words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Tasty Stewdios for PC, originally released in 2014.
Magicmaker stars an out-of-work wizard who is behind on his rent. To make ends meet, the wizard visits a magical job placement office, which casts a “career placement spell” and sets him up for a job as a security guard at the nearby Dörwall Community College, a wizarding school for the local Dörwallians. After surviving his aptitude test, the wizard assumes the responsibilities of protecting the school and taking on quests to defeat monsters and collect magical artifacts.

The game is a sidescrolling action adventure that sits squarely in the dungeon crawler category. Players enter one of five themed areas, clear the place of monsters, and collect materials along the way that can be used in the game’s extensive spell crafting system. With dozens of materials to find and millions of possible combinations, players are able to mold the wizard’s skills to their liking, experiment with new tactics, or customize the character to complete specific objectives.

The wizard has a very floaty 4x variable jump, which he will need to employ regularly, as most environments are at least a few screens high, and exploration is the key to making progress. In addition, the wizard unlocks a number of new abilities as the game unfolds, some of which allow him to jump higher or give him the ability to jump again in the air… or potentially perform multiple midair jumps. The wizard is also able to duck and crawl.

The opening tutorial area introduces the player to a couple of different methods for casting spells. First off, the wizard has a wand, and spells assigned to the wand may be cast as often as you like, but the effects tend to be quite weak. In addition, the player can access more powerful spells that draw from a mana meter that refills over time, limiting their use as a full-time weapon. Both magic types are available at the touch of the button, with additional spell configurations being unlocked over time.

The game’s magic crafting system – as evidenced by the title – is the core of the experience, and it is quite robust. As the player travels through levels, he picks up various materials, each of which has a different magical property. Between levels, the player can attach up to three of these materials to his wand or to the mana-driven spell category, allowing for a staggering array of possibilities. All effects combine and stack, even those that don’t make logical sense, like combining ice and fire to create frozen fireballs.

Materials impact the effect of the spell, how much damage it will cause, and how the projectile moves. For instance, equipping a fireball with an exploding effect and a homing ability will cause your projectiles to veer toward nearby enemies, hitting them to cause direct damage, and then exploding to set nearby enemies on fire at a somewhat reduced effect. Most combinations are additive, although there are certain materials that have negative side effects to balance out their power.

Early on, players also gain access to a robe, and all of the materials that operate offensively may also be applied to the robe, allowing for a number of buffs and passive effects. For instance, when the aforementioned fire spell is applied to the robe, it causes the wearer to leave behind a trail of fire when he walks, causing minor damage to nearby enemies. Other effects include additional protection, knockback reduction, increased health, and friendly support characters that follow you around and attack enemies on your behalf.

Each material also has a grade rating from A-F, which determines how effective or powerful the item is. For directly offensive abilities, this usually means that the player can cause more damage, or that status effects will last longer. For passive abilities, this may increase your shield strength or give you more of a particular buff. For instance, the Necronomicon-looking spell allows the player to summon a flock of crows that follow him around and cause weak damage to nearby enemies, and the higher-grade version of the spell increases the flock size.

Early in the game, players will only find D- and F-class materials, but taking on tougher missions and thoroughly exploring the environment allows the player to find better materials. In addition, materials may be combined at the alchemist’s shop between levels, allowing players to mash up a pair of materials to create a new one.

Eventually, players can unlock additional slots and stack more combinations, allowing them to further experiment with the crafting system. Players can even open up additional spell configurations, allowing them to go into battle with multiple compound0 spell effects.

However, since spell loadouts cannot be changed within a level, players may discover that a given combination isn’t particularly useful in the scenario at hand. For instance, a homing effect sounds like a great idea, as it should make it easier for your projectiles to hit enemies… and in large open area, this is certainly the case. But in tight quarters, having your projectiles veer to one side or another often sends them crashing harmlessly into walls, especially since they automatically seek the enemy closest to you, and not necessarily the one that you’re facing.

On the other hand, finding an effective combination can be very rewarding as you unleash a ricocheting ball of death at a swarm of enemies, killing one right away and then watching the projectile bounce from enemy to enemy, slowly sucking the life out of them. Smacking a boss right in the gob with a precision poison laser strike is a great way to deal a heavy initial blow and keep causing damage even as the creature moves out of your attack range.

Spells tend to throw off a lot of particles, with additional effects in place to show if an enemy is under the influence of a status effect, and enemies have spells of their own. This means that the screen is often filled with projectiles and particles, obscuring the onscreen action and - more importantly - obscuring the cursor. Since the player must use the cursor to aim his spells, losing track of it can make it difficult to dispatch your enemies, which is all the more likely when you’re surrounded and need to blast yourself free.

Another important aspect of combat is the fact that the cursor does not rigidly move along with the character, but rather lags behind and slowly moves to its previous relative position. This is in contrast to a game like A Valley Without Wind – which also features magic crafting and projectile-based attacks – where the player can set the cursor to remain directly in front of him and continue firing forward as he moves.

In Magicmaker, if you place the cursor in front of the wizard and then step forward, the cursor will then be behind him, which means that all of your projectiles will travel in that direction until you come to a stop and the relative position slowly reverts back. This means that the player must rely on manually moving the cursor to adjust his aim rather than having the option to run and gun with projectiles aimed in a specified direction.

Firing projectiles also pushes the player character backwards a little bit, thereby slightly impacting his aim with each volley, and potentially pushing him off of a ledge or narrow platform. This makes precision shooting more difficult, as the wizard’s position relative to the cursor is inconstant. As such, players may wish to focus their crafting efforts on spells that allow for ricocheting projectiles or splash damage to help them attack foes indirectly.

Various artifacts are also unlocked as you progress, each of which may be carried one at a time, offering the player an additional ability, such as socks that allow for a super high jump, an attack that damages all enemies on the screen, a fairy that automatically collects loot, and the ability to increase the chances that a killed enemy will drop a health-restoring crystal.

The game world centers on Dörwall Community College and its grounds, which act as the hub. Here, players may apply materials to change their spells and buffs, and a wide range of customization options allows the player to change the color and appearance of his character and even his projectiles. From the hub, the player may enter one of five portals that takes him to the five themed environments, which include a wooded area, a desert, a dark castle, ice caves, and ancient ruins. Players are free to tackle these environments in any order.

As missions are completed, the player opens up new missions that take place in the same themed areas, but with different level layouts. While layouts are randomized, the same basic structural elements remain in place, including the boss encounters, so revisiting these locations leads to a generally similar experience from one mission to the next. Some themes have specific environmental challenges, such as areas with ice crystals that must be broken, water that will cause you to drown if you remain submerged for too long, wind that pushes you back, and damaging sandstorms that require you to find shelter to survive the periodic blasts.

Small gems may be found by killing regular enemies, and these restore a bit of health. Large gems may be found in specific areas – which are marked on your minimap – and are often unlocked by defeating more powerful enemies. Collecting one of these large gems fully restores your health and acts as a key to unlock a chest at the end of the level. Finding all of the large gems in each level is (literally) the key to unlocking the best materials, and therefore crafting the most powerful spells. Players retain all collected materials if they happen to die within a level, but they will not be able to continue to the next mission if the primary objective was not completed.

Magicmaker was developed by Tasty Stewdios, and this was their first commercial release. The game was originally envisioned by Chris Hutchinson as a 3D dungeon crawler called Generator Quest, which he worked on as a summer project in 2011. Chris later teamed up with friends to recreate the game in 2D.