When Nintendo’s dual-screen portable hit the scene, its release list was most decidedly checkered. Some games were traditional, others bland, and one happened to be unique among them all: an odd little number from Sega codenamed “Project Rub.” It leaked out that this game would involve dating of some kind, and the rumor mill ground out some curious speculation. “A game that involves girls and rubbing? Nintendo’s pushing the envelope!” I thought, but Feel the Magic
turned out to be something totally different.
It isn’t one of Japan’s notorious dating sims that somehow slipped into the US; it’s a collection of funky minigames in the vein of Wario Ware. It also happens to be the best demonstration of the DS hardware thus far.
Yes, Yuji Naka and his band of dementedly talented developers have handed us another title that eludes definition, but I’ll give it a try anyway. The story is as old as time itself: you play as a love struck teenage boy, who desperately wants the affections of a lovely young lady. And how does he go about getting the girl’s attention? Why, by performing outrageous stunts of course! And so, a chain of light-hearted, profoundly insane events commences.
Your character joins the suggestively named “Rub Rabbits,” a traveling troupe of performers who want only to help our hero gain the love of the girl. Most of the game is spent doing crazy things in order to get noticed, but events take a turn for the worse when a stocky rival enters the mix and snatches the girl away. The minigames go from just plain weird (poking goldfish from a man’s stomach) to dangerous (fighting a giant plant) and increase in oddity at the game progresses.
Scattered in between the stunts and daring deeds are love scenes with the girl, such as dancing, walking in the park and warming up beside a cozy fire. At times you’ll have to defend your date from off-the-wall dangers like raging bulls, or scorpions that have landed on her back. It all seems pretty bizarre at the outset, but once you get into the game it makes a kind of disturbing sense. And it’s surprisingly fun, too. The minigames aren’t as varied as Wario Ware’s selection, but they’re longer and require skill as well as speed. Not only that, but they use only the touch screen and the microphone. Some games require that you yell or blow at the game, so it’s not something you want to play on a crowded bus.
The visual style can only be described as trippy. Everything is presented in a sherbet-toned 60’s palette; the characters are black silhouettes with clothes and hair, having the appearance of a Bond film opening. The backgrounds are predominantly reds, oranges, yellows and purples, so that the cool colors of the characters stand out. Initially this design appears to be overly simplistic, but gives the game a retro feel that is oddly comforting and wholly appropriate for the subject matter.
Sound and voice work is in harmony with the graphics. Voice samples are short and to the point, often with a played-up Japanese accents that adds to the humor of the game. The music reminds me of a 50’s doo-wop band, but that’s a general comparison at best; you really have to hear the tunes to understand their unique feel. Most of the beats are surprisingly catchy and addictive, almost like 80’s pop.
The lasting appeal of Feel the Magic
comes in replaying the minigames. The story mode is admittedly short, requiring only three or four hours to finish. Memories mode has you playing the games in a challenge setting, completing all ten levels of a game with only one life. Maniac mode is the extras department, letting you play dress-up with the girl by unlocking new outfits in the story and memories modes. It really doesn’t do more than change the girl’s appearance during the main game, but finding all the hair styles, dresses and shoes can be addictive for completionists.
For a launch title, Feel the Magic
does a good job of harnessing the hardware abilities of the DS and doing it in a creative, entertaining way. It isn’t long by any stretch and the gameplay isn’t for everyone, but it stands out as a fun little adventure through insanity with some meaty minigame content if you dig deep enough. Sonic Team’s nutty sense of style and humor saturates every last inch of this game, and the unconventional appeal and concept will attract gamers and non-gamers alike.
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