by Andrew Skelton (Outfoxed)
My skills at action platformers have decayed over the years. That’s something I’ve had to admit to myself, and now you all know, too. That being said, there’s a certain satisfaction that I — along with many others — feel when they clear a stage that had been frustrating them. Mystic Melee, by one man developer Ben Hopkins, seeks to grasp that classic notion of, “One more try!” with its blend of platforming and combat. Featuring local and online multiplayer reminiscent of games like Super Smash Bros. might also be a bonus. Having been granted an early access copy of the game, let’s take a look into the spell tome to see how Mystic Melee holds up.
Are You A Wizard?
To get the most out of Mystic Melee, I highly recommend you play with a controller. While there are keyboard controls, the game just feels much better with a gamepad of some sort. Thankfully, either way you play, the bindings are fully customizable, which helps every gamer feel comfortable.
In addition to your basic commands like jump and attack, Mystic Melee also focuses heavily on dodging. Do keep in mind, however, you have to use the specific key to dodge in a specific direction, rather that simply utilizing a dodge command. There are also various spells you get during your playthrough, which range from utility to damage. You can hold only two of these at a time, though you can always drop one and pick up another if needs be.
The first few levels of the campaign serve as the game’s tutorial, and it serves teaching the basic functions quite well. It even touches on some more advanced techniques that will be important such as down-jumping and sliding. All in all, it does serve its purpose well, letting players get a good feel for the game.
What it does not do, however, is prepare you for the different characters you’ll be playing as. You’ll be limited to the first character, Gale, until you clear the other stages of the main game before you can bring them into the tutorial. It would have been nice if I could have practiced with some of the other characters before being thrown into their respective stages and expected to know how they function.
I Wanna Cast Magic Missile
At its core, the campaign of Mystic Melee is an action platformer. The game shoves you in the role of various wizards, and you have to protect the world from the designs of an ancient evil. Pretty cliche, sure, but it works. As I mentioned before, each of the four characters has a completely different skillset, and finding out how each of their attacks works is tantamount to getting through each of their difficult stages. Personally, the hardest thing to get used to the fact every character’s basic attack is completely different in their physics. Gale, for example, is a simple forward, backward rhythm to his attacks, but the second character, Amaya, has a neutral first, and a forward momentum to her second.
As you progress through the levels, you earn a combo by collecting glowing mana (red squares) and defeating enemies, all without being hit. These levels are also timed, and you’re then graded based on how well you performed in both categories. Therein lies the true replayability of these stages — trying to S rank everything will take a lot of skill. There are also mystic mana nodes hidden on each stage. Retrieving these often takes quite a bit more skill than anything else in the stage, and should likely be saved until you understand the level design and character physics.
The campaign mode of the game does feature a fairly linear progression. You clear one stage, you move on to the next. At the end of each character arc there’s a boss you must overcome, too. It is quite simplistic in approach, but it does make sense for a game like this. Plus each subsequent stage seems to build on the previous, or introduce something new to overcome, helping to keep things fresh.
Unfortunately, during the current version of Early Access, the last two stages are unavailable, meaning I can’t experience the other characters in their stages proper. While they can be played in the game’s online and local multiplayer modes, it would be nice to see what the characters were capable of first.
Last Mage Standing
Mystic Melee offers two different forms of multiplayer action. Arena mode allows you and up to three others engage in fast-paced brawls. The best part about the mode is the flexibility in team making too. Want a free-for-all fight? Have everyone on different teams. 2v2? 3v1? Both are definitely within the realm of possibility! Don’t have three friends willing to play with you? Test your skills against bots in this mode! Given the nature of the tutorial, this may be the best way to learn all four characters.
Online mode is like arena mode, however you’ll be competing against others across the globe instead of your friends. It’s unknown currently if there will be any sort of matchmaking services available, but given the game’s scope, there may be no need for it either — the game is actually fairly easy to get into and understand.
One of the most important things in any Early Access title is the willingness of the developers to take criticism and respond in kind. The developer, Ben Hopkins, has been nothing but professional in his dealings with critique, so far as I’ve seen. After reading the discussions page on Steam, Ben shows a willingness to explain development designs, and accepts where his game can be improved. I’m always enthused when small studios like this are this tolerant and open to their community’s suggestions.
That being said, Mystic Melee may not appeal to everyone, and that’s okay. Fans of moderately challenging platformers will certainly enjoy the campaign mode, and arguably it can find a very interesting niche in the speedrunning community with the time trial nature of each stage. While multiplayer is a bit lacking at the moment, there is definitely much more to come from Mystic Melee. I’m looking forward to seeing how things pan out from here.
Mystic Melee Screenshots: