Magic Made Fun (aka Master of Illusion)
| Magic Made Fun

Technology has come a long way in the last century or so, and few products make this more obvious than the DS. Not only does it have buttons, but you can talk to it, blow on it, and touch it, as though it were a little goblin. It was H G Wells that said technology, suitably advanced, is indistinguishable from magic. He was talking about gadgets like the DS, but probably not as literally as Magic Made Fun (Master of Illusion in the US) makes his remarks.

You see, to the extent that it's a game at all, Magic Made Fun is a game about magic. It's also, and predominantly, an instructional program, designed to teach you how to bedazzle your buddies, and if you follow the instructions properly and practise your sleight of hand it really does work. Finally, it's a magic show just for you.

Holding these elements together is Barbara, an orb-breasted vaudeville temptress whose function seems limited to making tactful comments about your playing habits, a la Dr Kawashima, and batting her formidable eyelids.

A system of unlockable content operates across all three of the modes. Every time you take part in a trick, you get ten points, and at ever more distant milestones a new trick or mini-game unlocks, with caps placed on your daily allowance so that unlocking the whole game will take several days (unless you sneakily reset the date on your DS, as we kept having to in order to review it).

Solo Magic mode contains a series of eight sequentially unlockable tricks in which you act as audience to the DS's boastful performer. While it's fine, if you happen to be living away from home you're unlikely to write to your mother about it.

To take a couple of tricks as examples, Vanishing Card lets you shuffle a selection of face cards, choose five at random, and then pick one in your head. After turning the cards face down the game eliminates one and then turns them over to reveal that the one you mentally chose has vanished. Magic.

Another, Mystic Breeze, displays the 12 months of the year on the non-sensitive top screen and invites you to choose one by placing your finger on it, before telling you to move your finger in any direction by the number of letters in the name of the month. Then, it gets you to blow into the microphone, gusting several of the months away but leaving yours pinned to its original spot. Reiterate this a couple of times and your month is the only one remaining. Magic.

Except it's not. Aside from Vanishing Card, only Finger Yoga isn't elementary mathematics, relying instead on you pausing in real-time to make a shape with your hand. If you don't pause, it can't do the trick, and while Magic Made Fun probably represents the closest you'll come to being legitimately bamboozled by a computer, the tricks aren't likely to fool you twice, so this component of the game has very limited appeal.

Of more use is Magic Show mode. This is where you get to practise and play 14 different tricks using your DS as a prop, along with the deck of cards that comes bundled with the game.

Amongst these tricks is Two Candles, in which your audience blows into the microphone and extinguishes, as if my magic, the candle they've chosen, and Card Fortune, where you ask someone to choose a card and then divine its identity by entering their marital status and star-sign on the touchscreen. You learn how to perform each trick by holding down Select, and you can revisit this secret repository of knowledge whenever you like.

Done well, some of these tricks are very effective, while others are fairly obvious. To let you in on their secrets would be an appalling transgression, but it's not too much to say that very few rely on sleight of hand, and the prop deck of cards contains a revelation that has shaken our understanding of magic to the core.

One might presume that a magic show conducted through a computer would be innately unconvincing, but developer Tenyo has done an excellent job in devising tricks that make good use of the DS whilst reassuring the audience that they're making their own choices. The device may be hosting the show, but success depends on your own mastery of it, and many of the knacks you pick up playing Magic Made Fun will certainly serve you well should you choose to pursue a career in magic.

Accompanying the show is a small selection of mini-games under the banner Magic Training, most of them based around cards. None of them, mercifully, is Solitaire, but neither are they much good, and while they'll pass the time if you're stuck on a train, they're even farther from centre stage than the short-lived Solo Magic mode.

Magic Made Fun is all about performance. The limp mini-game component notwithstanding, this isn't really a game at all; it's a tool, a gimmick, a box of tricks, and yet another ingenious application for a platform that continues to pull out ideas like rabbits from a hat.

Magic Made Fun (aka Master of Illusion)

While sticklers might argue that Magic Made Fun isn't really a game, there's plenty of enjoyment to be had in mastering its array of unique and sometimes ingenious tricks
Rob Hearn
Rob Hearn
Having obtained a distinguished education, Rob became Steel Media's managing editor, now he's no longer here though.