Most game adaptations find another plot, rather than repeating the original story. Magic in Two Kingdoms follows the movie pretty faithfully. The trick is to make this interesting, and Magic in Two Kingdoms accomplishes that — in fact, it was sort of neat to know what was happening next, and to find out how we were going to help the plot along. (Of course, for many of the young target audience, this repetition is a big plus, not a potential obstacle — the more repetition, the better.)
The game is actually a series of mini-games strung together through the storyline. In each mini-game, there are several stages; even if you fail, you start again at the beginning of the stage, not at the beginning of the mini-game. BVG deserves congratulations for designing eight games that are different from each other (rather than all sharing the same game mechanism). In order, the games are:
Searching for Treasure. Premise: Ariel and Flounder search a sunken ship to add to her collection. The basic mechanic is trivial — Ariel D-pads to find treasure; A-button picks it up. However, there are holes too small for Ariel, and Flounder flits through those to help her out. These are a bit more challenging, as he must push away obstacles, create bubbles when he needs to raise anything, and steer those bubbles in the proper direction. This part is definitely not trivial, especially for a flounder. Once you’ve collected all the treasure, there’s a puzzle treasure chest to open. Trial-and-error and a little memory will unlock this puzzle.
Rescue the Sailor. Premise: Prince Eric has been washed overboard, and Ariel is swimming to save him. The scene scrolls from bottom to top as Ariel swims to the surface. She must avoid debris and shake free of nets that snag her; paradoxically, she gains time by collecting treasures as she swims past them (and dropping them into convenient bubbles).
Under the Sea. Premise: Sebastian the crab has composed new music and lured Ariel into helping him perform it, to convince her that life undersea is the best. Press buttons that match the onscreen bubbles; correct sequences trigger additional phrases of music.
Chasing Flotsam and Jetsam. Premis: Wicked Ursula has sent her two eels to lead Ariel to someone (Ursula) who can help her find a life with Eric. Follow the eels in a sidescroll; swim through the hoops that appear, to get bursts of speed that help you keep up.
Escape the Chef. Premise: Ariel, with new legs, has arrived at the castle; Sebastian is along to help, but the chef wants to add him to the menu. Escape in a sidescroll; jump up to get past obstacles. Release fellow crabs and hide under lettuce leaves to gain more time.
Kiss the Girl. Premise: Ariel and Eric are alone on the lagoon, but he still needs nudging to embrace Ariel and break her spell of silence. Keep the romantic spotlight on their boat as it drifts this way and that, toward you and away from you; quickly press A to bump up the heart meter each time you can.
Break the Spell. Premise: Vanessa (Ursula in disguise) has enchanted Eric into a quick proposal, and you’ve got to disrupt her spell before they’re married. Press the buttons that appear on the screen as Vanessa marches down the aisle; they appear randomly, and in a random sequence, so this isn’t quite as trivial as it sounds.
Battle with Ursula. Premise: Ursula has grabbed Ariel, and Eric sets sail in pursuit. Target and net Ursula’s tentacles to defend your ship and keep her from escaping.
As you’d expect, the game is kid friendly (with one exception, noted below). No lives to lose, no power-ups, no bosses gloating over your fallen body. You never lose; you just have to start a stage over. And the mini-games are designed for success — it’s hard to lose one if you keep working at it. You usually play Ariel, but you also play Flounder, Sebastian and Eric once or twice each.
There are no difficulty levels, but you can play it in any of five languages (English, French, German, Italian and Spanish).
This is a short game, not at all designed for even older elementary kids. Jesse, Will and Dad all finished it in about an hour. However, if your little gamer likes repetition, she can keep playing the mini-games over and over. (As far as we can tell, they don’t exactly repeat, but we didn’t check this exhaustively.)
In fact, there’s only one major thing we found that keeps it from being gaming nirvana for your five-year-old princess, and that’s the language. No, the language isn’t objectionable, it’s just pitched rather high. The mini-game introductions are filled with sixth-grade vocabulary (the first mini-game includes “distinguished,” “composer,” “performance” and “debut”), which means that only the most precocious youngster will be able to handle it without an adult leaning over her shoulder. Then again, with such a familiar storyline, it may not be necessary for a kid to read the intros, anyway.
The music and graphics are sharp, and do a good job of mirroring the movie. Dad’s measure of music is whether he turns it off because it’s so annoying; the music stayed on throughout the time he played. The onscreen text is very legible, as is the manual.
(Requisite complaint: Magic in Two Kingdoms has only one save game, so only one person at a time can be playing it. That’s a pain for a family of game players, even with a game as short as this one. Standard request: designers, please include at least three save slots in a game. It doesn’t take much memory and is much friendlier to gaming families.)
Will’s favorite part of the game is breaking the spell on Ursula, because there are a lot of different animals that help distract her. (He also notes that Escape the Chef makes him hungry ….) Jesse’s favor parts includes collecting the treasure and opening the treasure chest, helping Sebastian escape, and breaking the spell. Dad likes the way the music and graphics evoke the game. All three of us think it’s a fun little game, but definitely too easy for any of us.
I like to analyze and optimize while playing games, so I much prefer games that require thought rather than action.
Evie is twelve years old and is an avid reader, especially of fantasy. Favorite authors include J.K. Rowling (of course), Brian Jacques, Cornelia Funke and Tamora Pierce. These reviews are her first published writing.
Will is nine years old and loves to investigate, especially dinosaurs and astronomy. These reviews are also his first published writing.
Jesse is seven years old and has just started reading chapter books. He likes Hank the Cowdog and cartoon books, especially Calvin & Hobbes, Baby Blues and Donald Duck.
If you're interested in the (roughly) thousand-year-old triceratops stone in our pic, check out the Dino Art. Some of the accompanying text can be a bit strident, but it's still a puzzle why Central and South American Indians knew pretty precisely what dinosaurs looked like over a thousand years ago.