One way which a developer can make their game really stand out, given that every idea has probably already been used multiple times over already, is to adopt a distinctive art and design concept. Making the experience really eye-catching, and entertaining to boot, is a sure-fire way to generate hype around your release and lure in an increasing number of fans. Case in point: Toby Fox’s roaring hit, Undertale. This idea is exactly what Super Cane Magic ZERO tries (and somewhat succeeds) to capitalize upon.
Super Cane Magic ZERO (I’ll simply call it SCMZ from now on) is an action-based RPG in which the goal is to traverse as far as you can while avoiding a veritable barrage of enemies. Sprinkled throughout the levels are chests, which you can bash open with a click of the mouse button. The contents include stat upgrades, clothing and, most importantly, objects with which to brain and maim your enemies. In the beta version, a single-player survival mode (with levels of varying difficulty, including a “level of the day”) is available, along with a training level and 2-4 player Arena mode. Since I’m perennially “forever alone,” I had to content myself with bashing my way through the several single player levels, starting with the tutorial.
Actually, it’s worth starting right back at the beginning: the title screen and introduction. The intro music is a catchy-enough, electro-guitar combo which doesn’t get annoying as it loops. The load screens are also fairly good-humored, with references to the King of Let’s Play himself, Pewdiepie. All of it is rendered in a quite stunning art style which looks like it’s been painstakingly drawn frame-by-frame in MS Paint. You certainly cannot fault the art department who worked on this game, not only on its objective aesthetic merit but also with regard to utilization of the character models from Sio’s cartoons.
The character selection screen is very colorful and inviting. There are a couple of avatars that can be selected which look really cool and ready for battle, in particular the blonde lady warrior Yogurt. The production team have given some of the characters Italian names, in homage to their locale, which is a really nice touch. However, some of the characters are really rather plain to look at, which is a little difficult to understand; if you have a character as eye-catching as Yogurt, why would you pick any other available?
I feel like they should plug more effort into giving every single selectable character’s individual style and flair before the game is given a wider release; a second-best alternative would be to make the more eye-catching characters unlockable, since it just doesn’t make much sense to have rather bland characters vying for the player’s attention alongside more vibrant ones. I appreciate this may be due to the fact that the game is based off cartoon characters created by Sio, but I feel like there should be at least something to re-balance character selection and to make sure that no avatar is wasted.
Beyond the (occasionally a little buggy and rather plain) load screens – buggy in the sense that the bar went from beginning to end, and then back to the beginning for me – you’re plopped straight into a checkpoint area in the dungeon, usually surrounded by a couple of chests for you to make a start with. In the tutorial level, you will run the gamut of miniature tasks in order to get you accustomed to the controls. SCMZ is a mixture of show and tell in how it schools its players in the control system; as you traverse the initial parts of the training dungeon, signs on the wall will demonstrate how you are to interact with certain objects in order to progress. This is not always spelled out extremely clearly, and occasionally there are puzzle elements to moving onto the next section of the dungeon which will make you pause for thought.
Once you get into the thick of the gameplay, the slightly squeaky sections of the floorboards start to reveal themselves. The game does seem a little confused in exactly what it wants to achieve. Would it rather be a puzzle adventure game, in which objects have to be moved around the map in order to unlock new areas? Or is it the type of RPG where you are encouraged to do battle with enemies? If both, then how should these elements be balanced? The game fundamentally seems unable to decide which camp it falls into/how to balance the competing elements, which can make the game downright frustrating to play.
On picking up an item in order to use it for attacking purposes, enemies often move so fast that throwing accurately using the mouse can get quite frustrating. It’s also not always 100% accurate, from my experience; the object will occasionally seem to fall short of where I’ve clicked. Since defending yourself at the beginning of the game is only practically possible through lobbing parts of the environment (at least on my play through, non-throwing weapons were scarce at the beginning of levels, even on easy mode), this is a real issue.
If you choose to evade enemies, who have sharper reflexes than any Metal Gear foe, instead of engaging in combat, you will end up leading a conga line from one area of the map to another, if you’re not careful. If unlocking parts of the map through gravity-activated switches or pulling levers is what the game designers really wished to emphasize, then they really should have scaled back the difficulty of the enemies; creating parts of the game which require precision or even standing still while enemies encircle you, sometimes throwing fireballs, and crossbows fire at you, just isn’t that much fun.
Regarding the slightly hit-and-miss throwing mechanic, there are some quite nifty features hidden within the attack mode. Throwing watermelons and hitting the target will cause the fruit to split open; using a stunned enemy as a melee weapon will cause a foot to be lopped off, which can then be used as a further weapon. This, doubled with the cartoon stylings of the game, means it has quite a bit of promise from a design perspective; the execution is just quite rough around the edges at this stage of development.
What’s probably my biggest issue with the game, bearing in mind it is only available in beta version, is the lack of a story mode. It would be better to give those of us who cannot tempt multiple friends to invest in beta keys at least a little taster of what is to come; even if large sections are bound to change before full release, it would be great to see the potential that could be tapped into in this aspect of gameplay. This, combined with the hefty price tag of the game as stands (just shy of 20 Euros in Germany) and the many areas in which there is still room for improvements, means that I cannot recommend purchasing a key right now.
However, I would keep an eye on the progress of development and see whether substantial changes are made as time goes on. It actually looks like it could be a neat and fun little game in the future, as long as the development team progresses with a more distinct goal in mind and spruces up a few confusing/lacklustre design elements. I was particularly excited to hear that there are plans to develop a version for the PS Vita. Will the game go from Cane Magic ZERO to Cane Magic HERO? We’ll have to wait and see.