- [Get ready for more non-game exploration as our very own regular GSW columnist Mister Raroo puts on his magic hat, picks up his Nintendo DS, and tries his hand at Master of Illusion. Unfortunately, it turns out being a master magician is not as easy as it would seem. Do you believe in magic, dear GameSetWatch readers?]

Come to Mister Raroo’s Magic Show… Or Not

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a soft spot for magic. When I was in elementary school, I purchased a set of magic cards from the school’s annual book fair and put in hours of practice in order to “masterfully” pull off card tricks for all onlookers. Unfortunately, “all onlookers” equated to my mom, who was kind enough to sit and suffer through my clumsy magic routines, sweetly pretending to be impressed with my lack of magical prowess. I wasn’t a very good magician, it seemed.

But my poor performance as a magician never deterred my enthusiasm for magic, at least until I met my wife. At the time we first started dating, I was much more into music than I am now, and I especially liked a lot of symphonic metal, much of which uses a great deal of synthesizers and keyboards. Once while listening to a particularly synth-heavy album in the car, Missus Raroo noted, “This sounds like ‘magic music.’” I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, so she elaborated. “Magic music” is the cheesy keyboard-heavy soundtracks that accompany flashy magical performances. As magicians and their assistants prance around stage, the music blares to amplify the excitement and drama.

- Being that it’s both over-the-top and thoroughly corny, being compared to "magic music" is hardly a compliment for any album. But here’s the sad thing: Missus Raroo was right. A lot of the music I was listening to at the time had more than a passing resemblance to the audio atrocity that is “magic music.” I couldn’t listen to some of those albums ever again without picturing some clown like David Copperfield waving his arms and raising his eyebrows as he turned a woman into a tiger.

Yet even with the cards stacked against me, so to speak, my affinity for magic was recently reignited when I got my hands on Master of Illusion for the Nintendo DS. After spending a couple of hours checking out all the neat tricks the software allows users to perform, I became even more excited and a grand vision played out in my head. I decided I was going to put on a magic show of epic proportions. I began thinking of people I could invite and I even told my teenage niece Autumn to let all her friends know about the upcoming event. I could hear the announcer’s voice…

“Ladies and gentleman, prepare to be dazzled by this showcase of Mister Raroo’s magical might! Expect the unexpected as Mister Raroo wows you with clever and mysterious tricks and puzzles! With the aid of his trusty Nintendo DS, Mister Raroo will—hey, wait! Where is everybody going? Come back! You’re going to miss the magic!”

Yes, that’s right. Nobody seemed to care about my magic show, especially when they learned I was going to be performing the tricks with my Nintendo DS. My show was a failure even before it even happened! Maybe it’s because people don’t trust the legitimacy of magic via an electronic device. Or perhaps it’s because magic just isn’t popular these days. After all, even the most famous illusionists like David Blaine are better known for their feats of endurance more than their traditional magic. Whatever the case, Mister Raroo’s Magic Show was a flop before it ever got off the ground.

Amateur Illusionist

Master of Illusion managed to mystify me from the get-go. There are a number of different types of tricks and modes available, such as illusions the software performs on the player, public performance pieces, and fun one-offs like a card-based horoscope. The first trick I tried was the classic “pick a card” routine, and to my amazement, the DS managed to pull off the illusion flawlessly! I was extremely impressed that the DS could tell what card I’d picked, so much so that it even freaked me out a little bit. My DS could read my thoughts!

However, my excitement quickly subsided when I demonstrated the trick for Missus Raroo and she immediately figured out its secret. Once I knew how the DS was pulling the wool over my eyes, the solution to the trick was so obvious. I chalk up my initial lack of comprehending the trick’s simplicity to my desire to believe the DS was truly capable of magic. Even though logically I knew that any illusions the DS performed were simply cleverly programmed trickery, a big part of me wished they were real. Understanding how the DS performed its illusions killed a great deal of the wonder.

But knowing how the tricks were pulled off didn’t deter me from wanting to put on a magic show. In fact, understanding the methods behind each illusion is essential for performance. Even though my preliminary marvel had been quelled by my wife’s logical thinking, Master of Illusion managed to draw me in with its ingenious set of illusions and the promise of impressing any audience members.

- Before each trick, Master of Illusion provides players with an explanation of how the illusion is performed. This information is conveyed in the form of a cute cartoon depicting a young man expertly impressing an attractive girl with the power of his DS magic. The ease and success this cartoon gentleman was having in pulling off stupendous tricks was inspiring. If this average Joe in the cartoons could be a master magician, why couldn’t I?

I decided, then, that I would practice the public performance tricks and deliver a show of magical mastery that would impress any and all onlookers. I brought my DS with me to work, running through the tricks on my lunch breaks and studying up on the best methods to deliver the illusions. For a short period of time, I was confident things would work out as smoothly as they did in Master of Illusion’s informational cartoons. That is, until I tried out a trick on a member of the “general public.”

