A Quick Look At Super Magnetic Neo

Magnets are fun. I vividly remember the first time I discovered that old hi-fi speakers contain magnets after I broke one open in an alleyway behind my house. Being from a rather run down district of Manchester me and my siblings made our own fun back then, and smashing old broken stuff up in alleyways was a particular highlight. When such endeavours yielded hitherto unknown treasure like huge magnets...well, that's the stuff dreams are made of. Even more so when we discovered that putting said magnet on the TV made all the colours go funny...until my mother saw what we'd done and went banzai. But I digress.
BBC Breakfast's new format was a winner.
Magnets then. Fun and mysterious things that can be used for all kinds of wondrous applications - making speakers work, ruining the colour on crappy old CRT televisions, levitating the friction-less trains of the future, and being the basis for the overtly camp Dreamcast game Super Magnetic Neo.

Developed by Genki (of Daytona 2001 and Shutokou fame) and published by Crave, Super Magnetic Neo (or Super Magnetic NiuNiu in Japan) is a 3D platformer that features some rather excellent visuals and a a unique retro-futuristic aesthetic that is up there with that seen in Space Channel 5. You play as the titular Neo (or NiuNiu), a robot with a magnetic head and the tightest trousers in the known galaxy. The story is pretty off the wall and sees you traversing a multitude of themed worlds trying to rid them of the mechanical monsters let loose by the 'evil' Pinki gang - an band of outlaws commanded by a two year old baby in a rabbit costume. Yes this game is a total mind fuck, but this is the best bit about Super Magnetic Neo: it looks like a ridiculous kids' game, but in actual fact it is a highly addictive and extremely clever lesson in how inertia and magnetic polarities work. Oh, and it's joypad-throwingly difficult.
You see, while Super Magnetic Neo may appear to be nothing more than a pretty Crash Bandicoot knock off, it's actually a very intelligent educational experience and the main mechanics on display employ the science of magnetic polarities and inertia to get the player through the level. Using either the 'north' or 'south' polarities of Neo's magnetic head, you can attract yourself or repel away from magnetic pads and rotating platforms in order to leap over chasms or bump enemies into pits.
At first it all seems very pedestrian as you bounce over enemies and attach to grab points that fling your though the air, but as you progress through the game (there are five stages in each of the typically themed worlds), things get decidedly trickier and it becomes a real challenge to remember which polarity you should be using to attach or repel yourself through the stages. Some of the stages also incorporate vehicles which continually move forward automatically and you really need to keep your wits about you as the need to switch between north and south increases lest you hit the wrong button and fall to your ultimate doom. It's a really clever and original concept for a platformer, but it can get - as mentioned - incredibly frustrating as you fail at the same spot for the twentieth time in a row. As mentioned, inertia comes into play when you have to judge just when to let go of a zip line in order to land on platforms; let go too soon and you'll fall short, too late and you'll overshoot.
While the controls are fine, sometimes Neo fails to respond to quick stabs at the jump button and his 'dash' animation speeds him up to uncontrollable levels at times...which isn't good when you're trying to dodge falling rocks while traversing a thin tract of land. That said, these minor niggles can be forgiven when you look at the whole experience. The game has lots of replay value due to the timed nature of the stages, and the hub world is an absolute joy to traverse - this game really does appear to be the product of an altered state of mind. There's a challenge mode too where the goal is simply to reach the end of one of the devilishly tricky puzzle stages, and these pop up throughout the main story game as bonus stages too...but beware - if you're anything like me, these stages will increase the probability of your controller being launched through a window exponentially.
That said, apart from the infuriating difficulty level Neo is a criminally overlooked gem. Everything from the cheerfully twee music and the cast of genuinely funny characters, to the gorgeous visuals and the fantastically clever gameplay mechanic combine to make Super Magnetic Neo a total joy to play.

1 comment:

SkillJim said...

One of my favourite games on the system! Nice fun game to play, but boy does it get hard and brain crushing in parts getting confused with the different magnetic poles :D