Magicka is an action role-playing game for players that don’t normally play action role-playing games. It lends its success for three very distinct reasons: its humor, its simplicity, and its accessibility. Initially developed by eight students at the Lulea University of Technology in Sweden, which would later become Arrowhead Game Studios, this is a game meant to be played with a mouse in one hand and a keyboard in the other, but not in the way you think. The game draws upon inspiration from titles like Warhammer and Diablo with its roots entrenched in Norse mythology, albeit however loosely.
For those who’ve never played Magicka let me present you with a primer. Players take on the role of wizards allowing for simultaneous co-operative play using available elements (Q,W,E,P controls water, life, shield, and cold respectively, and A,S,D,F controls lightning, arcane, earth, and fire respectively) to create spells. Spells are created through any number of element combinations. For instance, combining shield with ice creates an ice shield while combining ice and arcane creates an arcane coldbeam. But there are drawbacks. The more elements you have charged the slower your characters moves. Similarly, if you cross two contrasting elements together (lightning/water, arcane/life, etc.) you can do serious damage to yourself and your friends. Having said that, I take issue with calling this an action role-playing game because Magicka differs from its genre forebearers in very distinct and notable ways. There’s no class structure or leveling system. There’s also no limit to the amount of magic used with a “mana-bar” and its acquisition of goods and materials during gameplay is scant at best.
Now I can’t go further in this retrospective without talking about Magicka’s humor. Firstly, when characters talk they speak in a garbled Scandinavian-dialect akin to the Swedish Chef from the Muppets, more to do with how Americans think Swedish people sound rather than actual Swedish. There’s also no shortage of pop-culture references in-game that are bound to put a smile on your face. At one point you come across a mourning Connor McCloud before decapitating him with his own sword and receiving a “There can be only one!” achievement, a clear reference to the movie Highlander. This humor isn’t lost in its first expansion either, Magicka Vietnam, which takes historical liberties by putting our wizard characters in war-torn 1960s Vietnam amidst Vietcong-themed enemies.
According to its developers, Magicka sold over 200,000 units in its first two weeks and it’s no secret why. It’s charm, whimsy, and tongue-in-cheek humor helped propel this game to success merely through word-of-mouth, and while the game emphasizes enjoyment over strategy, simplicity over complexity, and accessibility over specificity, it’s still an amazing achievement that’s more than worth your time.