BY SEGA & SONIC TEAM, 2004
25 WORDS OR LESS:
A charming if bizzare love story is played out in a series of minigames and comic strip cutscenes.
I touch myself
Leave it to Sega to throw a curveball. They could have easily released a more "normal" DS launch game, something like Sonic or Puyo Puyo, but instead they went full force into finishing and releasing Feel the Magic, a kooky, visually different action game that does require more "action" than any of the other launch games. Like the DS itself, it’s made its way to America first, though it might have a tough time attracting players no matter where they are on the globe.
At a basic level, FTM is a simple tale of young love. Our hero, an everyday young man, is strolling through town one day when he crosses paths with an exceptionally beautiful girl and is instantly infatuated. Luck is on his side, for the leader of a "Super Performance Group" known as the Rub Rabbits pops in and asks him to join in order to gain confidence and perhaps even the lady’s heart. Though the game purports the lead characters as high school-aged, there’s not much stopping anybody from placing their own ages or faces on the characters thanks to everyone’s silhouetted, feature-less bodies, a point expressly pointed out by the developers.
About 15 stages are present in FTM, each one a collection of specific minigames. Four-panel comic style cutscenes set up each game, even though they don’t have a clear connection to the plot at times (everybody’s jumping out of a plane… why?!). Games are grouped into chapters, the overriding goal being the filling up of a heart meter to increase the girl’s affection and go on to the next chapter.
Passing games raises the meter by a certain percentage, and you’re free to retry the same game to keep filling the meter in case the others are too hard or don’t strike your fancy. It sounds like WarioWare, but its longer games and larger emphasis on plot makes its progression more like the PS one classic Incredible Crisis. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time before the guy grabs the girl’s attention, it’s keeping her around that’s the trouble, thanks to an evil, punk-haired fat guy trying to steal her away.
The games themselves run the gamut from "cute" to "funny" to "completely unoriginal," but they’re all fun and at times rather challenging. Your method of winning in each one is rarely the same thing each time, such as typing in numbers quickly, rubbing dirt off the girl’s body or "drawing" a path for monocyclists over high-rice scaffolding. One stage is even an homage to UGA’s Space Channel 5, sound effects and all. Though usually involving the touch screen, a couple of the games require blowing into the system’s microphone to extinguish alien candles or sail a boat. Another asks you to scream into the mic to get the girl’s attention in a busy crowd, but blowing still works fine if you’re not the type to be considered a raving lunatic.
In the world of bonuses, FTM offers only a sound test once you complete the game, as well as a dress-up suite called "Maniac" where you can collect head, body or foot adornments for the girl by finding hidden rabbit heads in the cutscnes which unlock the clothing. However, her changes only show up in the pre-game menu selections, not actually ingame, so the whole setup is nonsensical, not to mention wholly unrewarding.
While Feel the Magic is enjoyable and utilizes almost every touted feature of the DS outside of multiplayer (and uh, the D-pad), it’s still far from the be-all-end-all of the launch lineup. Something doesn’t make it quite as appealing as it should be, whether it’s the weak music (the second-long level introductions are more varied than the few variations on the title theme), not-as-involving gameplay (how about touching and blowing?!) or the humorous but not quite hilarious sensibility of the whole thing. Not that any of it feels loose; if you’re at all interested or even just a hopeless Sega fan, do indeed check it out, but just don’t expect it to stay in your system for long. Likewise, if you want some minigame action, buy it right now before WarioWare is out and it becomes too late. —Ray Barnholt