Mento's May Mastery: Day 22: Magrunner: Dark Pulse

I figured I'd get more done today, but the one-two punch of the Giant Beastcast and UPF means Giant Bomb is now taking up more of my Fridays than ever before. Still, I'm stoked about there being a GBeast podcast going up every week, though I wonder if they won't cut into the Giant Bombcast's news segment once too often. Either that, or we'll be getting the same news in stereo. They'll work it out, I'm sure. Bombin' in the AM did something similar with the pre- and post-weekend news and nothing ever felt too toe-steppy about that show. It's always good to have more takes on whatever's been going on, ultimately.

As it's Friday, we have the week's round-up here to alleviate clutter on the Community Spotlight. Just consult this list if you wanna know what I've been up to over the past seven days:

  • Day 16 involved sticking it to the man in the comedy puzzle-adventure game Stick It to the Man! Is it Psychonauts-lite, or is there more going on beneath its cranium?
  • Day 17 had me falling through the monochrome world of NaissanceE, and ultimately abandoning it after I'd had my fill of directionless mazes and discovering I had insufficient computing power to process a bunch of black and white cubes. Humbling.
  • Day 18 introduced me to one of the best games I've played yet for this year's May feature: the excellent stop-motion-y clone 'em up The Swapper. Swap your own stories about murdering clones in the comments!
  • Day 19 spooked me silly with Claire, a 2D survival horror game in the vein of Lone Survivor. More and more of these Indie horror games are overtly borrowing from Silent Hill, and I couldn't be happier. It's not like we're getting a real one any time soon.
  • Day 20 is the adorable chalk drawing skull-skulking puzzle-platformer Dokuro. Here's to more Steam ports from Game Arts in the future!
  • Day 21 attracted me to Magrunner: Dark Pulse, creating a magnetized murder mystery not even the Insane Clown Posse could solve or understand. Come on over and be repelled by even more terrible magnet humor.
  • Day 22 is... well, you're reading it.

Anyway, the weekend's coming up, so I'll be sure to fast-forward through the few games I have ongoing (today's game and Dokuro, mostly) and start on something fresh. For now, though, prepare for some second helpings of Magrunner: Dark Pulse. (Huh, maybe I shouldn't have been calling the kettle black with that "repeated news stories" gripe earlier...)

Magrunner: Dark Pulse

No Caption Provided

I mentioned that at some point this game goes off the rails and gets heavily into Cthulhu and monsters and shit, but I didn't expect it to happen so soon after I stopped playing yesterday. One room later and I walk in on a fellow magrunner getting ate by some sort of fishman. After this, the game starts dropping you through the bowels of the facility (hey, where have I heard that one?) and the once-mocking reporters and corporation reps are sending me panicked messages whenever I'm in earshot.

I dunno if I should be making story predictions, as I may happen upon the actual plot of the game and end up spoiling it for others, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and surmise that the magrunners being carefully selected for their mental acuity, acquired knowledge in various fields and physical excellent is all poppycock, and we were really chosen for some seven-person sacrificial ritual that one of more of this corporation's bigwigs is putting together to summon an Elder Being of some sort. The fact that one or more of the magrunners have already been murdered (or are actively being hunted, like myself) doesn't necessarily negate this theory: if anything, we could be the last scions of whatever magicians crafted the barriers between this world and the next, and that's why we all need to die within the confines of this place before Mr. Tall, Dark and Octopus can be resurrected. I'll enjoy seeing if my theory pans out.

This was the point where things started to go downhill for ol' Dax.
This was the point where things started to go downhill for ol' Dax.

