Magicians and Looters is the premiere release from fledgling developer Morgopolis Studios. Available for PC and Xbox Live, the game combines familiar sidescroller action with a retro Gauntlet feel. In the game, the player adopts the role of one of three interchangeable characters, the three apprentices of a kidnapped master magician. The apprentices battle, bicker and explore their way through a series of puzzles and platforming levels, in an attempt to free their uncaring master from the clutches of a vile necromancer.

Unfortunately, there’s not much to recommend with Magicians and Looters. A hack-and-slash platformer in the often imitated style of Metroidvania, the game borrows heavily from, either for reasons of budgetary or creative bankruptcy, the tired aesthetics of the retro arcade game. There’s precious little new ground broken here, the graphics and story both recalling the ancient likes of Golden Axe or Faxanadu.

With a lackluster plot and extremely one-dimensional characterization, the game’s narrative is supported mostly by an undercurrent of snarky humor, attempting to bolster an otherwise unimpressive story experience. This is ostensibly the game’s strongest point, the biting sarcasm that laces each character’s dialogue and the irreverent tone the game’s exposition takes towards its own plot devices.

Unfortunately, in many cases, the writer seems to mistake irreverence for actual humor and the “jokes” tend to fall short, often landing within the strange middle ground between somewhat funny and simply unexpected.

Gameplay is solid, if uninspired. It cleaves pretty faithfully to the beat-em-up formula – move right, slay monsters, collect treasure – with a few notable exceptions. Mainly, contact with enemies is only harmful if you’re struck by their attacks and each of the three individual characters have a certain number of abilities they uniquely can employ to pass certain obstacles.

In addition, Magicians and Looters employs a rudimentary leveling system which it touts as being “grind-free” and based on exploration. An interesting idea but, unfortunately, something of an exaggeration in this case. Experience is instead earned by acquiring certain pieces of hidden loot.

Herein lies the truly frustrating aspect of the gameplay. Since enemies re-spawn every time the player enters an area and the level design necessitates rather a lot of backtracking, grinding becomes an inevitable and frustrating component of the game, despite all their claims to the contrary.

All in all, Magicians and Looters is inoffensive at best, lazy at worst. The game’s far from out-and-out terrible, but borrows too much and innovates too little to have any real staying power.

About the Author:

Timothy J. Meyer writes science fiction, plays Dungeon & Dragons, and was extremely popular in high school. You can find him on HD Report, Gameverse, and Google+.