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Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: 10.3

June 13, 2007 | Franklin Pride

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Sometimes you just can't kill everything.
In the realm of scrolling shooters there are dozens of releases every year. They all seem to focus on the tried and true formula of firing like a maniac while dodging everything thrown your way. While ArchMage also follows the same formula, it does throw in a few extra features that make the game a little more interesting.

Gameplay: Ant vs. Flamethrower
In ArchMage, you spend the majority of your time blowing up monsters and collecting powerups. This makes you stronger and able to kill more enemies for more powerups. In this aspect, ArchMage is just like any other shooter on the market, and can become boring relatively quickly. Thankfully, it has a few extra features that keep you interested a little longer than the average shooter.

First, there's the spell system. While fighting off the waves of monsters from level to level, your character, whether it be witch or mage, will gather runes and spells to add to their respective arsenals. As you get stronger spells, you can begin combining the rarer runes to get a unique weapon for the level. If you get bored with a weapon during the level, you call up the spell cauldron and mix up a new one which then lasts for the remainder of the level. The spells come in four categories: fire, ice, poison, and neutral. The fire spells light flammable enemies on fire and do some serious damage, the ice spells do lighter damage but have a chance to freeze the enemies, the poison spells make the enemies sick and slowly eke their health away, and the neutral spells just do a whole ton of damage while looking pretty. Each variety has about four spells in it ranging from weak to devastating. However, you'll often find yourself sticking with a single spell for the majority of the game, as most of them are way too weak for the later levels.

Second, you have the choice of two different characters. This feature is little more than a way to relieve the boredom of staring at the same character the entire game. Switching characters can rejuvinate you a little, however, so it's worth doing if you get bored.

Lastly, the game is set out in a fantasy map grid where you can choose your next level. This breaks up the monotony a little as there are multiple paths to the final boss and quite a few side trips you can take for a few extra spells. Nothing too special as the levels are almost identical, but another feature that relieves the usual shooter monotony.

What brings ArchMage down, however, is its reliance on the classic shooter concept: "hard just means more enemy health or more enemies." What I would really have liked to see was a significant change in difficulty or at least a few new enemies. With the appropriate spells, the extra health is hardly noticeable. Also, the bosses don't get any tougher from one difficulty to the next, and remain their brain dead selves. There are a few neat updates that are fun to try out, but the main game is just a slow shootfest after the novelty wears off.

Graphics: Particle effects everywhere!
When playing Archmage, the first effect you see is on the main menu. Every time you click on a choice, the menu quickly scrolls off the screen during an explosion of sparkles. This sets the tone for the graphics of the entire game, and that's not a bad thing. The monsters explode in satisfy bursts of light, the spells all have a unique and interesting animation, and the monsters are quite varied. Aside from minor slowdowns when the screen is full on high resolution, there's really nothing to complain about in the Graphics of ArchMage.

Sound: Boom. Boom again. More booms.
Despite a few good sounds in the menu and spell sets, ArchMage mostly relies on a single sound: the sound of an enemy exploding. The game does have music, and your weapons do make a few noises, but the enemies are so numerous that you'll hardly notice over the cacaphony of exploding monsters. It isn't a problem on the earlier levels where enemies are almost an endangered species, but the later levels are so cluttered with enemies that you can get dozens of explosions within seconds of seeing your first charging bull.

Thankfully, ArchMage comes with a volume control. If the explosions get too annoying, you have the choice to turn down the sound volume and increase the music volume to drown it out. This makes the later levels much more entertaining and is the sound's saving grace.

Value: Hey, free is my favorite price!
When you're making a purchase decision, you always need to consider what you're giving up. Would you rather buy three lunches or ArchMage? In this case, ArchMage seems to be the winner. It may be repetitious if played nonstop for a week and a half, but it is quite fun if played in short spurts over a longer period of time. With that in mind, the $20 pricetag is cheap. As an added bonus, if you don't want to pay, you can just play the free levels on the shareware version.

• Spell system
• Beautiful graphics
• Two different characters
• It's shareware

• Cacaphonic later levels
• No distinctions between characters
• Repetitive gameplay

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