Magical Drop III (MVS)
by Dan Elektro
Can one of the best Neo puzzle games get better? You bet--Magical Drop III is proof. By adhering to the classic "bigger is better" theory, MD3 proves that the third time really is the charm.
The setup of Magical Drop III is the same as Magical Drop II--a Tetris-inspired puzzle game featuring characters from tarot cards as the players. Players must pull balloons down from the ceiling and toss them back up into like-colored balloons, making the whole lot of them disappear. The quicker you do that, the more likely you are to create chains of disappearing balloons for big points--and in two-player games, big problems for your opponent. If the balloons reach the bottom of your playfield, the game's over. Two key upgrades boost MD3's core worth. For head-to-head matches, the 16 characters should more than apologize for Magical Drop 2's paltry 7, opening up many new strategies for two-player games. In single-player matches, there's still the basic boss ladder mode from MD2 (here called "Challenge Mode"), but it's the "Magical Journey" adventure mode that really gives the game 1P depth. Once you choose your character, you're off on a board-game like journey, hopping from space to space on a course to a big final showdown. You can choose your path at forks in the road, uncovering power-ups, setbacks, tough puzzles, and the occasional CPU opponent along the way. With so many more player options, it's no wonder MD3 is the largest puzzle MVS cart, weighing in at 174 megs--over twice the size of MD2!
Everything that worked in MD2 is back--the lighting-fast decision making, the frenzied action, and the tight control. Magical Drop III is one of the fastest puzzle games, period, and players will often feel like they're just barely hanging on--which is a very good thing. And for once, twitch gamers who do venture into puzzle territory will find they can apply their skills immediately. MD3 rewards smarts and speed equally.
Neither Magical Drop game is a visual tour de force, and that's okay. The balloons...are round and colored. What do you expect? Still, while the 2D graphics don't push the Neo's capabilities, the color palette is wide and bright and the tarot-inspired character design is interesting. All characters feature a unique visual look. For what they are, they're great.
Varying themes are a marked improvement over Magical Drop 2's repetitive loops. The soundtracks are hummable enough without being grating, and the sound effects and character speech bites sound balanced and fun.
Replay Value: 10/10
Between Survival, Challenge, and Magical Journey, there's plenty to keep puzzle fans coming back. The expanded roster means two-player games remain fresh longer, as players test out new characters and strategies. Magical Journey, however, is the jewel in this crown, offering some welcome structure to the usual single-player drudgery.
Hey, there's a reason there's no Magical Drop IV. Magical Drop III makes for a fitting, satisfying final game in the series simply because it gets everything right. It's truly a must-own for rabid puzzle fans.