Reviewed on PC
Last generation’s Xbox Live Arcade was a magical place for evolving indie developers. The wonderous worlds of The Dishwasher, Alien Hominid, Castle Crashers, Super Meat Boy and more made the Xbox platform feel unique. As a teenager exploring a new spectrum of gaming, it felt removed from the corporation-fuelled AAA library of brown-grey shooters releasing day in and day out.
Super Magic Cane Zero feels like an unearthed time capsule back into the years of XBLA. Not only is the entirety of its content shielded within a thick wall of mid-2000s meme humour, but its world is brought to life through a gorgeous high-resolution recreation of Newgrounds-esque Flash art.
Playable in either co-op with up to four buddies (or enemies) or on your lonesome, Super Magic Cane Zero is a zany, unintelligible action RPG that makes zero sense and is better for it. You awaken in a crater and, at first, believe you’re an alien. “You’re not an alien,” you’re told by the one-eyed police officer to your left. In fact, he’s an alien, hence the cyclops look. You’re just a guy, a normal guy, probably a rather dumb guy. Then you pick a name from some random groups of letters and get chucked into jail.
Unlike other games, this game doesn’t open with a daring prison escape through a complex series of underground tunnels. Instead, you’re just let out. The internet has stopped working worldwide and the president resigned. Therefore, you’re allowed to roam free through a simple tutorial and then simply walk on out through the front gate.
From then on, you’re free to explore a world that cares not for the realm of physics or common sense. You’ll meet talking cakes, angry trees and more within the twenty minutes of your 50-mission adventure. Does it ever start making sense? Slightly; there is a story to follow which adheres close enough to “the hero’s journey” that it’s clear the writers know the rules of basic storytelling. Although, I’m not sure they care all that much for it.
As you journey through the planetoid of WOTF, you’ll go on a journey to destroy the malevolent magical dog named AAAH! You’ll have a lot of missions to complete before you get there and making your way through them isn’t too hard, when the environmental design isn’t being too mismatched from your current quest.
From there on, it’s a base coat of bog-standard action RPG with an overcoat of random jokes and cutesy visuals. You’ll find and equip various weapons and armaments—the latter of which consists of hats, shirts and pants—and, as time goes on, you’ll unlock numerous abilities from any of the seven skill trees.
Skills are useful, but they feel repetitive over time. Many of them feel purposefully placed as filler in order for a group of four to all take drastically different routes. In between the cool power-ups, there are numerous ones that simply power up your base character or power up a previously unlocked power—it fails to feel as special as unlockable in, say, Dragon Age.
Combat is rather unique: while you have your base attack (which is dependant on weapon type), you also have a special attack which is usually used to stun and knock enemies to the ground. Once an enemy is unconscious on the floor, you can pick them up, walk up to a wall, and Rowdy Roddy Piper them straight into some craggily rocks for massive damage! Each class also has a different special move that can be activated on the triggers that have the potential to wipe out crowds of weaker enemies. On bosses and stronger foes though, they’ll simply tickle.
Surviving in some of the tenser battles in Super Magic Cane Zero will all depend on how good you are at filling your gob full of tasty treats. Battlefields are filled with food, most of which will heal you. You may also find chests and other containers as well, also filled with cakes, steaks and chocolate flakes. You’ll have to be careful; while you can scoff everything you find, you don’t want to accidentally swallow that bomb—that’s for lobbing not for gobbing! Combat isn’t great, and you’ll be doing a lot of it, but you’ll care less about that if you’re scurrying along with friends.
Most of your enjoyment of Super Magic Cane Zero will rely on your tolerance for kid-friendly meme-humour. There will be references to old video games, there will be huge paragraphs of text that don’t make a lick of sense, there will be entire missions delegated to a joke that you might find unfunny. If that’s your jam and you’re part of a group of four, this is a strong contender for your next co-op title.
Straight out of a time portal, Super Magic Cane Zero feels like an XBLA game that never was. Much like most games on the now-deceased Xbox service, it’s definitely not for everyone. It feels dated in every facet of its design, but it also feels fresh in a world where that once beloved storefront doesn’t exist anymore. It’s wild, weird and wonderful, but it is not without a fair share of faults.
Super Magic Cane Zero fully releases tomorrow, May 30th, on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch.