The terms ‘1-Bit’ and ‘Mansion’ evoke in my mind the labyrinthine corridors of Bugs Bunny: Crazy Castle II or Wario Land II. Castles in the 1-Bit era were stark, dark and dangerous, loaded with puzzles, hidden passages and a multitude of traps. Magic Mansion by publisher Nitrome and developer Folmer Kelly embraces the traps and twitch gameplay, while foregoing hidden passages and puzzles for a heavy-handed monetization structure and general lack of content, which frustratingly mar what could otherwise have been a fantastic game.
One thing that Folmer Kelly and artist Mat Annal get spot-on is the aesthetic. Cannons are emblazoned with tiny white skulls, bullets flash from black to white, enemy animations are highly emotive, and the soundtrack sounds like it was lifted straight from 1991. Your player-character walks automatically from one side of a castle room to another, changing direction if a solid obstacle blocks your way, working toward the ultimate goal of climbing up a castle one ladder at a time. Most obstacles can be avoided with a jump, controlled with the game’s one-tap system. Magic Mansion’s controls are tight, and its gameplay is easy to learn. However, even with such simple controls, the game can feel occasionally unfair. More than once, I found myself stuck on a conveyor belt with a spike directly in front of me, forced to leap directly onto the spike. Other rooms lined my player-character up with bullets in such a way that I could not possibly leap past them, and while the game is marketed as being incredibly difficult, it sometimes crosses the line from difficult into outright impossible. Some of these issues could be chalked up to limited playtesting, so they may be addressed in future updates, which would be appreciated.
The character models are charming and cute, as to be expected from Nitrome’s previous work, such as Leap Day and Beneath the Lighthouse. However, I would have appreciated some sort of gameplay variance from character to character. Should a witch be able to cast spells to protect herself? Should the bunny character have a floatier jump? Details like this would have greatly increased my enjoyment of Magic Mansion, especially since character-unlocks grow more difficult to unlock as the game goes on.
Despite any minor gripes with the gameplay, my only major issue with Magic Mansion is its monetization structure. Without purchasing an ad-cancelling upgrade, lengthy ads automatically play after most character deaths. In a game that relies on quick playthroughs and twitch gameplay, this sort of video-ad harassment grew very frustrating, very quickly. As I simply didn’t have the time to play the game with so many ads, I immediately purchased the ad-disable option. However, once the game is unlocked, it becomes apparent that there is very little gameplay variance beyond what is discovered in the first ten floors of the Mansion. Rodeo Stampede and Crossy Road are successful in their procedurally-generated coin-grabbing monetization agendas because they constantly introduce new mechanics and areas to explore, and character unlocks are plentiful and satisfying. Unfortunately, Magic Mansion’s $3.99 ad-disable purchase was a frustrating purchase to make, as there simply isn’t enough content under the surface to justify the price tag.
I truly wanted to enjoy Magic Mansion, as classic 1-Bit games are near and dear to my heart. Though the game’s aesthetic suggests similarity to classic Gameboy titles, the amount of gameplay available barely offers enough to entertain for more an hour. I still look forward to future titles from Folmer Kelly, as the game certainly had a lot of potential, and I still recommend checking out the free download, but I would have appreciated if the developers had taken the time to load the game with a little more content to justify the ad-unlocked version’s $3.99 price tag.