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Presto puzzle-o, December 9, 2020
Despite the name prompting me to think this might be an anime-inspired visual novel type thing, LA:MG puts some stage-magic theming on a zippy explore-the-crazy-mansion-and-solve-puzzles parser game. There are lots of typos, one or two wonky puzzles, and a few tonal issues that I found a little offputting, but in the main, this is a pleasant diversion, with plenty to do, solid pacing, and some laughs along the way.
The premise makes it clear from the off that the operative vibe is going to be zany: the player character is a magician’s assistant (named, inevitably, Trixie), who works for a stage magician who moonlights as a superhero, or possibly vice versa. After he’s captured by a member of his rogue’s gallery, you step up to rescue your boss by exploring his wacky mansion to find the various taunting clues the villain has left hidden about, Riddler-style. Oh, and also you’re on a deadline (Spoiler - click to show) (thankfully notional, rather than an actual turn limit) to get all this done before you have to leave to do a magic show for the President’s kid’s birthday party.
It took me a little bit to get a handle on the conceit here, since it’s mashing up a couple of different kinds of tropes. I eventually landed on “Sixties superhero parody” as the dominant note (even though there are newpaper clippings indicating it’s meant to be the present day), though partially that’s because it helped me make peace with an unpleasant undercurrent of sexism that runs through some of the text. I think this is meant to set up jokes about how everyone underestimates Trixie due to how attractive she is and her stereotyped job, but there aren’t the kind of internal eye-rolls that would undercut this and clearly mark it as dumb. Trixie is certainly presented as brave and resourceful as she solves the villain’s various challenges, but there are also lines saying that she found history class “SO BORING”, and upon typing X ME, she posits this as the reason she’s so good at her job: “with your golden blonde hair cascading over your shoulders like a shimmering waterfall, your full red lips so often coyly pursed into a tantalizing pout, and your ample bosom encased in a sheer sequined gown, distracting audiences is no challenge for you” (not a lot of straight ladies or gay men in these audiences, I’m guessing). It’s not omnipresent by any means, but every once in a while a bit like this would hit a sour note.
Moving on to the game itself, it is well-structured, with a just-large-enough mansion playing host to a series of challenges that must be solved one at a time, with the villain’s clues providing clear direction on which puzzle to be pursuing next. The puzzles themselves are generally fair, and you use your boss’s collection of magic tricks and wacky gizmos to good effect without requiring too much outside-the-box thinking, which can be a flaw of this style of game. There’s a hint system integrated into the game – you consult a crystal ball – but I only found it necessary to check it once.
That once was annoying, though: I had the right idea, but the situation wasn’t described well enough for me to clearly picture how the intended solution was meant to work, a key object wasn’t implemented, and near-miss solutions earn default failure responses. (Spoiler - click to show)This was the puzzle to get the drill bit – it’s clear you need to pull or cut it free from the larger drill, but the bit itself isn’t implanted, SAW DRILL WITH doesn’t indicate that you’re on the right track, and the drill and guillotine were somewhat hazily described, I thought. Some of these issues are present in other parts of the game, but this was the one place where they all overlapped to make things challenging.
Finally, the game is lacking that final coat of polish. There are a large number of typos, including one in the opening text, and some of the verbs in the HELP text don’t appear to work as advertised (despite what’s stated, you want to TALK TO characters, not SPEAK TO them). It’s a shame, because the jokes are often quite funny – the god-bothering clown is a highlight, and he’s presented with sympathy despite being a ridiculous gag character – but these issues mean they sometimes don’t land as well as they should. Regardless, LA:MG definitely scratches the itch for a quick, puzzle-y romp – but with a few small tweaks I would have enjoyed it a lot more.