Vlad and his cowled little buddy are off to the jungle in Magicka: Vietnam, a downloadable content pack that shifts the arcane action of Magicka to a fantasy-styled Southeast Asia. It goes without saying that this is a decidedly goofy premise for a role-playing game that is all about casting spells and killing fantasy foes. However, the notion of a wizard heading off to fight the Viet Cong somehow seems appropriate here given the anything-goes nature of the original game. Unfortunately, the oddball nature of the add-on is its biggest plus. The idea of running through the jungle blowing up orcs and trolls is a lot more appealing than the reality, as the lovable melee mayhem of the original combat has been replaced by frustrating difficulty and some odd design decisions.
Also, you should be aware that the $4.99 price doesn't buy you an awful lot of content. Unlike the original Magicka, which was a great deal at just $10, Magicka: Vietnam gives you exactly what you pay for in a pair of single challenge missions bolstered by a handful of new enemies, new weapons, and a groovy Nam-era garage-rock soundtrack centered on a tune that rips off Creedence's iconic "Fortunate Son." The core of the game remains untouched, so you still play as a hooded mage and cast a wide variety of element-based spells courtesy of key combos. Vietnam Rescue Mission is the main mode of play, where you're dropped off in a chopper by Captain Vlad with orders to head into the jungle to fight the Viet Cong. You're scored based on how long it takes you to complete the mission objectives, which entail blowing up radio towers and ammo storage dumps, as well as rescuing POWs and stealing military plans before hightailing it out of Dodge on a Huey. You even get to fight alongside some GIs, who can be really helpful in spots as long as you hunker down behind them and keep their health up with regular blasts of arcane healing spells. The other mode, Vietnam Survival, is a standard arena battle against wave after wave of the game's enemies, which include Viet Cong orcs and giant troll gunners in combat fatigues. It plays out a lot like the arena battles in the original game. Both modes are open to solo spell slingers and support up to four players in co-op.
What's most noticeable here is the extreme difficulty. Gameplay has been tweaked in a couple of big ways to make surviving a lot tougher. For starters, virtually all enemies now use nothing but ranged weapons like AK-47s, rocket launchers, and mortars. This completely changes the texture of the action and almost entirely removes the melee combat of the original Magicka. This isn't a good thing. At first, the gunplay makes for a refreshing change from the hack-and-slash action--especially when you realize you can pick up weapons and make with the budda-budda-budda yourself. But after a few minutes, it becomes apparent that enemies can shoot you from very long distances and that you're even vulnerable to pot shots from offscreen, as well as from baddies hidden behind jungle foliage. If you get tagged by one of the more powerful weapons like a mortar, your lights can be turned out immediately. This is immensely frustrating in the Vietnam Rescue Mission because there is no way to save your progress. You might be cruising along through the rice paddies pretty nicely but find yourself hurled back to square one by a lucky shot you never saw coming.
Even though the novelty of the Vietnam setting is intriguing, the sheer frustration of everything makes it hard to enjoy the game. Things get a lot better when playing cooperatively. If you get three allies to share the burden, you can better take on those rocket launchers and deal with the damage dealt out by those offscreen machine guns, courtesy of healing spells. Both the rescue mission and the survival arena seem to have been designed with multiplayer first in mind because they certainly play a lot better that way than they do when you're going solo. Co-op does reveal how slight this pack is, though. If you work with a buddy or two, you can sail through the rescue map in no more than 45 minutes, and you can complete the survival arena in even less time. It's still hard to argue that you're not getting $5 worth of action here, although you're definitely not getting anywhere near the bang for the buck offered by the budget-priced original game.
As much as you may want to like Magicka: Vietnam for the audaciousness of its setting, the actual jungle action leaves a fair bit to be desired. Overly high difficulty, the inability to save your progress, and the unfair nature of being killed by random lucky shots from offscreen make the two maps here more annoying than they should be, unless you're playing cooperatively with friends. This DLC pack has its moments, but it's really only for diehard Magicka fans.