Review: The Magic Circle: Gold Edition (PS4)


Title: The Magic Circle: Gold Edition
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.69 GB)
Release Date: April 26, 2016
Publisher: Question
Developer: Question
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: M
The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is exclusive to PlayStation 4. The original game, titled The Magic Circle, is available on PC, Mac, and Linux.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Games go unfinished all the time. We have all seen it before for various reasons. Some games never get further than the concept stage, others fail to reach crowdfunding goals, and some just get stuck in development hell. As players we just move on to the next game, but what happens to the developers of these games and what happens to the game itself?

The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is a game that explores this idea from a humorous standpoint. It’s a dark comedy about a tortured developer stuck in development hell. The game takes place in a fantasy world and you are the main character in an unfinished game. You walk around the world and hear the developers argue about what to do with this long in-development game through their conversations, notes, and changelogs scattered throughout the world.

Exploring quickly leads to the discovery of another character, but this one is also the main character – from a different game. This unknown hero is actually from a scrapped science fiction game that the developer was originally working on before moving onto the fantasy game. He needs your help to get out of his incomplete world and take revenge against the developers.

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After meeting him you will travel between the fantasy and science fiction games piecing together the story behind why both games have gone unfinished for over ten years.

Gameplay is rather strange. Since the game is not “complete” your character does not have any weapons, but there are still enemy NPCs traveling around the world. There are puzzles that require thinking outside the box to solve because some are in various states of completion due to missing assets. To combat and solve these elements players will have to rewrite some the code of creatures and objects to manipulate them to fulfill their needs.

To do so the player needs to trap creatures and objects using R2 which shoots out a portal that freezes whatever stands near it. When a creature is captured, hitting a button brings the player to a world of coding where the creature’s traits and abilities are listed and can be changed to the player’s liking.

… kind of chaotic at points …
The options can be anything from making an enemy an ally or taking away its ability to move. You can also just strip a creature of all of its abilities and use those abilities for future purposes.

It’s a really neat idea and it leads to a couple different scenarios that could make the game play out differently for each person. If you make a creature an ally it will follow and protect you. You can even customize them to have abilities of other NPCs.

Some NPCs appeared to be very important to progressing and solving some of the puzzles while others I did not find much use out of. But I didn’t find every collectible so maybe the NPCs I didn’t find value in could have helped.

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By the end of the game I had a ton of allies following me around as it allows them to follow your every move. It did get kind of chaotic at points as I had a small army behind me and sorting through them was finicky despite the game giving the ability to scroll through them using the D-pad.

For the most part that concept of capturing and rewriting NPC’s code is the majority of the interaction players can expect. After some time it might be possible for players to get bored and want just a little bit more in terms of interactions.

The main portion of the game is fairly open and the player can freely explore the world and come across the many bits of story in any order. This is both a positive and negative. The free exploring is fun and the game allows you to mess around with it as much as you want.

… even if it ends with a bit of a whimper …
The negative side effect is that with very little direction on where to go, backtracking and getting lost is rather easy. The game does allow you to fast travel and the world is not huge, but there were times that I felt like I was spinning my wheels looking for something to help me accomplish the main objective.

The story is the shining star of The Magic Circle and the gameplay, while neat and different, grew a little stale after a couple hours. The game does change slightly in the second half and while I enjoyed that, the story seemed to lose some of its glow as it wrapped up. I still had a good time playing and even if it ends with a bit of a whimper it’s still a game I would recommend.

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The game has a unique and very cool style since the story calls for it to look unfinished. To achieve this style the fantasy world appears to look almost like concept art. The world is black and white with only the NPCs having any color or fully realized designs.

There is even a nice effect that the main protagonist has. Wherever it walks, it will color the world around it, giving just a small glimpse of what the completed game could have looked like.

… have to tip my hat to the developers …
The concept art fantasy world also bleeds into another game that takes place on a space station which appears to be more finished. The story even mentions that before it was scrapped it was further along in development. Due to the game’s age it looks like it was started sometime in the 90s as it has a DOOM look to it.

Both worlds, despite being “unfinished” for the sake of the story, are fully realized and work together to a great degree. There are times where it was even hard to tell if I was coming across a glitch or something done on purpose. For this I just have to tip my hat to the developers for achieving that feel.

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The voice acting is phenomenal. It sports a great cast featuring the voices of James Urbaniak (The Venture Bros.) and Ashly Burch (Hey Ash Whatcha Playin’) as two of the main characters. The whole cast overall delivers great performances and helps make the story worth pursuing.

The music is solid and comes and goes on two factors like an important story element happening or just stumbling along a placed music cue. There were moments where I thought I was stumbling across an important story element only to realize that I was just triggering a music cue placed there by the in-game developers for future use in their fake game. Again, I tip my hat.

This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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The Magic Circle: Gold Edition is a fascinating game with a couple of tricks up its sleeve. The story is smartly written and the voice actors deliver great performances which is vital for a game like this. The gameplay, while neat and fairly different, suffers from a lack of depth.

Overall the game only takes a couple of hours to get through and that’s just going through the story beats without trailing off looking for collectibles.

If you are interested in a dark comedy about the troubles of video game development, The Magic Circle provides a fun and well written take on the subject. The story is more than enough to overlook some of the shortcomings of the gameplay and the visual design is something worth giving a look.


* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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