Magical Drop F is the semisequel to the Neo Geo (and PS, Saturn, and NGPC) puzzle game Magical Drop III. While MDIII has only seen US release via the Neo Geo arcade unit and on the NGPC handheld, the game has garnered quite a cult following. Think of it this way - Super Puzzle Fighter is to Street Fighter Alpha as Magical Drop is to King of Fighters, and you might have an inkling of what's going on. The analogy fails in that MD does not contain KOF characters. In fact, the MD series draws its characters from the major arcana of the traditional tarot deck. The designers took these archetypal figures and rendered them with an anime flair - in the original MD they were intensely cute. In Magical Drop F, they are merely just cute.
The gameplay is the main reason why the series is popular - it's frantic, competitive, and addictive. While MDF brings a slight change to the game, the basic setup is still colored-ball matching. The playfield looks a lot like the one in Bust-A-Move, but the game plays quite differently. You control a Pierrot (clown), who moves left and right across the bottom of the playfield. He's equipped with a wire, which you can use to pull down bubbles of a particular color? and then redeploy them. Your task is to vertically match at least three of the same color so they will pop. It's extremely simple, as all good puzzle games are. New to Magical Drop F are special items - pressing triangle will activate your character's special ability for a limited amount of time, typically five to seven seconds. In the previous Magical Drop games, special items could be found on the playfield. In this game, special bubbles that existed in Magical Drop III have been completely removed, making the gameplay even simpler - and perhaps less frenetic.Magical Drop F offers a variety of modes. The big, new, original mode that makes this game stand out from its predecessors (Magical Drop III being, perhaps, unbeatable - at least in the versus mode) is the adventure mode. Sure, there's versus (CPU or human) and endless modes, but there's nothing all that new there. The adventure mode is quite a different thing altogether. The setup looks something like an action-RPG. You play as Justice, a spunky, ponytailed female warrior and walk around the small but lushly detailed towns and locations. Occasionally, you'll bump into one of the otherMajor Arcana and become engaged in a Magical Dropbattle. The plot even revolves around getting the Magical Drops (one of each colored bubble) to prevent world catastrophe, not unlike the goal of an RPG. Also, there is a heck of a lot of dialogue that slides by too slowly, especially if you don't know Japanese. The graphics are amazingly rich and detailed - approaching the level of Square's recent 2D outings. Unfortunately, Justice's quest contains about 15 screens total. Another big problem with this mode is that while you do save your progress in terms of what items you've earned during the quest (these apply to other modes), you must beat it in one sitting, and that'll take a couple of hours. When you finish Justice, The Lovers mode opens up. Same idea there. It's a nice mode, but it would be stunning to see Data East take it to its logical fruition - that is, an RPG that has puzzles instead of battles - in Magical Drop F2, should the company decide to make one.
As mentioned before, Magical Drop F contains the standard modes that all puzzle games need to succeed: versus CPU, versus human, and a one-player noncombative mode (in this case, endless mode). The thing is, Magical Drop III's mechanic of special items, which had been included in the playfield, was a lot more conducive to a two-player fracas. While it's hardly the case that MDF's gameplay has been wrecked by the change, the nuance will cause old hats to feel as though MDF is a bit restful. Newcomers may prefer this style. Either way, you really can't go wrong with a Magical Drop game if you like competitive puzzlers, and the quest mode is an extremely original idea for a puzzle game. It's just too bad that it's completely in Japanese, and you can't save. Thankfully, it's pretty importer-friendly, provided you don't mind missing the game's story.