Or at least I will once I figure a way out of the room I'm stuck in. The game's starting to get a little cute about some of its puzzles, in a way I'm not entirely copacetic about. I talked about the lack of order and control last time with how a lot of this magnetic field business can often lead to unpredictable results, usually tossing boxes around in random directions. The game helpfully "sticks" boxes in central positions or markings on the ground, to ensure that they go straight up if they suddenly have the opposite polarity of the platform they're sitting on. These types of upward boosts have been a major part of getting around thus far, and having the flight path of that object be anything less than perfectly vertical would lead to a lot of frustration. The game smartly sidesteps a lot of precision issues which might arise in that fashion, though it hasn't fixed all of them. One particular instance where I had to grab a box in mid-air while standing on it became a lot trickier to deal with once I discovered that you lose all horizontal momentum when you do this, despite the fact that physics don't work that way. The idea was to land on a distant platform after the box and I had been launched, and then I would grab the box before it fell from view. It required such a precise degree of split-second timing that I honestly thought I'd solved the puzzle in an incorrect and horribly more difficult way.

That paranoia turned out to be legit to some extent with a later puzzle where I had to carry a box found early in the room to a spot near the end in order to activate a moving platform (some boxes can be slotted into holes in the wall, which govern the forward-backward momentum of a floating platform in their influence). I simply assumed that the box I picked up near the start of the level would be the same box I needed towards the end, and endeavored for close to thirty minutes to get it and myself to that point. Turns out that, once I had gotten up there, there was another box that was entirely obscured from my view from below. The intended purpose of the box I'd been trying to get up there all along was instead to make the whole process of getting only myself up there slightly easier. Aggravating.

This thing spooked me until I realized it was a Quake reference. If you're doing a first-person Lovecraftian sci-fi game, better honor your elder(being)s.
This thing spooked me until I realized it was a Quake reference. If you're doing a first-person Lovecraftian sci-fi game, better honor your elder(being)s.

I still like Magrunner, for some of its less well-devised puzzles and it being as shameless as it is about "doing Portal but not quite". I wish the plot stuff was more elaborate: maybe introduced more characters and named/developed the rival magrunners so it would be more shocking once they started getting knocked off; adding more lore, either in a database or through found notes, that elaborated on this near future sci-fi universe and the links this corporation apparently has to intergalactic deities beyond our ken; and perhaps a bit more characterization for the dull, cookie-cutter protagonist. Some of that might still be coming up of course, as it feels like I might have an entire act left to go once I find whatever &%£! missing &%£! piece I need to solve this &%£! current &%£! puzzle room. For fuck's sake.

Either way, this'll be it for my Magrunner coverage. It's a fine game, though for all its Portal allusions it doesn't really measure up to Valve's goofy classic. Magrunner certainly doesn't bother attempting to match its humor element, instead focusing on suspense and horror beats. Surprisingly, it isn't too bad at either of those, despite the fact that puzzle games are built to be pacing-killers by design: the player could spend anywhere from a couple of minutes to hours on each of the game's puzzle rooms, and there's no accounting for individual player resourcefulness from a design standpoint. Hard to string together a series of effective scary moments when there's long stretches of puzzle-solving and frustration in between. In fact, it was mildly humorous when the music started getting all horror-ish and violins-heavy when I spotted a creature in the middle of doing a puzzle, and then proceeded to take another half hour to solve it (it was that one with the two boxes I mentioned earlier) with that music playing the whole time. I actually had to turn the music off after a while because having those tense violin strings going for thirty minutes straight was stressing me out too much. And people buy soundtrack albums of this shit?

Day 01: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 11: MiasmataDay 21: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 02: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 12: BotaniculaDay 22: Magrunner: Dark Pulse
Day 03: I Have No Mouth, and I Must ScreamDay 13: BotaniculaDay 23: The Nightmare Cooperative & Lilly Looking Through
Day 04: Life of PixelDay 14: Shantae: Risky's RevengeDay 24: Cook, Serve, Delicious!
Day 05: Life of PixelDay 15: Bit Dungeon IIDay 25: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 06: SPAZDay 16: Stick it to the Man!Day 26: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 07: SPAZDay 17: NaissanceEDay 27: Dreamfall: The Longest Journey
Day 08: NightSkyDay 18: The SwapperDay 28: The Banner Saga
Day 09: The RoomDay 19: ClaireDay 29: The Banner Saga
Day 10: Ultionus: A Tale of Petty RevengeDay 20: DokuroDay 30: The Banner Saga
Finale: Papers, Please
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