• Graphics
  • Sound
  • Playability
  • Lastability
DeveloperAlfonso D.C
PublisherMSXdev’05 Competition
ReviewJason and Gordon

Main review

It seems that Kronos has been a very, very naughty person for some reason. Quite what he, she or indeed it has done we’re not sure, but the player’s task in Magical Stones is to use pairs of… erm, magical stones to bring about his, her or indeed it’s destruction so there must be good cause. Well okay, I’m hoping there is, the included docs for this new MSX puzzler are a little sparse and don’t actually give a back story to explain the game’s “destroy Kronos” mode so, if Kronos hasn’t actually done anything wrong and we’ve been misled, the chances are that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Kronos will be attempting to break down my front door fairly soon because I did quite a bit of attempting to destroy him, her or it recently!

Magical Stones is a classic action puzzler and sticks to a tried and true formula, the stones of the title appear in pairs at the top of the onscreen well and make their way towards the bottom. When they find an obstruction below them, they settle into place and stop but, whilst they’re falling, the player can move them left and right, speed them up a bit and swap the pair over vertically with the objective being to group the settled stones into three or more of the same colour in order to remove them from the play area. But, as with most things, it’s not as simple as that and, along with some grey blocks that don’t disappear when they’re grouped together there are bomb stones too that, if they’re sat horizontally or vertically adjacent to a group of stones as they’re removed, will detonate and take out whatever is around them even to the point of triggering other bombs.

There are two modes of play, each with easy and hard difficulty levels that can be selected from the titles page; the freestyle mode is pretty much there to allow players to practice and, having tried both the easy and hard options, I’m not sure there’s actually a difference between the two. The “Destroy Kronos” mode, on the other hand, has very distinct differences, although both modes have the same quota of fifty stones removed within a two minute time limit, the “pro” mode starts at a higher speed and with the play area already cluttered by stones at the beginning.

Wading in without reading the included instruction file, my first couple of goes in “Kronos” mode proved absolutely appalling and I was constantly running out of time before even the first stage was over. But a twenty minute practice in “freestyle” mode and a bit of reading later to see where I was going wrong and the game opens up very nicely. Magical Stones is a very nicely built game, everything is smooth and the controls are fluid with a generous amount of after-touch so the game waits a short while before settling a pair of newly arrived stones; during this period of grace, they can be slid sideways or swapped over before they’re finally locked into place.

That attention to detail extends to the graphics, the stones and other objects dropped into the play area are nicely rendered, although the choice of colours does leave a little to be desired since it can be difficult to tell the yellow stones from the grey. The rest of the graphics are nicely detailed and do their job well, with some nice use of colour even down to using what appears to be colour mixing for the stones themselves and some of the background detail. Similarly, the sound is well done, in-game sound is somewhat sparse but what’s there is reasonable with a selection of relatively subtle sounds for key events like blocks settling into place or when the player shuffles the order of the falling blocks and a couple of little jingles, one to signal a new level when playing in the time modes and the other for game over. The titles page has a short but atmospheric tune featuring lots of dramatic bass notes with crashes and metallic clanks over the top; it doesn’t really get anywhere musically, but fits the theme of the game rather well.

As block matching puzzles go, this one really grabbed me. It’s nicely presented and a lot of thought seems to have gone into the control system and the grading of the difficulty for the standard “Destroy Kronos” mode feels comfortable. The only flaws I found were that pro mode starts a little too fast for my liking and, as mentioned already, the yellow and grey stones aren’t easy to distinguish but these don’t detract much from what is a playable and well thought out game.

Second opinion

Magical Stones is jollier than the industrial, grinding title music would have you think. Taking its cues from the likes of Columns and Dr Mario, we have another addition to the brick game genre, and a good one at that.

The game screen shows off the MSX’s capability for bright colours and smooth sprite movement. Large, primary coloured blocks descend over a deep blue background. The yellow blocks are only partially coloured, an odd decision that makes them look more like the completely white blocks. I personally had no problem distinguishing between the two, but I can understand that certain screen displays and emulators may not make the difference so obvious. I liked the sound effects when the blocks hit the floor: a satisfying “whap” with a subtle delay echo effect that you don’t hear too often on the 8-bits.

The best moment in the game is when you have multiple explosions as one line of squares collapses on top of another, causing a chain reaction – hugely satisfying. There is no “worst moment” due to the responsive controls as well as the general feeling that the program is never working against you. Anyone who has played the sluggish, unforgiving NES version of Tetris will know that this isn’t something to be taken for granted.

Admittedly, Magical Stones re-treads well worn ground, but it does so with some style and polish. Which is all the more impressive considering that this program fits inside a measly 8K. Recommended to puzzle fans.

Editors note: since reviewing this title, the author has released an updated version of the game for a larger cartridge with more play modes and improved music; our archive contains both the original 8K version of the game as reviewed and the updated 16K image.