Super Magnetic Neo Review
I dreaded putting this game in my Dreamcast again. Several months had passed since I last played it. I had quit on the final level, deeming it too difficult for any mere mortal to conquer.
Super Magnetic Neo is a 3D micro-platformer from before micro-platformers were in vogue. When I say micro-platformer, I mean games like N or Super Meat Boy: linear platformers that provide intense challenges with frequent checkpoints. Thus the “micro”: either the gameplay is chopped up into tiny segments by checkpoints, or the stages themselves are tiny. Maybe there’s a name for that subgenre already, but I digress.
I first played Super Magnetic Neo a little under a year ago, looking for a Dreamcast platformer that wasn’t Sonic or Rayman. Nearly 250 Dreamcast games were released in the US while Sega supported it, but it’s such a quirky machine that you won’t have much luck in finding platformers.
And Super Magnetic Neo is quirky itself. Its gimmick is magnetism; you can magnetize Neo positively with the A button and negatively with the B button. Likewise, you’ll find magnetized objects in levels, like swinging pendulums and enemies. By activating a certain polarity, you can attract or repel certain elements.
Similar elements repel. For example, if a platform is positively magnetized, you can to go positive yourself in order to propel yourself away from it and upward into the sky. On the other hand, opposites attract. If a swinging rope is positively magnetized, you can go negative in order to stick to it and swing by it. Don’t expect a lot of variety, since I’ve just described roughly half of the uses for magnetism.
Couple these mechanics with some basic yet tricky platforming controls—namely, a jump that’s short and hard to aim, as well as a dash that sends Neo out of control—and you’ve got Super Magnetic Neo.
When I recently returned to Super Magnetic Neo, I dreaded stages like 3-2. Near the beginning of this particular stage, you need to magnetize Neo onto a swinging pendulum, then let go at the proper moment in order to land on a tiny platform. The thing is, it works like jumping off of a playground swing set: your timing determines the direction of your momentum. In order to make the leap onto the small platform, you’ll need to release the pendulum at just the right moment. You can imagine that this is difficult to do if Neo is swinging back and forth all the while.
Long story short, there’s probably a reason micro-platformers are largely two dimensional. Precision in 3D platforming is difficult, and when you throw in Neo’s controls, you’ve got quite a challenge on your hands, to say the least.
That moment in 3-2 certainly tests your platforming skills, since you’ll need a handle on Neo’s momentum and weight in order to make it onto the platform. On the other hand, it only makes casual use of his magnetism. You latch onto the pendulum in the first place by magnetizing Neo negatively, but there’s nothing difficult about that; simply hold down the B button and you’re good.
Magnetism only gets tricky when you have to switch quickly between positive and negative polarities, and that only happens sparsely during the fourth world, which is the end of the game. That’s fine with me, given that the game is hard enough as is. Not to mention, the moments when magnetism gets tricky are among the most frustrating.
It’s this emphasis on precision that kept me from returning to Super Magnetic Neo for months. When I did return to it, though, I found it wasn’t so bad.
For instance, when I tackled 3-2 again, it took me a few tries to get the swinging pendulum jump correctly. But when I did, there were only a few trivial leaps between me and the next checkpoint.
You see, through the entire game, I found that there was a checkpoint between each difficult moment and the next. I was never overwhelmed with too much to memorize; once I passed a hard jump, I rarely had to do it again. That is, unless I lost all of Neo’s lives, in which case I had to start that stage from scratch. That in itself isn’t so bad. With practice, each stage will worm its way into your muscle memory.
Without deaths, any given stage will only last a couple of minutes. With deaths, I found myself playing the same stage for upwards of 10 minutes. You’ll need to bring a sense of patience if you intend to tackle Super Magnetic Neo.
There are also boatloads of lives, so it’s easy to stave off game overs. You’ll gain an extra life by picking up a 1-up icon or collecting 100 “Zebis,” this game’s version of coins. These are littered everywhere, and you won’t need to be the miserly sort in order to earn a few lives in each stage.
Plus, even if you find yourself replaying one part of a stage over and over, you can always learn to clear that area faster. Super Magnetic Neo’s mechanics often allow you to play the game faster if you know what you’re doing; for instance, Neo’s dash move will let you blaze through areas you previously plodded through. Not only do things stay fresh as you learn to approach obstacles differently in an attempt to speedrun the stage, but you’ll get to the part you’re stuck on that much quicker.
So, after working my way back to the final level, I felt prepared to take it on. And, sure, it took some practice, and I must have encountered at least five game overs, but with patience, I did it. It’s easy to get frustrated when you die and even game over several times, but I knew three things: the checkpoints would prevent me from replaying too much of the stage, I’d constantly gain lives and slow down the process of earning a game over, and I would consistently clear bits of the stage in less time. I worked on it for half an hour, but finally, after one of my several game overs, I cleared it—and somehow without losing a life. Go figure.
- If you’re into simplistic gameplay, look no further.
- If you want a challenge, well, the game starts hard and only gets harder.
- Cutesy graphics and a bouncy electronic soundtrack give this game a real sense of charm.
- If you dig the gameplay, there’s a challenge mode with a great deal of extra levels. These levels put a much greater emphasis on magnetism than the standard levels.
- In an era when even Sonic had a hub world, Super Magnetic Neo must’ve been refreshingly linear. Not to say there’s anything wrong with exploration-centric platformers, though.
- Individual stages do tend to find their own gameplay themes and stick to them. However, you’ll spend a lot of your time focusing on one jump to the exclusion of all others in the stage, so you might not be aware of that stage’s theme unless you manage to get through it without dying—it can be hard to see the forest (the overall feel of the stage) for the trees (one particular moment you’re stuck on).
- It’s easy to get frustrated, and if you don’t play carefully, it’s also easy to feel like you’re stuck in a rut.
- If you want precise controls in a game that demands precision, Super Magnetic Neo is going to let you down.
- Don’t expect a lot of variety. For instance, you’ll find one particular kind of magnetized platform in the first level, the final level, and every single level between. Granted, the game is short enough (16 stages and 5 bosses) that it gets away with this without getting repetitive. Actually, you could laud the game for not trying to include too many unique elements. And the game isn’t totally without variety; for instance, one stage early on starts off with Neo sliding down a hill on his stomach.
The Dreamcast had a lot of unusual titles. Do you have any personal favorites?