Review: The Magic Circle – A Postmodern RPG

Review: The Magic Circle – A Postmodern RPG


Windows PC, Mac, Linux, Steam

Game Name:

The Magic Circle






Action, Adventure, Simulation, Strategy

Release Date:

July 9th, 2015

The Magic Circle – What We Think:

Welcome, tester! Development for The Magic Circle has been slow but ongoing, so please stick with us as we put together a game worth showing at the next E4 event and can raise enough funding to keep going for another year! That’s the thought, at least, and the basis of the plot. Enough to paint a picture for you that we can continue to describe from here on, spoiler-free!

The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam
The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam

Code Breakers

The Magic Circle is mainly a narrative-driven game with some puzzle elements. Sure, there is some combat here and there, but you are not directly taking part in it, for you see, the premise is that you are exploring an unfinished game world and breaking things, mainly by ripping out lines of code from the entities you encounter and replacing them as you see fit. This monster here sees you as an enemy? No, now he’s actually your ally. This foe moves by walking? No, actually it can’t move at all. This creature attacks with a flamethrower attack? Just rip that out and give it to your trusty dog creature that you made into a friend…it now has a blowtorch nozzle jutting from its mouth.

All the puzzles are solved this way. Find your way past obstacles by replacing an entity’s features with other things that you’ve taken from something else. After the prologue, you are immediately invited to break the game in any way you see fit. Should you find a way past an obstacle that “works,” and you feel like you should not have done it that way, don’t worry about it. What matters is that you got past, so keep going.

The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam
The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam

A Small World After All

The world is smallish and sparsely populated. More time is spent exploring the world than anything else. But in exploring, you are rewarded with plot dumps told in the audio log style as well as with tweaks that buff your minion’s stats; by the game’s end, you’ll have a lot of those. While I feel I explored most of the world, I did miss a few things. I just wish there were more to the game.

Even so, I feel with a little bit of creativity you can reach a state where you are capable of completing it before you’ve seen everything – which is nice, actually! Remember, the whole goal is to break the game. You don’t necessarily need to see everything if you don’t need or want to.

The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam
The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam

Everything Comes Full Circle

Most puzzles only need to be solved once; after you’ve found a good solution to something, there is little reason to try a different method. Combat is mainly brute forced, so thankfully it’s not over-used. But it also fits somewhat into the plot of the world the “game” takes place in. This, however, may lead into why it felt so short.

The most clever thing about injecting features into different things is how they get visually represented. It’s not only smart, but it enables you to immediately know which of the creatures that are following you contain which features you might need to take advantage of in order to pass a puzzle. For the ability to do melee attacks, monsters might get a mouth full of sharp teeth or a sword or even a buzzsaw. You can even copy abilities to similar creatures; a beam of faint light will connect the “boss” monster to each of its underlings – a neat visual shorthand to help you spot the original creature.

The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam
The Magic Circle: screenshot courtesy of Steam

Practical Magic

At the very end, there is a cute little mode where you are given the task of creating a short dungeon crawl level that someone else must play and be entertained by. It adds a perfect little end cap to the story that is all about “development hell,” feature bloat, and some jabs at industry perils. All in all, it’s very engaging, with enough gameplay to save it from being labeled as a walking simulator, and some incredibly clever visual design choices that both make sense and just make me think, “This was done well.”

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Watch the trailer for The Magic Circle below:

Check out IGR’s interview with developer Stephen Alexander at IndieCade 2015:


[USA] Gaming since he was 3, most main stream titles have become a ‘been there, done that’ feel. Indie gaming is where the innovation is at these days, and even in some tired old genres, a developer with a dream can breathe some fresh life into an old formula.

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