At their core, video games should be fun.
They should take a rule set, mechanics and hand-eye coordination and create a relationship between the player and the game that, at their best, become symbiotic and organic. Beyond that fundamental requirement for video games, developers can layer things on top to make playing the game even more appealing. Visuals and music for example and in many cases, a story with characters and a narrative that proves compelling or at the very least charming. While Total Monkery’s MagNets: Fully Charged is most certainly a game – mechanically sound in its execution, even slightly charming in its aesthetic – it is rarely fun to play. Nor is it pleasant to listen to and for some reason it tries to tell what one can only assume is a story.
The core concept is simple: players take control of a “park ranger” who is tasked with securing closed of areas in which BoxBots (cubes that inexplicably want to destroy things). The tools required consist of a magnetic net that can be planted and spread out to a limited area to essentially trap the BoxBots and turn them into scraps. These scraps need to be deposited into an on-site recycling bin which turns the scrap into the specific thing the Ranger needs to complete the task in that area, be it a fuse, or a switch. The Ranger then has to travel to the area on the map to insert the newly gained item to either finish the level or move on to the next area.
Simple enough, but the challenge comes in that the BoxBots grow in numbers as the level progresses and they can emit a charge that saps your life bar. It requires a near constant movement to avoid enemies and trap them at the same time. The Ranger also has some other moves at his disposal such as a ground pound which stuns enemies around him and a dash that depletes a meter as it’s used and refills and an extremely slow pace.
Even as I describe it, it seems like a sound, challenging and fun game, except it isn’t. MagNets: Fully Charged is boring and that is something a game never wants to be. It can also be frustrating and not in a “I am so happy I just beat this section” way, but in a “thank goodness that is over” kind of way. The problems arise in a few ways, not the least of which is that the basic gameplay doesn’t really change much. I’ve played plenty of games that basically do one thing but were able to remain engaging and fun throughout; be it through changing up how the mechanics are used or by changing the way enemies behave.
In MagNets: Fully Charged, gameplay remains relatively unchanged throughout. Sure, the end goal of a level might change from simply securing an area, to protecting items in the area from destruction, or even just turning on a series of elevators, but the core experience is always the same. Trap the BoxBots until they turn into scrap, turn them in, get the item you need, plug it into the hole it fits in, rinse, repeat. It’s only during the end of level “boss battles” where things even remotely change up significantly, and there aren’t enough of these scenarios. Enemies do change their abilities to a degree, but never enough to change the gameplay significantly to make me want to keep playing except out of obligation.
At the end of each level you receive a score based on the time you’ve taken to complete the level, how many objects you saved, how many BoxBots you destroyed and pieces of scrap you’ve amassed. Beyond the leaderboards and achievements, there really isn’t much there that made me want to replay levels. The multiplayer was locked in the version I played, and as such I can’t comment on how it changes the game, if at all.
The presentation of the game doesn’t fare much better. It’s never broken, it runs at a smooth 60fps, and it’s bright and colorful; however its simple aesthetic is unremarkable and its awful music really put me off. Really put me off. I may be showing my age but the music sounds like 80’s roller rink dance music infused with light techno. That may appeal to some, and I’m sure it does, but for me it’s not a positive. The game also could benefit from a camera view that is pulled out slightly more. I would often waste valuable time scouring the map for the Recycle Bin. Being notified that an object is under attack is done with a red circle and arrow pointing in the direction, but the percentage of health that the object has isn’t revealed until its actually on the screen. Showing from anywhere in the map would go a long away to mitigating frustration.
In terms of story, at the beginning of each level your boss (who looks like a neon cucumber with eyes) tells you briefly what needs to be done and off you go to do what you have been doing on every other level prior. Eventually I just skipped over his text dialogue because this wasn’t my first rodeo. There is some lip service paid to the BoxPets going missing but it is never a compelling narrative, and I began to wonder why Total Monkery even bothered with it.
At the end of my time with MagNets: Fully Charged, I never felt the thrill I get from the very best video games, or even pushed through the rough to find a diamond. I found a game with limited appeal, repetitive gameplay, basic mechanics, and a pointless attempt at a story. It’s never a bad game, but it’s never a good game either. I remain indifferent and somehow, that is both the best and worst thing I can say about any game.