Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review (XBLA)

Posted by Jim Cook, Jun 20, 2012 21:27

Chances are you’ve at least heard of Magic: The Gathering in some form; it’s a long-running competitive collectable card game pitting wizards against each other in what amounts to ’Rules Fu with card text.’ It has also been the basis for several video games, and Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (’Magic 2013’ from here on) is the latest. It follows its predecessors in offering a simplified, compact take on the typical Magic experience, differing itself mostly by using new cards, making some improvements to the user interface, and replacing last year’s Archenemy mode with Planechase (a wild, fairly casual format for up to four players). This sort of rote update behavior is the sort of thing that would raise eyes for retail releases, but it’s much more forgivable with an inexpensive downloadable game.

Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 (Xbox 360)As with other Planeswalkers releases, this one has you pick a pre-made deck and take turns playing cards against your opponent. Your usual goal is to reduce their life total from 20 to 0 or negative values, though each deck approaches this task a bit differently based on their ’mana color.’ Red decks prefer to field a series of small and medium-sized creatures backed by spells that directly apply damage, contrasting Green which focuses on a very ’generalized’ game plan until it can field very large creatures to win in decisive fashion. White plays defense until it gets a large army together that directly support one another, while Blue locks you down by playing ’permission’ cards that halt parts of the opponent’s game plan, and Black is somewhat similar to Blue but focuses on crippling your opponent with various penalties to creatures and using forced discard or sacrifice effects. This is pretty typical fare for the series, and the pre-made decks make it easy to get started.

Despite being based on a pretty complex card game, Magic 2013 offers a decent tutorial to teach even the uninitiated. It also strips other aspects of Magic to their bare minimums, by not allowing card trades between players and limiting deck customization to a specific pool of cards you unlock over time. It even handles land card distribution itself, which is a little annoying to more experienced players since some decks could do with fewer of those cards but does keep newer players from tripping themselves up. This is, at the risk of repeating myself, pretty similar to how Magic 2012 handled things.

There have been some engine and interface tweaks to clean up the flow of play, but these are modest things that can’t carry the product on their own. Even the smart addition of manual land tapping doesn’t mean much right now because only one deck needs that; the rest play perfectly fine with auto tapping because they are single-color decks. One can only assume they’re laying the groundwork for DLC decks that take better advantage of it, because this seems like a lot of work for a feature that most of the ’core’ decks ignore.

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Our Rating for Magic: the Gathering: Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013 Review (XBLA)
8.0 Replay
Unlocking cards will take a while on its own, but you can do this in conjunction with the real reason to come back: playing online against others in an interesting card game.
7.5 Graphics
Interface improvements have made it a little easier to sort through certain cards on the table, and the simple animations do add a little life that purely physical cards couldn’t have.
5.5 Sound
Basic sound effects accompany most actions and acceptable but unremarkable music rounds out a package that is merely okay.
8.0 Gameplay
The interaction between each deck and their contrasting game plans is very fun, ensuring most players should find a play style they like. Even newcomers should be able to get started thanks to a good variety in the pre-made decks and a decent tutorial.
8.5 Multiplayer/Online Content
Easily the best part of Magic, and playing over Xbox Live with up to three others (four players total) in three different formats is enjoyable. The matchmaking is pretty simple, but definitely does its job.
8.0 Overall
Essentially a $10 replacement for Magic 2012, it won’t win over those who have no interest in the card game or have already had their fill of this formula. Fans who still want more will find plenty to justify their purchase, especially those interested in the ’wild casual’ style of play encouraged in the new Planechase mode.

Rating: 4.7, votes: 3

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