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Magic: the Gathering is one of those games you hate to love.  At any one given moment you will be loving the game, at the top of the world, destroying all decks that come your way, and then a split second later you will be hating life, rationally contemplating setting fire to your deck and throwing your opponents out the window.

Fans of the game need not worry, the Xbox Live Arcade game Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers provides this same great experience.

For all those unfamiliar with this genre of play, Magic: the Gathering is a card game where you assume the role of a powerful mage called a planeswalker, harnessing powerful magic in your quest to either destroy or protect the multiverse.  The original card game can be quite complicated with an endless supply of rules and abilities that need to be kept tracked of, but the XBLA version of the game does a nice job of introducing the uninitiated.

When you first boot up the game you have an option to play an excellent tutorial which introduces you to all the basic concepts of the game, both filling in newcomers and re-initiating experienced players.  In addition to this, whenever you pick up a card in the actual game you have an option to read a small tutorial on all of its capabilities, making Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers a very easy game to pick up, for anyone who has never played before.

Regrettably, this straightforward style of gameplay comes with a price.  Traditional Magic fans may be discouraged from playing due to the lack of depth.  In the card game, players have an impossibly large supply of cards to choose from in order to customize their decks to create perfect killing machines.  In Duels of the Planeswalkers, the player only has the option to choose from a limited amount of unchangeable decks.  The only customization which comes here is from the unlocking of new decks and new cards.  Beyond this though, the player does not even have the option to take a stock card out of their deck if they decide it hurts more than it helps.

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This does not mean that traditional magic fans will not love the game, only that they may not see it as having the same appeal and longevity as its original counterpart.  After completing the tutorial the player has the option to play a series of game modes which are fun and challenging to both the newcomer and the hardcore.

The most basic of which is the campaign mode.  Here, the player simply chooses a deck and plays through 16 different AI controlled planeswalkers.  Playing through this mode allows unlockables, primarily decks and cards.  The campaign can be completed in a matter of hours, but there is always motivation to go back and unlock new cards; increasing the power of your current deck.

If playing the campaign by yourself seems boring, then you will always have the option to play the 2 vs. 2 co-op campaign, which is pretty much identical to the single player portion; just modified slightly to accommodate a second human player.

Challenge mode is by far the most interesting to play.  Essentially, the player is put into a pre-determined position in the game and is asked to win in a single turn with the cards in hand.  What this boils down to is Magic’s own specialized puzzle mode.  While the first couple levels seams fairly simple and easy, the last few will surely leave you scratching your head in their complexity.

Playing Magic on Xbox Live is a great experience.  Here you can pit your hard earned decks against other players.  While all the decks may not be completely balanced in terms of usefulness, there is still plenty of variety to keep you playing online trying to climb your way up the treacherous leaderboard.

The visuals of the game are pretty much what you would expect from a card game.  The animations of the creatures and spells attacking each other are fairly basic and unimaginative, but considering the vast amount of cards in Magic, detailed animation for all cards would be too much for a simple arcade game.  On that note, the artwork on all the cards are just as great as the originals.  Half the fun of the card game was admiring the artwork on the cards, and just the same can be said for the XBLA version.

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The sound is pretty much the blandest portion of the game.  You have some lame rock music during the beginning, and you will be forced to listen to only one song throughout all of your battles.  The sound effects are just as boring, and you will most likely find your self playing your own music instead of the games.

All in all, Magic the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers is a great game for newcomers and the hardcore alike.  If you’re new to the game, then you will find no difficulty here as the game walks you through how to play step by step, and if you have played Magic all your life then you will find the same great experience you have always loved, albeit a little more watered down than I would have liked.  At 800 Microsoft points, this game holds tremendous value for anyone with a remote interest in the card game.

Rating Category
7.0 Presentation
As far as visuals go, the animations are pretty bland, but the artwork is as beautiful as the real cards.
How does our scoring system work?
8.0 Gameplay
Although the gameplay is simple, this is your typical Magic the Gathering experience.
5.5 Sound
The audio of the game is just poorly done. The game's sound effects are boring and there is only one song to listen to through out all of your matches.
7.5 Longevity
The campaign and challenge modes are fairly short, but the online portion has the potential to stretch out your money's worth.
7.3 Overall
Even if you've never played the card game before, then this is your best bet at an introduction. If your a prior enthusiast; you will love this game.

  1. When I was in 5th grade, my rich friend gave me 400 Magic cards, so I played for a bit.

    True story.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever pick it up again, but this looks solid.

  2. My cupboard has over 5000 magic cards… eep
    Good review :)

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