In games, it's never about how obvious an idea is. It's all in the execution. In Lostmagic, you cast magical spells by drawing icons with the DS' stylus. A sharply drawn inverted V sends a blast of fire at your enemies. A smooth S showers them in chilling ice. Yes, it's simple, but it's the execution - tough but addictive - that will keep you playing.
Castlevania tried this whole "draw the symbol" thing, but anyone who's played it knows that it was pretty irritating. In Lostmagic, the main character is an up-and-coming magician, son of one of the most powerful in the world. Using his father's elemental staff, he is able to cast six different types of magic - or even mix and match to create hybrid spells.
You'd think that would be enough for one game. After all, Lostmagic is the first to get it right. But really, it's not. Lostmagic is secretly a real-time strategy game in an RPG's clothing. Each battle takes place on a large map with plenty of natural features, like choke points where two rock outcroppings meet or pools of water that will slow down your progress. You control not only Isaac, the wizard kid, but also enemies that you capture with your dark magic. These units can be commanded to attack your foes while you back them up with spells - and you can separate units and send them out to different parts of the battle map in a multi-pronged attack or to hunt for treasure. That's important, too, because you're playing against the clock.
The big problem with Lostmagic is that the first hour of the game is a painful exercise in bashing your head up against the brick wall of figuring all this stuff out for yourself. The game does an OK job of explaining the basics, but it's so incredibly tough to actually apply them effectively that you're going to have to try and try again just to survive. It's the difference between being told how to drive a car and actually taking to the road.
Even if you make it through that trial by fire, you'll still find the game is a challenge. In fact, from the kid-friendly anime graphics to the simple spell-casting, the game seems like it should be easy. After the first hour or so, things open up - you can fight random battles, increase Isaac and your monsters' powers, as well as figure out better strategies to deal with what the game throws at you. That's when it truly becomes addictive.
Lostmagic is notable for being one of the few games that currently works with Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection. You can duel using the character you raised yourself - handicapping will keep you from getting smoked by someone at a higher level. If that doesn't sound appealing, you can duel with super-buff characters with full lists of spells and monster units. This includes the game's bosses, once you defeat them. Either way, it's hard to get really interested in this mode unless you tackle it once you've played a hell of a lot of the single-player game, and find a friend who's done the same. Even then, you're likely to run into frequent stuttering pauses in the gameplay if the internet connection isn't rock-solid.
Lostmagic can never quite overcome the fact that it's poorly balanced and difficult. Selecting the individual units you want when they're all bunched up can also be a problem, and they'll sometimes strike out on their own, undoing your planning. Between the speedy gameplay, the challenge and the control issues, you're going to die a lot. And that's a drag. But even so, there's a lot to like about this game. It plays to the DS' strengths, and when it all clicks, it's a lot of fun. Just be prepared to brute force your way through a lot of frustrating misfires if you decide to go for it.