises of all-too-familiar challenges (damn, bulls again?) and a frustrating structure that forces you to repeat challenges you've already mastered.
While Feel the Magic does just about everything under the sun with the stylus, it doesn’t always make the best use of the second screen - aside from a couple clever missions, it's often just relegated to showing you weird peripheral stuff. There’s still an awful lot of real estate left to explore; a feeling amplified by the fact that the game ends too soon.
Like most of the DS’s launch lineup, Feel the Magic XY/XX is more experiment than game, but it’s easily the most interesting and entertaining experiment of that initial bunch. Buy it for its offbeat originality, and ponder the possibilities once developers really understand that there’s more to the DS than a little plastic pointer.