One afternoon at work, I asked my coworker Brenda to check out one of the illusions I’d been furiously practicing, Mystic Hand. The trick is really neat in theory. The participant uses the stylus to draw a hand on the DS’s touch screen, after which they select one of three icons on the top screen to represent what they are most interested in—love, wealth, or dreams. The magician then instructs the participant to tap the touch screen, which results in the hand extending to the top screen and grabbing the correct icon. Depending on what part of the screen is tapped (hand, fingers, or OK button), the hand will move toward the corresponding icon. It’s up to the magician to be tricky with his or her wording in order to lead the participant to tap the correct area on the touch screen: “You are interested in wealth, you say? Please tap the hand’s fingers and we will see if the DS knows your desires!”

Unfortunately, after Brenda drew her hand she quickly tapped “OK,” which resulted in the hand reaching for an icon other than the one she said she was interested in. She then stated that the trick didn’t work (as if I didn’t already know!), handed the DS back to me, and scurried off. Mystic Hand seemed like it’d be a flawless trick that would leave anyone stunned, but I didn’t take into account the numerous unexpected factors that can go into performing a trick on a live person.

- Other attempts at presenting tricks for onlookers were met with similar results. Often times people didn’t seem to understand the directions I was giving and the illusions didn’t work out correctly. Or, in some cases, instead of bothering to see the trick through to completion, people told me that they knew the secret to how the trick was done. Maybe it was a lack of slight of hand on my part, but I think most of the people were just being cynical, especially because it was the DS performing the trick. Nobody seemed to believe that the machine was capable of true magic and most of the time the focus seemed to be more on how the trick was being performed than simply enjoying the illusion itself.

Thus, after a string of stinging disappointments, I made the decision to hang up my magic hat and decided not to bother trying to impress any more people with my Master of Illusion tricks. Quite simply, I was tired of every performance being a failure! Despite the widespread popularity of the likes of Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, The Spiderwick Chronicles, the world truly seems to be shockingly devoid of magic.

I know that my poor performance as a magician is partially to blame for my Master of Illusion failures, but I also believe that a general lack of faith in magic coupled with a distrust of the DS as a viable magical device spelled doom for me even before I could say “Presto!” Thankfully, even if Master of Illusion proved to be a disaster in terms of putting on a magic show, I still found the software to be enjoyable as a single player experience. At least in that case the magic was performed for an audience that truly appreciated it: me!

Master of My Own Domain

Strangely enough, for a title that is designed with the intention of being a vehicle for public magical performance, the single-player enjoyment of Master of Illusion is much higher than expected. In fact, I’d go so far as argue that the single-player component is actually the strongest aspect of Master of Illusion. Perhaps Nintendo knew that most would-be magicians would suffer the same fate as I did.

Along with the aforementioned “pick a card” trick and horoscope, there are plenty of other single-player activities included, including solitaire-like card games and rhythm tests. Even the public performance illusions are surprisingly enjoyable to investigate on your own. After spending some quality time with the software, it became clear that Master of Illusion is more of an ode to magic and a charming play thing for anyone even remotely interested in the art of illusions than a viable tool for putting on fabulous magic shows.

It seems obvious to me that Master of Illusion was a labor of love, even if its development seems to have been a relatively small-scale affair. The production values are unexpectedly high, with each of the many activities and modes displaying a first-rate level of quality in terms of graphics, sound, and creativity. The diversity and inventiveness of the game’s presentation is much appreciated and reminds me more than a little of that found in other Nintendo games such as the Wario Ware and Rhythm Tengoku titles.

- That said, I do have to question the inclusion of Barbara the Bat of Daigassou! Band Brothers (AKA Jam With the Band) fame as a magic shop owner who guides players through the various game modes. Her sexy persona, with big breasts and skimpy clothing, seems rather out of place. Though it’s nice to Barbara appear in a game that actually made it outside of Japan (not counting her small cameo in Super Smash Bros. Brawl), she doesn’t seem quite right for Master of Illusion, especially given that the target audience includes younger kids. It’s like some producer stood looking at Master of Illusion and declared, “Hmmmm. Something’s missing. I know! Needs more boobies!”

Although I may not have succeeded in utilizing Master of Illusion to put on a spectacular magic show, I’m glad I gave the software the in-depth exploration it deserves. Master of Illusion flew under many gamers’ radars, but it’s a title that is worthy of a second look. It may be yet another “non-game” from Nintendo, but I’ve found Master of Illusion to be intelligently constructed and exceptionally delightful. It’s one of those rare titles that years down the road I can imagine I’ll revisit and spend a lazy afternoon with. And, as my son gets older and starts playing more video games, I hope to introduce him to the spectacular world of magic through Master of Illusion. Besides, you never know… perhaps he’ll be the perfect candidate for me to finally perform a successful magic show for!

Mister Raroo is a happy husband, proud father, full-time public library employee, and active gamer. He currently lives in El Cajon, CA with his family and many pets. You may reach Mister Raroo at [email protected].