Game: The Life of a Magical Circle
Genre: Action, Arcade
System: Steam (Windows & Linux)
Controller Support: No
Price: UK £4.99 | US $5.99 | EU € 5,89
Release Date: August 1st, 2023
Review code provided with many thanks to Press Engine.
The Life of a Magical Circle is a relaxing game with simple controls and light roguelite mechanics. Created by a solo developer, this is a title with a wondrous art style and narrative that explores some pretty deep themes. You may even learn a little about yourself in the process. If you’re looking for something relaxing with a good art show to boot, then this is worth seeking out on the Steam store.
The game begins with a green circle. You click on the circle using the mouse only, and a run begins. The aim of the game is simply to guide the circle around the gradually scrolling level, avoiding hazards and collecting little orbs in the process. The game doesn’t give you any indication of what your actual goal is or what to do. It just leaves you to figure things out for yourself.
It’s this process that makes The Life of a Magical Circle interesting. The further you progress, the more hazards are added to the mix. A few powerups can be collected to keep the gameplay engaging, such as one that temporarily destroys hazards, one that freezes time and one that pulls in orbs like a magnet. A run will end when you hit a hazard. When you restart a run, more circles will spawn in the starting spot, indicating some sort of progression in the game. It doesn’t appear it matters which circle you choose, but as more circles spawn, you appear to unlock new passive abilities.
I noticed you could take multiple hits from hazards before a run ends, and it felt like the controls smoothed out more, but it’s hard to say if this was the game doing this or if I just got better at playing it. A bit of a niggle I had with the design is if you fail earlier in the game, this appears to reset your number of circles and possibly your unlocked abilities, which lessened my drive to play again. But the more I played, the more I wondered if this design was intentional.
As you progress through the continuous level, a narration will start to kick in, talking about pretty deep topics while you navigate through the space. Themes about life’s purpose and all sorts of deep self-reflective moments. Sometimes I wondered if I was listening to the equivalent of a video game meditation seminar.
Some of the themes explored really made me take a look inside myself at times and question what I was doing with my life. Strangely the game seems to encourage me more to switch the PC off and go live my life, which seems like a negative, but it’s a pretty brave message for a developer to express and, in my opinion, commendable.
I honestly miss the days when my 3DS reminded me to switch the game off after an hour of play. Though deep, I was removed from the Zen feelings when the narrator repeated itself. Should this all be too much deep thinking for the player, you can switch the narration off in the options.
Controls make use of just the mouse. There is no controller support. Once your circle is selected, you simply move the mouse to move the circle on the screen. Using your wheel or the keyboard buttons W and S, you can adjust the mouse sensitivity on the fly. A useful feature, but I didn’t notice much difference in the game.
Controlling the circle feels like moving through water; generally, it’s comfortable in the early stages but does become trickier when the hazards start flying at you in mass quantities in the later sections. A feature I do like is when you hover over the edge of the screen. To avoid hazards, a green bar will highlight both sides of the screen to indicate where you will transport too.
The art style is stunning. This is a great example of a developer using simple assets but putting them to work to look great. The sprite design of the circle and the hazards, like flying triangles and stationary squares, may look simple on screenshots, but this is all brilliantly complimented by wondrous cosmic music and sounds in the background.
The art design also morphs and changes as you progress. You start in an empty space with a paint trail following your circle to explore space and beyond then. As mentioned, you feel like you’re sitting down for a relaxation session when going into a run of the game. Lengthwise, you’re looking at around a three-hour experience. But I enjoyed this in very small bursts. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of pressure to finish this game; just sit down, relax then move on with the rest of your day. A bit like that Zen exercise I keep mentioning.
Conclusion: A Life Well Lived
The Life of a Magical Circle hits the right notes for me with is stunning art design and simple gameplay. A great game to try if you just want to unwind with something simple and fairly stress-free. And you may just learn a little about yourself in the process.
Now it’s only fair that I mention the design is not for everyone. I’ve brought up the modern art argument many times in indie reviews that some will really like this, but I can see some just not clicking with this one. Especially if you’re looking for a challenge or if you really want to play a game to escape and not just into your mental consciousness. On this occasion, for me, it clicked, so I recommend it. For a developer’s first entry, this is a very strong start. Now go live your life as best you can.
Final Verdict: I Like it a Lot
Want to try the game first? There is a free demo available on Steam.