Magrunner: Dark Pulse (XBLA) Review

A familiar but fun puzzler.

I’m always up for a good puzzle game. Whether Professor Layton or Portal, I appreciate an experience that challenges me to think, rather than just shooting everything I see. Magrunner: Dark Pulse is one such game, similar in construction to games like Portal and Quantum Conundrum. While it has some rough edges, it’s a fun game, and one that puzzle fans are sure to enjoy.

The protagonist is Dax C. Ward, a young man selected by the Grukezber Corporation to test their new Magtech equipment. The selected few are called Magrunners, and the game takes place in a training facility meant to prepare them for space exploration. As one might expect things go awry, and Dax is left to survive on his own.

When I say the game is similar in construction to Portal, what I really mean is that it’s almost exactly the same. It plays out in first person perspective, and Dax possesses a gun that can magnetize certain objects with one of two polarities. With each trigger button firing a different magnetization and crosshairs that look identical to Portal 2, the game leaves little doubt where it draws its inspiration from.

The science of magnetization is simple: objects with the same polarity will attract each other, while objects of opposite polarity will repel each other. Using this mechanic platforms can be moved, cubes (yes, you also carry around and use cubes to accomplish things) can be shot at objects and switches can be triggered. More objects of the same polarity together increase the magnetic field generated, and magnetism also works through walls. Fortunately, pressing the Y button displays any magnetic fields, so I was easily able to see their area of effect.

Much like a certain other game, Magrunner: Dark Pulse is divided into puzzle areas, separated by hallways, elevators, etc. These areas are typically where the game advances the plot, through use of holographic images displayed by Dax’s glove. A minor complaint I had was the game stops to load data before and after each puzzle, so the sequence goes puzzle, load, hallway, load, puzzle. It typically only lasts a few seconds, but it’s a little irritating to load into a one minute conversation and then hit another load on the back end.

The puzzles in Dark Pulse are creative and well designed, and really forced me to think of different ways to use the magnetic fields to solve them. As the game progresses, new elements are added, keeping the game play from getting stale. Being stuck on a puzzle only to have the answer finally occur to me was a very satisfying feeling. I did have a slight issue with the physics though; magnetization in the game is not an exact science, and sometimes can be a little floaty. The result was occasionally having to do something I knew should have worked a couple of times until it actually worked the way I wanted it to. Not a deal breaker certainly, but something that proved annoying.

Levels have check points, which is very nice because dying didn’t mean having to repeat very much, if anything. In some of the later levels there are enemies, which proved to be somewhat frustrating. In these levels it felt like I needed to move and act faster than the game was really designed to facilitate. For most of the game, split second timing is not really required, so it felt awkward and out of place in the instances where I needed to move quickly.

Graphically the game is nothing spectacular, but it’s fine for what it is. I did encounter some vsync and frame rate issues though, particularly in the game’s later levels where the environments are larger. The biggest technical issue I ran into was in the game’s final cut scene, which included some really choppy audio and ended abruptly with a character in mid-sentence.

Magrunner: Dark Pulse may be derivative in nature, but that doesn’t stop it from being a lot of fun. On more than one occasion I kept telling myself “Just one more level”, only to look up eventually and realize that a few hours had gone by. With 39 areas the game has plenty of content, and I spent roughly 9 hours with it. Despite some issues that tarnished the experience, it’s a very good puzzle game, and for $10 it’s an easy recommendation to fans of Portal, or anyone else looking to stretch their brain.

Review copy of game provided by publisher.

Dave Payerle
Dave enjoys playing video games almost as much as he enjoys buying video games. What his wife calls an "online shopping addiction" he calls "building a library". When he's not digging through the backlog he's hunting for loot in Diablo or wondering when the next Professor Layton game is coming.

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