Battlegrounds: Quest Mode

The single-player campaign of Magic: the Gathering — Battlegrounds is a series of duels, with no overland map or other in-game context. Some variety is provided by trick duels with goals other than simply killing your opponent — for example, killing your opponent within a time limit, or gaining a certain number of hit points before your opponent does. The premise, as communicated through cutscenes, is that the nameless player character, a young woman in a bikini, acquires a powerful talisman with five empty slots for gemstones. You can probably see where this is going: there’s a gemstone for each color of magic, and each is held by a master of that color. So there’s a chapter for each color, and apparently a sixth chapter after you complete the amulet, although I haven’t gotten that far yet.

However, the color theme of each chapter is not the color of its boss. Rather, the player has access to only one color of magic per chapter. In chapter 1, you have only red spells, and the boss is green. In each subsequent chapter, the player uses only the color of the last-defeated boss. Not all of a particular boss’s underlings will be the same color as the boss, but so far they’ve all been monochromatic, even though the docs say that you can use two colors at a time.

At the start of each chapter, you have access to only one spell. Each duel you win grants you one more. Consequently, the first few duels of each chapter are a bit more like tutorials than challenges. In fact, there’s an element of that in every match: “Here’s a new spell. Here’s an opponent whose tactics are best countered using that spell.” This is part of the reason for the trick duels: it lets them give you goals that exhibit your new spell’s strengths. (For example, given a spell that grants your creatures Haste, they put a time limit on the duel.) Except that in some cases they just force the issue by requiring that you cast the new spell in order to win the match, even if you have some other tactic that works. But once you have a large enough repertoire, the most effective tactic can be a combination, and the game takes on a puzzle-like aspect, as you try to discover a chord that works.

The thing is, you can have the right idea but fail on execution. Even with the controller that the game was designed for, I fumble sometimes. Sometimes the pace is too fast for me — there’s a level or two that relies on casting Counterspell, which is extremely time-critical, as you have to cast it before the opponent finishes casting something. Some enemies just have a spell or two that they cast over and over again in a cycle a couple of seconds in length, requiring you to react constantly, until you have enough mana to do something that breaks the cycle — and when you do, timing it wrong will probably get you hurt. If you lose a certain number of times in a row, the game starts giving you hints, and these hints are usually elementary enough that they can feel insulting if you’re in a frustrated mood.

At the end of each chapter, the protagonist gets one more gem for the talisman and a little additional clothing. Clothing is something that she and many of the other duelists (particularly the female ones) desperately need, but the articles chosen are pretty ridiculous: you get gauntlets while you still lack trousers. There’s also a FMV cutscene showing each boss’s defeat. They generally thank you for setting them free, which I suppose is supposed to morally justify beating up even the putative-good-guy white-magic specialist — the initial premise establishes your whole quest as being for the good of the land somehow, but I’ve forgotten the details, because they’re never referred to again. I assume that chapter 6 ends in defeating the mastermind who’s bent the bosses to his will and forced them to guard the gems.

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