Countless hours spent tapping mana, summoning minions, strategically incanting spells, and trading cards with friends during study hall all came flooding back this month. Having once abandoned such pursuits long ago, the release of Magic: The Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers has once again opened Pandora’s Box. The faithful will be pleased, for the most part.
Playing the role of dueling wizards, Magic: The Gathering has you wielding an array of powerful spells from five different colored categories, each of which possesses certain elemental affinities and properties. Your deck of cards equates to a tome’s worth of spells and creatures that can be summoned forth onto the battlefield to engage in turn-based magical warfare. Mana cards power your wizardly capabilities, while creature cards form up your armies to attack and defend in melee combat. Spicing up the meat and potatoes of the game, other spell cards deal damage, meddle with opponents in various ways, and cause all sorts of glorious mayhem.
Like any fantasy card game, there are a lot rules and nitty-gritty details to learn. A straightforward tutorial judiciously brings neophytes up to speed without beating them over the head. The no-nonsense presentation closely emulates what it’s like playing the card game on a tabletop, allowing old school players to dive right in. That said, some limitations have been imposed in Planeswalkers that may not sit well with hardcore Magic geeks. You’ll start out with access to a few basic, pre-made decks, and then you’ll unlock extra cards and new decks by progressing through a series of head-to-head duels in the campaign mode. Unfortunately, bonus cards are married to the deck they were unlocked with; you can’t switch them back and forth between decks. This depressing lack of total deck customization is the only major downer here.
Magic: The Gathering is best enjoyed as a group activity, and Planeswalkers’ multiplayer elements deliver. Head-to-head, co-op, and larger group matches can be played locally and on Xbox Live. Matches are often intense affairs tempered by just the right mixture of strategy and luck. The wildly unpredictable nature of each face off – and the fact that either opponent can gain or lose their advantage on the turn on a dime – keeps things exciting. Though it’s far from perfect, Planeswalkers is still a great choice for re-living moments of nerdy nostalgia or diving into the card game for the first time. It’s certainly a hell of a lot cheaper.
Aug 17, 2009