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Magic Girl Featuring Ling Ling the Little Witch

Genre: Shmup Developer: Gametec/Super Fighter Team Publisher: Super Fighter Team Players: 1-2 Released: 2015

I’m sure many readers clicked on this article wondering why it’s even here, given that there’s already a review for the game. Indeed, some explanation is in order. While Super Fighter Team’s release of Magic Girl is essentially the same game that first hit the Mega Drive in China in 1993, there are enough differences to warrant a second review, primarily because the changes made in this release improve much of the gameplay problems that plagued the original. Suffice it to say that this isn’t just an improvement, it’s a significant upgrade that actually makes the game playable and enjoyable.

Those who have played the original release will remember that the game (inspired by Konami’s Twin Bee, to say the least) stars a little witch that’s fighting all kinds of cute enemies for some reason. Those who have played the original game, be it through reproduction carts or in ROM form, have a good idea of what to expect from its design already. Magic Girl is a vertical cute-’em-up with decent visuals and a simple gameplay dynamic (one button shoots, one drops bombs). It’s been criticized for its length and low difficulty and for its simple visual style. This review won’t attempt to refute any of those claims – I actually agree with the contention that the game is too short – but will instead focus on what’s been fixed in this version.

First off, the game is now an official release, given that Super Fighter Team has a licensing deal Magic Girl’s original developer Gametec. That means that buyers aren’t getting the seemingly unfinished ROM that’s been floating around for years. Instead, they get a bug-fixed version in a professionally-made cartridge with its manual and packaging. Super Fighter Team has made several improvements, and the game is now at the quality it should have been upon its initial release.

The second improvement is that it’s now completely translated into English. Though many Genesis owners have helped Ling Ling battle her enemies for years now, no one except those fluent in Chinese knew why, since we couldn’t read the game’s  text. Well, it turns out that Ling Ling’s world is the victim of destructive alien invaders, the very beings described in their ancient texts. So inspirational were these creatures that they prompted Ling Ling’s people to study magic, a skill in which our young protagonist has excelled. The beings destroy her village and murder her family, and now Ling Ling is her planet’s only hope against the invasion. So, it has the standard “one hero against an armada” trope of shmups, but it’s cute! I can say that it was nice to know why this little witch was so determined to fight, and while story adds little to gameplay, it does give me a better appreciation of the game overall.

Additionally, the neat little cut scenes that were hampered by graphical bugs have been cleaned up, meaning that players can now enjoy the complete (and lengthy) introduction in a smooth and polished manner. I know I’ve said that plot and storyline aren’t essential to enjoying a shmup, and that’s true. That doesn’t mean, however, that it isn’t interesting to know what the heck’s going on. It’s the reason why games like Gleylancer and Eliminate Down have received fan translations. If you’re going to send me to save the world, at least have the decency to tell me why!

The more significant improvements to Magic Girl center on the gameplay, which is vastly improved over the original. The game now plays very smoothly, with no glitching. Super Fighter Team worked with the code to remove problems like slowdown, and the whole experience plays much better overall. I found it a bit hard to enjoy the original release due to its choppy scrolling problems, and this reworking is definitely the way the game was intended to be played.

I like cute-’em-ups, particularly the older ones.  Magic Girl is a nice game that has charm (and some very catchy music), but it’s not without its problems. The graphics are colorful and detailed, but there is little parallax scrolling. Also, the variety of enemies is limited. Minor gripes, to be sure, but ones that are noticeable. My main issue, though, is one that may other players have echoed: it’s far too short. There are only five stages, and while they are pretty long and end with some colorful and interesting bosses, they aren’t enough to extend the experience beyond a half hour’s play.

Gametec seemed to have tried to counter the effect of the player’s life bar and the game’s short length by tempering the gameplay somewhat. This has effects that are both unintentional and intentional. For instance, I found Magic Girl to resemble bullet hell shmups more than traditional vertical-scrollers like Raiden or Fire Shark. It’s possible Gametec upped the bullet count to try and extend things, but this doesn’t always work well. Ling Ling’s three offensive weapons (multi-shot, wave shot, and homing shot) can be powered up to an incredible degree as in the game’s I mentioned, but it’s really easy to change weapons accidentally because power-up icons can be hard to see with all that’s going on and due to the fact that they’re all just different shades of blue. Moreover, her life bar can drop very quickly, and losing a fully-powered weapon can make things extremely challenging, particularly later in the game. This is compounded by the relatively weak strength of the bombs she can use, which don’t replenish with each life. On the upside, there are three defensive items (magic bubble, blast barrier, and a combination of both) that help, and they help significantly if one manages to grab them. Overall though, Magic Girl isn’t as challenging as the bullet hell shmups that followed it, but it can take a level or two for players to adjust to its intensity. Despite its short length, I was unable to 1cc it on my first two attempts. Once I settled in, I eventually managed to do so with some practice.

In the end, Super Fighter Team’s release of Magic Girl may not be a complete overhaul or an entirely new game, but it’s enough of an improvement to warrant a purchase. The revisions made to it improve things immensely, and I like having another shmup in my collection. It’s a solid addition to the genre that I think deserves to be played. There are few cute-’em-ups on the Genesis, and even fewer that are playable in English, and Magic Girl does a lot to fill that void.

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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