MagNets is a perfect example of how to take a clever gameplay idea and completely ignore it. The general premise of MagNets seems pretty clear at first glance; defeat swarms of enemies with your magnet abilities and collect the gold fragments they leave behind to progress to the next level. On its own, the core mechanics are mildly fun; attempting to encircle multiple baddies while trying to avoid their electric attacks is oddly satisfying. Unfortunately, every other facet of this game, from the bland and lazy character designs to the obscenely obfuscatory objectives, snuffs out all potential for enjoyment.
MagNets came as an immediate turn-off upon first glance. The 3D environments are passable at best, but the character models are so uninspired that it calls into question whether the developers were even trying to be creative. Enemy characters, little sentient boxes called Bloxbots, vary only in color and (occasionally) size. These bad little blocks attempt to either attack you or inflict damage on one of the numerous objective points you’re tasked with defending. The goal is to surround Park Ranger Faraday’s (your avatar) enemies in his magnetic field, which spawns between himself and a magnet he drops upon activation. The further you run, the larger the area of effect. Surround Bloxbots once to stun them and again to turn them into gold coins (or Scrap, as it’s called). While this clever little spark of gameplay hardly requires inspiring graphics, consistent visual cues would have been helpful.
Enemy types and states seem to be distinguished by color, but even after five hours of playing MagNets, I couldn’t tell you what any one color means. Most often, Bloxbots stunned by my magnetic field would turn blue. Other times, they’ve turned from blue to white, from blue to green, from green to red – it all seems very random and not thought out. Environments also suffer from this thoughtlessness, with things like trees and machines often obstructing the player’s top-down perspective. MagNets’ underwhelming graphics and lackadaisical character models are hardly condemnable, but it’s hard not to come down on the game’s aesthetic design gets in the way of gameplay.
Obstructive and offensive visuals aside, the game constantly breaks itself with tedious objectives. Most levels require you to prevent the Bloxbots from destroying one of several objective points, like power supplies or robot musicians. The goal is to defeat Bloxbots before they deplete the “health bar” of all the objectives, then collect their scraps to exchange them for one of three key items. Collect all three and you’re home free. After a few levels, however, I found that it was much easier to ignore the defense points and simply kill as many Bloxbots as needed to win. This effectively breaks the early-game’s challenge completely. In later levels, other obstacles are added to the juggling act, but these feel completely discordant with the game’s core mechanics. Everything feels haphazardly thrown together with no central design philosophy.
There was one particular level, however, that I very much enjoyed; One of the five boss battles features a robotic bunny which erratically shoots mud pellets and bounces around an open arena-like level. The level does away with the pointless “defend” objectives and offers wide open space for planning attacks around swarms of Bloxbots and storms of mud-bullets. This level was so great, in fact, I am willing to bet it was one of the first levels designed – a single stroke of genius which justified rushing out another nineteen levels to monetize. If the rest of the game played like this level, it would almost be worth someone’s five hours.
MagNets could probably be finished in a shorter span of time if it weren’t for its stupidity. The levels themselves aren’t particularly difficult, but trying to decipher what the game expects of you stands as its own challenge. First off, almost every level’s opening message states an objective irrelevant to the level. Once, this title objective read “Stop the Bloxbots from Spawning!” 1. These enemies spawn on their own accord; there is no way of stopping it. 2. One needs to kill Bloxbots in order to progress through the game. Not a very good sign when the player should actively ignore what the game asks of them. Worse is the lack of any hints or objective markers – besides those pointing towards the defense points (again, ignore these). There are tutorials at the start of the game, but these are are mostly unhelpful and are thrown on the bottom of the screen during gameplay. I get that tutorials can be most annoying when they stop the flow of play, but there needs to be an effort in the design which guides the player.