The word 'magnetic' is a synonym of 'attractive'. When people think of magnets, they generally imagine a piece of metal sticking magically to another piece of metal. But magnets have another side to them. All it takes is a tiny half-turn for them to stop attracting and start repelling instead.
Major Magnet is capable of the same feat. In its early stages - and in a lot of its latter ones - this authentically arcadey casual game contains nothing but invention and flow and nostalgia and joy.
But after a while a subtle shift in orientation makes it, if not repellent, then at the very least less attractive than it promised to be at the outset.
The metal age
Booting Major Magnet up is like walking into a '90s amusement arcade. If you're too young to have visited one of those, just imagine what a school disco would be like if the theme were 'hallucinatory rainbow-coloured calypso drug game show' and you won't go far wrong.
The aim of the game is to convey a cheerful big-nosed magnet-enthusiast called Major Magnet from the start of each stage to a colourful pulsating wormhole at the end.
The first way that you do this is with magnetism. There are magnetic nodes dotted around the stages, and if you tap on one of these you'll start to orbit around it until you either tap the node again to be slung away or tap another node to transfer your magnetic pull to that one instead. It's a nuanced, organic control system that's immensely gratifying when you master it.
The other way you get around is by swiping the screen to rocket a short distance through the air in that direction. Whenever you do this you have to wait a few seconds for your jetpack to recharge, which forces you to use it sparingly.
Along with an entrance and an exit, each stage contains scattered Magnorbs (units of currency) and a Bake. These Bakes are always lodged in some hard-to-reach area of the level, leaving you with the choice of whether to risk all or bolt for the exit. You have to collect a certain number to unlock the next world, though, so you'll need to collect most of them eventually.
Major Magnet introduces plenty of new elements as you advance through its campaign, including nodes that open doors on a timer, nodes that move back and forth on tracks, underwater vehicle sections that let you briefly dispense with magnetism entirely, rocket packs, and ice stages in which nodes send you rocketing along the ground like Sonic The Hedgehog.
At its best, Major Magnet threatens to be a real classic. But at some point during the third world the difficulty suddenly skyrockets, which may or may not have something to do with the Magnorbs that you spent the first two worlds largely ignoring.
Your Magnorb your life
Magnorbs allow you to buy batches of power-ups that let you pause in mid-air so that you can gather yourself before executing a rocket thrust, or give you a shield that lets you sustain a single blow.
The game gives you a batch of each kind of power-up for free, but at first you'll find you don't need to use them. Your existing reserves go untouched, and on top of that you quickly earn enough Magnorbs to buy more if you ever do need them.
And then you need them. Mines arrange themselves into almost impassable formations, nodes swing you into hazardous electricity-lined alleys, barely avoidable tongues of flames roar across the screen, and the lines of Magnorbs that you've been trained to follow by every game ever terminate suddenly at walls of death.
You may find that you have to equip a shield to get you through a particularly hairy situation, and then shortly after that you may find yourself equipping another.
Once you've burned through the first bundle of power-ups, bought a second bundle, and burned through that as well you're left with a choice: pay indefinitely to brush aside obstacles, replay previous levels to earn more Magnorbs, or just try, try, and try again to get through the death factory stages that you'll encounter in worlds three, five, and six.
For the the first hour or so that you play Major Magnet you'll have a blast. It's original, imaginative, authentic, and immensely fun. In fact, at 69p it's worth the cost of a download just to experience that blissful pre-punishment period.
But as you get into the game's farther reaches the fun is frequently interrupted by episodes of infuriating difficulty that you may only be able to mitigate with your wallet. Thankfully, you'll have had your money's worth by the time that happens.
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