Note: This game was played on a PC Engine Duo RX that has been modified to output in component video. It was played on a 40-inch HD-tv that supports the component signal.
Genre: Single screen action platformer
Players: 1 or 2-player co-op
Brief Overview: Pop’n Magic was released for the PC Engine Super CD-rom in Japan in 1992. The game was never released in the United States. Although the animated cutscenes are spoken in Japanese, and each boss’ ‘bio’ screen is in Japanese, there is nothing to prevent the game from being easily played, even with no knowledge of Japanese.
Story: From what I can ascertain from the cutscenes and the scant bit of information I could find about this game, the two title characters, Pop (girl) and Magic (boy), are tasked with saving their land from an Evil Vampire (the guy looks a lot like Dracula, so that’s the best comparison I can make; I couldn’t find his name). The Evil Vampire stole three gems that kept order in the land, and now his minions are pillaging and destroying different areas, and it’s up to Pop and Magic to recover the gems and put a stop to the chaos he has unleashed.
Gameplay: Pop’n Magic is a single screen action-platformer. Your goal is to clear each screen/stage of all manner of the Evil Vampire’s minions. After each and every one is destroyed, you’ll move on to the next stage. There are multiple worlds to play through, including Woods, Haunted House, Ocean, and more. Each world consists of approximately 10 stages, with the final stage being a boss fight. If you lose all of your lives in the boss fight, you can continue, but you’ll start a few stages back. A full playthrough of the game takes approximately an hour and a half.
Pop and Magic can work together for greater efficiency! Bound off your teammate’s head!
Control: Button I fires your magic wand to attack enemies, and it also can be pressed and held to grab a sphere (spheres are what the enemies turn into after you zap them with your wand), and released to throw the sphere. Button II jumps. Pressing Down + Button II hops down from the platform you’re on to a lower platform. Start pauses the game and allows you to see your score. Select cycles between your two types of magic, and it also skips the animated cutscenes. Holding Up + I and then releasing it unleashes one of your two types of magic (whichever you had equipped through the Select button), assuming you have enough magic ‘stock.’
Toss the colored spheres into opposing colors and reap your rewards!
Sphere Attacks: Zapping enemies turns them into spheres. There are Yellow, Red, Blue, and Orange spheres. You can shoot the spheres a few more times with your wand to finish them off (and gain a single piece of fruit for points), or pick them up and throw them into a different colored sphere (and gain multiple pieces of fruit for points and sometimes Attack or Speed Upgrades). If you throw a colored sphere into the same color, however, both enemies will reappear, so avoid doing this.
Upgrade your attack power by grabbing wands.
Items: As you destroy enemies, particularly with the aforementioned sphere attacks, you’ll gain multiple items. Fruit, of many different varieties, are the most common. Each one is a different point value. Also included are Extra Lives, Attack Upgrades (wands – you can increase your fire power 3 times), Speed Upgrades (boots that speed up your movement AND allow you to be hit once without dying – you’ll just lose your speed), and Candy (blue or pink), which increases your magic stock.
Use your ‘Tornado’ Magic Spell to heavily damage bosses!
Magic Spells: Pop and Magic can each perform two magic spells: Tornado and Double Fire. Pressing Select cycles between the two and an icon at the top of the screen lets you know how much ‘stock’ you have of each spell. Tornado unleashes a 360 degree wave of blue orbs that immediately turns all enemies to spheres or does heavy damages to bosses, and Double Fire calls your animal friend (a small rabbit creature) to accompany you for one stage. He’ll fire a shot every time you press the attack button, essentially doubling your firing rate. He’ll leave if you die in the stage, or when you complete the stage.
The ‘Ninja Reaper’ will come for you if you take too long to clear a stage.
Time: There’s no onscreen timer; however, if you take too much time to complete a stage, “HURRY!” will appear on screen. After another ten seconds, a ‘Ninja’ will appear on screen and pursue you slowly. You can’t destroy him, and he doesn’t leave after killing you once – he’ll keep draining all your lives! So make finishing the stages before he arrives of the utmost importance.
Destroying bosses yields an obscene amount of treasure and points.
The Southern Gentleman’s Opinion and Letter Grade: B+ Pop’n Magic is a really fun single-screen game. The length is a bit overlong, particularly in the absence of passwords or memory capacity saves (no progress saving exists, nor any level select passwords that I could find). The animated cutscenes, even without knowledge of the Japanese language, tell the story well enough, and look excellent. The stages themselves look fantastic, with no single screen looking the same as the one before, both in terms of platform placements and the artistic backgrounds. The music is awesome, and both Pop and Magic yell things out (in English!) like ‘POWAAHHUP!” when they grab certain items. The control is perfect, and mastering the controls and ‘sphere attacks’ is easy. The regular stages do get more difficult, and beating the game relies on accumulating Extra Lives and using your Magic Attacks at the right times. You get unlimited continues, but you’ll still need to seek out the best ways to beat the boss characters by multiple playthroughs. Overall, I found the game to check the two most important boxes for me: It looks amazing and is highly addictive.
Incredibly colorful and detailed characters and stages make Pop’n Magic a solid game.