Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Magical Chase (PC Engine)

Checkpoints OFF
3 Difficulty levels
6 Stages
Ship speed by icons
- - - - - - -
Developed by Quest
Published by Palsoft in 1991

Sometimes video games are so aptly named that almost everything you need to know about them is already in the title. Magical Chase is exactly what its name implies, for example. It’s a chase, and it’s magical. It’s also about a little witch flying on a broom, which is of course the most important design aspect of the game and mirrors the setting of a much more famous shooter featuring another witch named Cotton. Since the witch in Magical Chase is named Ripple, wouldn’t it have been a wise move for the developer to also release the game as Ripple? We could’ve have another similarly long and successful franchise then.

Jokes aside, even though no sequel was ever developed for Magical Chase the game at least got a port for the Turbografx-16 that holds the distinction of being one of the rarest titles for NEC’s console in the West. No differences exist in the core gameplay between both versions, but the Turbografx-16 port translates all Japanese texts and applies a few visual tweaks to character sprites while repainting the whole first level with a new medieval setting. Either way players are bound to experience a charming shooting romp with neat graphics, nice music and great variety from beginning to end. It doesn't take long to see the game's got plenty of personality without sounding too derivative, on top of exhibiting great parallax effects with absolutely no slowdown.

A brief snippet of the first stage of the Japanese PC Engine version
(courtesy of YouTube user Arcade Forever)

Cute little witch Ripple accidentally released six devilish creatures from a forbidden book, and off she goes to undo this with the aid of two star friends/maidens. There’s a total of six levels to go through with increasingly higher survival stakes as you fight mechanized enemies, enchanted forest demons, a huge flying fortress, evil snowmen with hockey masks, a dreadful floating knight and a slew of powerful wizards and other strange beings. Ripple is capable of firing magical shots with button II, as well as have her star options locked in place or freed with a press of button I. A secondary and very important resource consists in pressing buttons I and II at the same time, which then fixes the direction of the bullets they fire. Just do it again to unlock shot direction.

Since the stars can fully block most enemy fire (exceptions are lasers and large ball-shaped projectiles), learning how to use them properly is extremely important in the long run. For every credit you get a health bar with 8 hearts and 6 slots for magic spells. The leftmost spell is used whenever you double tap button II (this is why you can't activate any turbo fire in Magical Chase), and if the hearts in the health gauge deplete the game is over. Health can be recovered by taking the candy lollipop (1 heart) or the cake (2 hearts), which are always left behind by killing specific enemies. Hearts can also be refilled by purchasing the necessary items from the shop that appears at certain points throughout the stage.

Shop purchases use the stock of crystals you're able to collect from every destroyed enemy or as a special bonus at the end of the level. Getting familiar with each item in the shop is important to devise an upgrade/recovery strategy, however the first and most important purchase is definitely maximum speed. Then you're set to experiment with all other items. The gallery of more powerful weapons includes 3-way, wave, staggering, bubble, homing, reflective and piercing shots. While there are no upgrades to these weapons, two specific improvements can also be applied to the behavior of the star maidens (cracker ball and cyclone), thus increasing Ripple's overall firepower. Magic spells consist of heart (recovers 2 hearts), bomb (screen-clearing blast) and × (stars turn green and also inflict damage for 15 seconds). Finally, the medicine completely refills the health gauge, the elixir gives you a full new health bar when the current one is gone and the fruit of life expands the health gauge by one heart.

Certainly not Super Mario Bros pipes!

At first Magical Chase doesn't impose any sort of pressure on the player. There's no damage incurred in touching the terrain, but you can still get scroll-crushed by objects and walls. The difficulty slope is relatively steady, nevertheless the bulk of the challenge is reserved for the last couple of stages. Some boss attacks can drain two and a half hearts, quickly leading to a horrible death if you don't have a good reserve of recovery spells to get back up during the battle. Every stage has a boss and one or more mid-bosses, and some of the later ones are quite demanding in terms of dodging. An interesting detail here is that it's not the main boss that gets quickly glimpsed at the start of every level, it's the mid-boss.

What makes Magical Chase an approachable game for everyone is the shop, definitely a lifesaver for the toughest sections mentioned above. Some of the items increase in value after a few purchases, but fortunately the inflation is nowhere near what you see in games like Fantasy Zone or Forgotten Worlds, which also have a similar shop gimmick. On a different note, if you're interested in scoring higher you absolutely can't purchase medicines, elixirs or extra health slots since each one deduces a good chunk of the final completion bonus. Other factors that contribute to this final reward include the number of crystals multiplied by 10, total life remaining and the chosen difficulty level. Even though some bosses can be milked for a few points, doing it isn't trivial and would take a long time to actually be profitable.

At the start screen the middle option corresponds to the setting for Normal difficulty (わくわく / Waku Waku / Bumpy). When played on Easy (らくらく / Raku Raku / Breeze) the game ends after three stages, whereas on Hard (どきどき / Doki Doki / Rough) players will face more bullets and a few different attack patterns from bosses. On my best 1CC result below I maximized all bonuses in the Normal/Bumpy difficulty. I only purchased swing shot and cracker ball in stage 2, then ×4 before the mid-boss in stage 5 while keeping the magic stock full of hearts at all times.

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