According to Paradox Producer Peter Cornelius, all Magicka fans want is more Magicka. Magicka 2 is certainly that, and I enjoyed the first game as well, but from the little I've played of it at a recent demo, it also has the same problems. Mainly, that its complicated controls lag behind its amazingly creative spellcasting system.
Magicka 2 doesn't do a whole lot to change the formula at all, though in Pieces Interactive's defense, it's a brilliant formula. It's a top-down shooter where you play as a wizard who can cast a staggering number of different spells by combining a handful of basic elements. Take Fire and Earth, cast it as a projectile, and you get a fireball. Take Ice and Arcane, and you get a freeze beam. Pick Fire instead of Heal by mistake and cast it on yourself and your three wizard friends, and you've committed a murder-suicide.
Such mistakes are common, even expected in Magicka. Friendly fire is always on, and while enemies get bigger and harder as you progress, the real challenge is always in improvising the right spells for the right situation without launching ice missiles at yourself in the process.
My proudest moment during the demo (which barely redeemed me from numerous times I killed my partners), was after the rest of my team had died while exploring a large, damp cave. I was being chased by more goblins I could handle across a narrow bridge, and as I ran, I rained meteors on myself. As I stepped out of the area of effect, the enemies chasing me stepped into their deaths.
Cornelius said he's never seen that move before. He said there's a lot of combinations and strategies that won't emerge until the game is out in the wild, which is part of what makes it so much fun. There are near endless possibilities open to you from the moment the game starts, and it's just a matter of discovering and mastering them.
It's not easy. Demos often make me feel like I suck at games—it's just a result of playing something I've never played before in front of an audience, but I don't think I've ever embarrassed myself by looking down at the controller to make sure I'm pressing the right buttons. Magicka 2 was so confusing at first, everyone who was playing was looking down, bewildered.
It will doubtless get easier with more time, but I'm disappointed Pieces Interactive has seemingly done nothing to teach, encourage, and in general make the whole learning process easier. I didn't play the first level, so I don't yet know how the game introduces itself to new players, but even if it took the time to walk me through a few example spells and what they're good for, casting accurately and consistently is still difficult.
Each spell can take five out of eight elements in different combinations, and be cast on yourself or others in different methods. Even ignoring the sheer amount of brain processing power this requires, the button inputs alone are confusing.
In the first Magicka, different elements were mapped to different directions of the right joystick, unless you were playing with a mouse and keyboard, in which case every element was mapped to a different key. In Magicka 2, the elements are mapped to the face buttons, with two elements for each button that you can alternate between by pressing a shoulder button.
At best, this is a slight improvement which ignores the real issue. It's something that modern character action games have figured out in recent years. Pressing the buttons in the right order is not as interesting as choosing the right move at the right time. In the first Magicka, you could learn a special spell, and look at the combination of elements you needed to choose in order to execute it. It's silly and tedious to bother dialing in these elements every single time for every single spell.
What I wanted to see in Magicka 2 but haven't yet is some kind of method to not only look at special spell recipes, but save them, map them to different buttons or keys, and cast them without having to press five or seven buttons. That would allow me to focus on the the twin-stick shooting, and, more importantly, the creative aspect of crafting spells without frantically pressing buttons and making mistakes.
Without some kind of spell casting refinement, Magicka 2 is just more, slightly prettier Magicka. Maybe it's what fans what, but to me it's not enough of an evolution.