||Super Magnetic Neo
Frustration has a name, and it is Neo - Review By BenT
Super Magnetic Neo sounds pretty good so far, right? Well, it has one major flaw that threatens to ruin everything else that the game has to offer: excessive difficulty. Neo may be the hardest, most exacting game yet designed for the Dreamcast. Of course, difficulty in and of itself is not always a bad thing. It is bad, however, when said difficulty is caused by poor design decisions, suspect controls, and unfair level layouts. Unfortunately, those are exactly the problems that Neo suffers from.
Note the great-looking reflections. This ain't no Playstation game.
Bottomless pits are everywhere, the control is tenuous, and the physics are decidedly screwy. Worse, Neo is one fragile little bastard. The slightest touch from an enemy or obstacle is enough to put him six feet under, and to make matters worse his collision box is huge. This fact is especially noticeable in world 2-1, where Neo is required to ride a vehicle thorugh a desert obstacle course. If you're even in the same county as a cactus, Neo is as good as dead. It gets worse when other riders appear to harass him; you'll be redoing this section repeatedly until you figure out their pre-set patterns. One time, an enemy even rode on top of a crucial jump pad that I needed to fly over a pit, meaning that it was impossible to avoid death. In a better platform game, stuff like that would not be happening. Quite clearly, this is not good design.
Worse, many of the later worlds are exercises in memorization, since you can't possibly react to the obstacles in time when you're flying rapidly through the air over pits. Thus, you'll have to meet your end in the pits (or lava, or water...) countless times until you have memorized the exact sequence of moves required to pass that area. After that, it's just an exercise in perfect execution. This cycle of trial and error is neither interesting or satisfying. No amount of skill will get you past new obstacles on your first try; rote memorization is the only way forward.
Unfortunately, the above problems are compounded when one factors in the completely screwy physics and controls. As I said above, Neo seems to walk around and respond just fine... at first. But the moment you hit the run button is the moment that you lose all semblance of control. Neo takes off like a rocket, and you'll be damned if you can stop him. Even more annoying is the fact that you can't activate your magnetic fields while the run button is held down. Many times you'll have to perform running long jumps over pits and then grab on to a pulley or such at the last moment. It sounds fine in theory, but becomes difficult when you realize that letting go of the run button halts your forward momentum, even in midair. Thus, you have to hold down the run button until the aforementioned last moment, release it, and then activate the appropriate magnetic field to latch on to the pulley. If you hold down the run button an instant too long (or too short), you're pit fodder. Fun.
Neo also suffers from the bane of most 3D platform games that aren't Jumping Flash!: it's hard to judge distances in 3D. Say what you will, but it's a fact that 2D graphics can convey an infinitely better idea of lengths and distances than most 3D stuff we've seen so far. As a result, you'll curse as you fall into chasms that looked quite leapable, and overshoot platforms that looked deceptively distant. The non-adjustable camera contributes to these pit-riffic hijinx, as you sometimes won't even notice a pitfall until you're about to walk into it. Furthermore, there are points where the automatic camera positions itself in a wholly disadvantageous location, such as at one point in a lava level where you have to walk along narrow bridges, and the camera suddenly decides to zoom out and take away whatever sense of depth you may have had. I died numerous times until I was able to tiptoe across successfully, a task that would have been trivial had the camera (and designers) had any modicum of common sense.
See that terribly skinny strip of land? You have to navigate all the way to the arrow sign while the camera stays in exactly the same spot it is here. Ridiculous.
Despite the high difficulty, Super Magnetic Neo is short. Although the box copy advertises twenty worlds, that's only if you're generously including the tiny boss levels; the "real" total is only sixteen. I was able to make it to the final world in only four and a half hours of saved play time, plus a few hours of unsaved screw-ups, failures, and cursing. This doesn't even compare to the novel-like length of Sonic Adventure; in comparison, Neo is more akin to a comic book. While it's true that you can go back and collect the secret items from each level, the fact remains that the game is definitely on the short side.
Lastly, something odd. Saving a game of Super Magnetic Neo overwrites the identifying picture that's chosen when one first formats a VMU... with the Crave Entertainment logo! What the hell? I chose the pictures (numbers) on my VMUs specifically so that I could easily tell them apart, and now some company whom I trusted has just nonchalantly changed that label to an ugly advertisement for themselves. There is no way to restore the picture short of reformatting the whole VMU, and even then another game of Neo would just overwrite it again. This may sound like a little thing, but I feel this crosses over that intangible line of trust that exists between the user and the company, all for the sake of crass commercialism. Shame on you, Crave.
The Final Word
Super Magnetic Neo is a classic case of how a game's many positive elements can be greatly obscured by only one or two major flaws, in this case the difficulty and the controls. Had the designers spent as much time on balancing the gameplay as they did on the concept and characters, Neo would be a must-buy. As it is, I can only recommend this game to art students who will appreciate the style and platform junkies who are desperate for a fix of hard-as-nails, old school action. Kids and casual gamers need not apply.
Publisher: Crave Entertainment
Genre: 3D Platform
Highs: Stunning graphics, sweet character design and art direction, appropriate audio.
Lows: Artificially difficult, unfair level design, quirky control/whack-ass physics, short.
Other: 1 player, VMU compatible (3 blocks), Jump Pak compatible.
Intro (MPEG) - The cute intro, complete with goofy voice acting. [Big (8.8M)] - [Med (4.7M)] - [Small (1M)]
Gameplay 1 (MPEG) - A mechanical camel ride. Thrill as I blithely drive by a completely obvious switch, and then die by running into a wall. [Big (10.4M)] - [Med (5.1M)] - [Small (1.1M)]
Gameplay 2 (MPEG) - Neo is also home to the mine cart sequence from hell. Ok, it could have been a lot worse. You're still gonna die a lot, though. [Big (13.1M)] - [Med (7M)] - [Small (1.5M)]
Gameplay 3 (MPEG) - A good example of typical gameplay. Check out my mad skillzors. [Big (9.9M)] - [Med (5.3M)] - [Small (1.1M)]
(out of a possible 10)
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