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Magic Carpet 2: The Netherworlds (DOS)

85
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
4.0
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Maw (849)
Written on  :  Dec 04, 2004
Platform  :  DOS

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Summary

If I ever composed a list of underrated games, Magic Carpet 2 would definitely be in the Top 5

The Good

Magic Carpet 2 is another example of the “hybrid god sim” genre that the legendary UK designer Peter Molyneux worked on for Bullfrog in early to mid 1995, shortly before he left the company to found Lionhead Productions. Despite being an ahead of its time, both technically and artistically, and receiving favourable reviews, MC2 went almost unnoticed by gamers. Now, it is extremely difficult to find. I came to own my copy by virtue of my dad, who gave it to me a few weeks ago. He received it as a free software sample while he was working as editor for the now-defunct Australian Electronics magazine.

MC2 is visually impressive, even today. It supports an SVGA 480x640 resolution or just plain VGA. Despite the resolution, the fully morphable landscape, gouraud shading, intelligent light sources, reflections and a number of other small nuances in the graphics make it almost as fun to watch as it is to play.

As far as storylines go, we’ve just got the generic “hero-vs-evil-baddie” plot. After the first war, the tattered realms are just beginning to regain some semblance of order when Vissuluth appears. Exploiting a natural loophole between the world and the “otherworld” (as we’re told in the manual), he invades with a host of demonic creatures. Soon the very fabric of reality begins to warp and meld, and the creatures of the very land are corrupted. You, one of the few wizards who survived the first war, are called by the spirit of your slain master Kafka to spearhead the assault against Vissuluth. You fly from realm to realm, equipped with the titular carpet and a arsenal of spells to use, blasting to smithereens monsters and giant insects and rival wizards and other stuff I won’t enlarge upon until the final showdown with Vissuluth himself. It might not sound like the most original of plots, but after playing through the first couple of levels you soon find yourself becoming as involved in the story as if had it contained three-thousand word narratives.

At a glance, MC2 looks like a standard first-person-shooter. However, on closer inspection it is a lot more than that. There are adventure parts, and even traces of city building and economic management. All the realms you journey into are populated by people, who are neither friend nor foe. These people reproduce, and over time the population grows. They build and expand cities, and after a while they even recruit little armies to drive away Vissuluth’s creatures which frequently attack them. If you are nice to them, they will aid you in your quest. But if you fire offensive spells at them, they start attacking you. If you have the time and breathing space (which you won’t, in most levels), you could sit back and observe the human population, and watch them grow like a colony of sea monkeys.

The spells avaliable are varied, to say the least. There are over 20 of them. They range from the standard fireball, to the devastating meteor, to the life-saving teleport, to the indispensable heal. Some of them are spectacular to watch, such as the volcano spell, which creates an enormous lava-spewing mountain on the spot.

“Mana” is the critical lynchpin in MC2. It is energy, the more mana you have, the more spells you’ll be able to use, and the more health you’ll get. Mana is represented by little golden balls. At the start of the game, you have a “possession” spell. You can cast this spell on mana, and it will come under your control. But other wizards can simply come along and capture it off you with a possession spell of their own. So, you must build a fortress to store your captured mana. Fortresses are extremely important, they allow you to store an unlimited supply of mana where it can’t be captured by enemies. Over time, you can enlarge it, and even equip it with troops to defend it against enemy wizards.

Speaking of enemy wizards, they are another unique factor in magic carpet. There are seven of them: Nyphur, Rahn, Jark, Belix, Elyssa, Yragore, and Prish. They are like you. They need mana, they use spells, they can build a castle to hoard mana in. And you need to beat them all to progress to the next level. This is the true beauty of MC2 – the competition. Fighting against rival wizards, while staying on good terms with the people, and collecting mana. Not every problem can be solved by blazing away with the trusty fireball spell. MC2 achieves a depth of gameplay that is rare indeed in the FPS genre.. It is really more strategy than shooter.

The Bad

The game is too easy. I was able to knock the 25 levels over in about three days. The various monsters you face are generally as dumb as a bag of hammers, and even the wizards don’t pose a massive threat once you get a fortress and a decent supply of mana. Usually the opening moments of the game are the most tense, as you don’t have a fortress and must fend for yourself against hordes of monsters. But once you get a fortress (and troops to defend it), it is almost impossible to really die, even if the enemy wizards gang up against you –- as they often do.

MC2 also suffers from repetition. Some of the levels have unique mission objectives, such as “collect X amount of mana”, or “build your fortress up to X level”, or “eliminate all monsters of X type”, but usually the developers have resorted to the standard “kill all enemies”. While it is fun the first few times, having to do it again and again and again, with no conceivable reward but to do more of the same on the next level is not what I’d call overly exciting. This problem is compounded by the fact that eliminating enemy wizards is so difficult. To completely banish them from the realm, you must a) destroy their castle, and b) kill them before they get the chance to build a new one. The trouble is, they build a new castle almost instantly, and the process repeats itself ad infinitum until they run out of mana.

One of the differences between MC1 and MC2 is that in MC2 some missions happen underground, in caverns. With a few exceptions, these cavern missions are dismal failures. The lighting is terrible, it is way too dark and I had to crank up the contrast on my monitor to see properly. The tunnels are so narrow that I was constantly crashing, losing my orientation, and going completely the wrong way. Another problem is that the game’s engine often does funny stuff with narrow confines. Sometimes I’d get attacked by monsters that could, apparently, shoot through solid walls. Also, finding enough flat ground to construct a fortress is a pain, and my balloon (which is a thing that automatically harvests your captured mana and then stores it in the fortress) kept on getting trapped in between stalactites and therefore rendered useless. I soon found myself groaning whenever I had to play through a cavern mission.

The game doesn’t perform terribly well on modern OSes. Even while running in Win95 compatibility mode, I suffered from frequent crashes and lockups. Sometimes the game would slow down to be almost unplayable, with an extremely choppy framerate. Which is actually a bit of a laugh when considering the system requirements. I experienced similar problems both with my Windows ME and Windows 98 machines.

The Bottom Line

Despite all of its merits, MC2 was the first Bullfrog game to commercially fail. I can only wonder why.