Review: Spell Casting: Meowgically Enhanced Edition

spellcasting_1

Welcome to your first day enrolled at the Magical Education Of Wizards School, a Hogwarts-like institution of higher learning for gifted feline sorcerers-in-training. Through the magic of digital download, you can now learn to cast spells from the comfort of your home gaming PC through the school’s Wizardly Distance Education Program, otherwise known as Spell Casting: Meowgically Enhanced Edition, a new indie casual puzzle game by Gordon Little’s Gord Games.

Learning to cast spells takes the form of a simple line-drawing puzzler, where symbols of increasing complexity are provided for careful study, memorization, and drawing accuracy. Spell Casting‘s curriculum consists of two phases: Practice and Exam. Spells are grouped into a series of five instructional books, each offering six different incantations to master. During the Practice course, each enchantment is presented on a single page in the spell book as a line, shape, or symbol which must be traced over exactly in the correct direction, from a starting dot to an end point. The one to five star grading scale rates spell completion based on accuracy of drawing within the lines of the guideline pattern, as well as overall speed in doing so, with penalty points applied to the final score at a rate of one point detracted per second and mistake.

Earning at least three stars per spell unlocks that book’s final exam, which is where the game turns surprisingly challenging, especially for a casual puzzler. During the exam, the spells, thrown at you in random order, are presented as connect-the-dots puzzles that must all be completed in succession, where one or two poor spells can destroy the average. From memory alone, each spell symbol must be drawn in the exact same direction and order learned in the practice guides. An average of three stars across all six spells is needed to pass one book and unlock the next, more advanced book of spell puzzles.

spellcasting_2

The drawing controls are smooth and accurate, using only a mouse as your line-painting wand to click and drag a cursor in the appropriate pattern. Perhaps more preferable is an alternate control option for mouse and keyboard, which involves pressing the spacebar to start and then holding the key while dragging the mouse to draw, no clicks required. Of course using a finger as a drawing instrument is always an option, at least for players equipped with a supported touchscreen monitor, laptop, or tablet PC. I imagine the touchscreen is probably the best way to go, but unfortunately I don’t own a device to be able to test it out firsthand. For PC users, I will say that having a good quality mouse sure does help out a lot. I found it extremely beneficial using a gaming mouse with DPI shifting and on-board DPI profiles, to quickly adapt tracking sensitivity for the given spell puzzle symbol.

Error feedback and more clear drawing accuracy parameters could use improvement. When practicing a spell, mistakes are indicated with the spell fizzling out (meaning the current line ends and you have to start drawing from the beginning), a screen shake effect (which is an optional setting), and an “uh-oh!” exclamation from your cat wizard student. However, the exact cause of the mistake is not indicated. As the puzzles become more complex, the symbols need to be drawn in a very specific way, and sometimes while practicing it can be hard to tell if a mistake you made was because you went in the wrong direction, drew too far outside the lines, or didn’t extend the line far enough along its current path before changing directions. Not having clear feedback leads to frustration re-drawing multiple times unaware of what you’re not doing properly. Perhaps with a future update there could be specific mistake icons or indicators, similar to a music game, more clearly explaining what was done wrong (like “Sloppy” or “Messy” for drawing outside the lines, and “Wrong Way” for not following the correct path). Or maybe after successive mistakes are made, the instructor, Purrcival Floof, could appear with a hint or other form of guidance to explain what needs to be corrected. As it is, mastering the spells largely boils down to learning through pure trial and error.

How exactly drawing accuracy is calculated is sometimes confusing as well. On numerous occasions it seemed to me that on one attempt my lines were a lot cleaner compared to a subsequent attempt where I had a couple sharp swerves, and yet somehow the accuracy rating at the end score page would register higher than what to me looked like a cleaner previous attempt. Most of the time I could hardly tell what made one attempt, say, an 88% less accurate versus another attempt that rated at 92%. There’s also an achievement for performing 95% or higher drawing accuracy on any single spell, but even on the early spells that are nothing more than a straight line or curve or spiral, no matter how perfect I draw the accuracy never goes above 94%. And I’ve tried too many times to count.

spellcasting_3

Which brings me to one other minor point. The game really needs a quick restart button, such as being able to hit the R key to restart the spell, or at the very least a retry button from the pause menu. Currently, the only way to restart is to go back to the spell menu and reselect the desired spell. This doesn’t take up a lot of time, but when replaying spells over and over to practice or improve star rating, it become a noticeable extra step that seems like it could easily be removed to make the experience snappier.

My favorite part of the game is its artwork. Every page in the five-course spell book series is covered by amateur graffiti and silly drawings, like the work of a young school student doodling in the margins while bored in class. Many of the drawings charmingly extend from the spell symbols, turning the shapes into various characters or scenes. At the same time, the drawings all have some sort of geek/pop culture reference–with a feline twist of course. For example, the arced line of the Curve spell is used as the roof for a drawing of Bilbo’s Bag End hobbit hole. The spell for Lock-It, which has the symbol of a key, is drawn with a hilt to look like a Kingdom Hearts keyblade, with a cat version of Sora hanging from it. The Plumbing spell depicts a Mario Bros. pipe at the center of a scene with Mario and a Piranha Plant. The heart spell appears as a heart container with doodles of cat-people mimics of Link and Zelda. Dark Souls, Dragon Ball Z, Star Trek, Grumpy Cat, Pac-Man, Lord of the Rings, Dungeons & Dragons, Adventure Time, and naturally Harry Potter–the references are endless, and the hand drawn art adds such wonderful humor and personality.

Spell Casting: Meowgically Enhanced Edition is a frisky little puzzle game presented with a childlike charm that should hit the spot for gaming, sci-fi, and fantasy geeks young and old alike. It’s also a lot more challenging than I anticipated. Though family friendly overall, it may even be a bit too tough in spots for the primary young target audience. Even for an experienced gamer, the puzzles in the final two spell books demand patience and sticktoitiveness to figure out. Ultimately, the main thing I wanted from the game was simply more of it. With only five spell books and 30 individual line-drawing puzzles, there isn’t much left to do after an hour or two. Even the in-game bookshelf menu looks rather barren with five books surrounded by a bunch of empty space, giving the impression there’s room for a whole lot more puzzles that don’t actually exist. A playable demo version is available from the game’s itch.io page. Tuition’s fairly inexpensive, but I say take the free sample course first before deciding on a full enrollment.

TryIt

Pros:
+ Clever test of line-drawing dexterity and memorization
+ Charming spell page artwork with references galore
+ Easy to learn, hard to master

Cons:
– Could use clearer drawing accuracy and mistake feedback
– Needs a quick restart button/hotkey
– Only 30 puzzles; the fun fizzles too soon

Game Info:
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux
Publisher: Gordon Little / Gord Games
Developer: Gordon Little / Gord Games
Release Date: 9/2/2016
Genre: Puzzle
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by developer

Buy From: Steam or itch.io for $5.99

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!