I’ve always found something quite odd about arcade puzzle games. While I’m a fan of puzzle games in general, the genre just feels somewhat quaint alongside fighters, beat ‘em ups and shooters in the arcade environment. They’re not cool, badass or exhilarating and, at the time, were very much possible on the home systems of the time. Nevertheless, Japan seems to love the idea nearly as they do fighters. There are a few good examples of famous arcade puzzle games such as Tetris and Puzzle Bobble. The Neo Geo was blessed with another similar game in Magical Drop II, a sequel to a non-Neo Geo arcade game from Data East.
In principal it’s a very simple games, as all the best puzzle games should be. You control a character at the bottom of the playing area as dozens of different coloured bubbles descend. Naturally, you have to clear them by matching bubbles of the same colour. With your character being able to strafe side to side, you can pick up one bubble from the front row with one button, move it, and drop it with another button. Bubbles will disappear when three of the same colour are in a column. Any adjoining bubbles of the same colour will also disappear, and naturally you can also cause chain reactions to happen should the right bubbles fall into the right places.
As with all of HAMSTER’s Arcade Archives series, there’s both the Japanese and International version to play. Whereas most games are practically identical, Magical Drop II actually has a significant difference. The Japanese version has an extra mode.
Both versions share a Vs. mode as well as a survival mode. The Vs. is kind of like a story mode since you fight against different character. You choose one of the seven of them to compete against the others. Each of the available characters have their own different things but as I was playing, in all honesty, I couldn’t tell the difference between them. I like their designs I suppose, but that’s as far as it got for me. Maybe I’m missing something, who knows.
After an awesome and promising intro, it’s slightly disappointing that it doesn’t actually translate much into the main game.Yeah there’s some personality there, as the character sprites and animations are great, but it’s honestly not worth calling it a story mode as the manual states.
On the default setting Magical Drop II is brutally difficult by the third stage of story mode. The first two rounds are fairly easy and if you’re quick and lucky, the match can be over in seconds. When you get to the devil guy, it’s relentless. The default setting is not kind on beginners and may put players off so I definitely tone the level down in the settings. Even then, it’s still really difficult, but it gives you more of a chance rather than being annihilated in seconds.
The survival mode is just as tough. This is where the whole wide screen is yours and you have to keep pushing back the descending bubbles, the more points you get, the higher the levels you reach and the more difficult it gets. Due to the expanded play area you can now exit one side and appear on the other, letting you arrive at where you need to be quicker.
I think what makes Magical Drop II so difficult is the pace. It’s incredibly action orientated, every millisecond counts and any sort of dawdling will punish you. If you’re not on your game you’ll be destroyed even on the easiest setting. That’s going to put some people off for sure and it’s a shame it’s not more accessible, but it’s an arcade game and that’s the way it generally goes.
The Japanese version has a puzzle mode which has smaller, preset stages which are designed to be completed in seconds, often with a solution that can clear the playing area in just one chain reaction. I’m perplexed as to why this mode never made it into the International version. My guess would be because you get more time with your credit here. It’s definitely the longest lasting mode of the all and you don’t need God-like reflexes to last more than a couple of seconds.
Aside from the fun gameplay I think Magical Drop II looks and sounds great. The characters are cute and colourful even if they don’t have the personality I would like. The vibrant colours really pops off the Switch’s screen. The sounds is also pretty good. The whimsical tunes that urgently speeds up as the situation gets more desperate really makes things so tense. Each character stage has their own excellent theme too, which is a nice surprise.
As with all the Arcade Archives series HAMSTER have thrown in their usual extra modes: Hi Score mode and Caravan mode.
Either there is something wrong with Caravan mode or it is completely useless as a mode here. It seems that you don’t actually collect your score until you complete the game (which is the Vs. Mode). Given that Caravan’s shtick is only giving you five minutes, unless you’re incredibly lucky I don’t think there’s any human way to actually get your score. Saying that, it could be just programmed incorrectly, since despite me reaching my best ever stage during Caravan mode, it counted for nothing as it said my score was zero.
The same goes for Hi Score mode, although since there’s no five minute limit, you have time to actually complete the game. Whether you get the hi score at the end or not, I don’t know because it’s just too difficult for me.
So overall, I think Magical Drop II is an excellent arcade puzzle game, despite its difficulty. I think if it was just a tad more accessible I would easily recommend it to anyone. As it stands though it’s difficulty may turn many people away. I still enjoyed playing it despite that. Comparing it against Fatal Fury 1 and 2, which are insanely difficult and not fun, this still is fun! If you’re terrible at facing the computer, then there’s always the 2 player option to compete against someone equally as terrible. It looks and sounds lovely and it fills a hole in the Neo Geo library that’s currently missing on the Switch.
Game provided by HAMSTER Corp.