Super Cane Magic ZERO (Switch eShop) Review
Super Cane Magic ZERO snuck up on me a little bit. A cursory glance at screenshots recalls a very MS-Paint-core, mid-2000s-Newgrounds kind of vibe, and to a degree that’s fairly accurate. What still images can’t tell you is that it’s actually a surprisingly competent action RPG with a fair amount of depth, and is more than capable of sustaining your interest over its fairly sizable runtime. This is coming from a developer that seems to be pretty new to the genre and is definitely new to developing for the Switch. There’s a lot that’s good here, but it’s this inexperience that stops the game from taking that step further into greatness.
I had better not get further into this review without mentioning that it’s entirely possible that you will absolutely loathe this game. The narrative hook here is that the Cake Wizard, Cake, is dead, and his magic dog named AAAH! Is trapped in a tower and wreaking magical havoc on the whole land of WOTF. If reading that sentence made you mildly physically ill, I don’t blame you, but Cane Magic is nothing if not committed. This narrative is explained to you in between about six thousand other jokes, and that rate of fire only builds over the game. There’s some genuinely funny and well-written stuff hiding in between the LOL RANDOM XD – but to be honest, I don’t think there’s a single piece of text in this game that isn’t some sort of joke. I had one character dryly explain a game mechanic to me, and I was taken aback – then I noticed the character’s name was Mr. NPC. So be warned, ye of serious demeanour: this may not be for you.
Aesthetics aside, the action portion of this game is great fun. For the most part, it’s standard ARPG fare: you’ll kill enemies, level up, collect loot & equipment and spec up your character to kill tougher enemies. There’s innovation at every step of the process, though. Combat has a heavy focus on throwing – enough attacks in a short enough time and you’ll knock down an enemy, making them impervious to regular attacks but susceptible to being picked up and thrown at other enemies, dealing damage to all involved. Fail to throw a knocked-down enemy, and they’ll get up with temporary boosts to attack power and dodging.
This requires a definite shift in focus from the norm, as running away after a flurry of attacks can result in a horde of supercharged foes. It’s a lot of fun to work out and adjust to. There’s also the eating mechanics – random items are littered around the battlefield like fruit, cakes, potions, and holding A to eat them will restore health and confer various stat bonuses (or do damage, if thrown at enemies). This is less exciting – stat bonuses are usually unclear, as they’re represented with unexplained symbols, and items rarely restore much health, meaning you’ll need to be constantly eating to survive. It ends up feeling more distracting than strategic.
Some of the mechanics are tied in closely with the jokes. Your character’s skill tree is a Belief System – your amnesiac character doesn’t know who he is, so when someone says that you’re probably a Pisces (or maybe an Aquarium), you can put belief points into either Pisces or Aquarium for different skill upgrades. I personally find this absolutely hilarious. Loot is all absurd nonsense, like my personal favourite weapon the Hot Pepper Sword of Slipping, and of course, you get the fun of watching your character swan around in their garbage bag and police hat while holding a cactus. True to the Switch, there’s also local multiplayer, so you can have your friends join you for the campaign or jump into small arenas for competitive matches. Multiplayer takes the campaign from just fun to a really memorable experience – it’s chaotic, absurd, and gets that central throwing mechanic making a lot of sense, with friends to pick up your enemy-tossing slack.
So the core combat gameplay loop is fun, but there are drawbacks. Sadly, there are some big performance issues here. It’s lovely to see a multiplatform release come to the Switch but there were big framerate chugs – sub 20 frames per second – and in a few cases for me, the complete game crashes when too many enemies with projectile weapons were on-screen. Studio Evil seems to still be in active development mode, as one patch has already been released, but for a fast-paced action game, it really sours a lot of the experience. Losing progress because the game couldn’t handle itself isn’t a good feeling. Loading times are also abysmally long – areas are fairly big, to the game’s credit, but changing between them will see a wait as long as two to three minutes. It feels like not a lot of optimisation work was done for the Switch release, and while it’s nice to get a simultaneous multiplatform release I feel more work could have been done.
I also found myself confused a lot. There’s a LOT of stats, and most of them don’t directly correspond to gameplay in a way that’s immediately observable. My broom with Speed C and Stun A didn’t seem to behave much differently to my sword with Speed A and Stun C. ‘Ego’ is a stat, and I kept feeling like maybe I missed something because I never worked out what it did. Likewise, it took me ages to work out that the currency in this game is not coins but salami, which is why some armour had a +10 to Extra Salami (although I can’t track that stat, and it isn’t clear to what degree that actually affects my currency accumulation). A reference built-in would sure be handy, as there are so many things at play that aren’t explained – and I haven’t even mentioned elemental effects and magic – that it’s just overwhelming.
This is just a brush on what Super Cane Magic ZERO has in store. There’s a lot of things I haven’t talked about in detail, like the unusual levelling system, or the seamless procedurally generated dungeons, or the boss fights requiring you to rethink combat almost entirely. It’s really an out-of-left-field piece of good fun, and you’ll get a lot of gameplay and hopefully a lot of laughter out of it.
If the performance problems were fixed, items balanced a little more, and stats organised better, Super Cane Magic ZERO could be really great. As it is, it’s still worth your time and your cash if you’re an RPG fan looking for something lighthearted to blast through with some friends.
- Off-the-wall sense of humour
- Fun and interesting combat
- Great multiplayer
- Off-the-wall sense of humour
- Performance issues
- Clunky stats