The Nintendo DS has seen its fair share of bizarre and original concepts--the latest of which is Master of Illusion. Less of a game and more an interactive way to participate in and learn magic tricks, Master of Illusion won't interest everyone. But like a simple magic kit from a toy store, it's a really cool and effective way to introduce the world of magic to children.
The first thing you'll notice when you start Master of Illusion is the host; this creepy, busty, part-human and part-animal lady…thing. An odd choice because the game seems to be mostly geared toward the younger crowd. Once you've given her a bit of information, she explains the three facets of the game. The first is solo magic. Here, the DS is the magician and you can choose from eight different tricks. These tricks include having the DS guess the hand gesture you're making, figure out what card you picked (the game comes with a deck of cards) by you tapping it against the screen, and a few others that range from uninteresting to neat.
The next group of tricks is found in magic show. This is where you learn, practice, and then perform 14 real tricks. Some of them are really pretty impressive. One trick has a person pick a card, then you draw a face on the touch screen that animates and says the card out loud. Another will have someone pick a card, put it back in the deck, and then tap an egg that is displayed on the lower screen. The egg will slowly crack with each card tapped, finally breaking open when the person's card is tapped. There are tricks that don't involve cards, too, such as ones where you guess someone's birthday or where someone might want to go for his or her next vacation. Some of the tricks, like the one where the DS guesses what candle you want to blow out, aren't all that interesting for older children, but they're simple enough for younger kids to enjoy. Overall, the quality of tricks is high, and they're all easy to learn by watching brief but well-done tutorials.
You'd think that the third option, magic training, would be where you learn tricks. Instead, this mode offers up a selection of minigames, the quality of which is all over the map. A few of them--particularly the card-based corner kittens and Monte Carlo--are fun enough that you'll want to come back and play them from time to time. Others, such as the ones where you have to accurately count 10, 30, or 60 seconds by tapping the screen with the stylus while you keep time in your head, are just as boring as they sound.
Master of Illusion is designed to be played daily in small doses. You'll earn points for practicing, performing, and playing minigames. When you accumulate enough points, you'll unlock new tricks and games. Unfortunately, it's possible to earn all of a day's points in a matter of minutes, leaving you with nothing new to do unless you start fiddling with the system's internal clock. Another small issue has to do with the menus: While you're encouraged to perform shows for people, there's no way to put together a routine beforehand, so you can't really get into any sort of flow because you must constantly navigate menus between tricks.
Minor quibbles aside, if you or someone you know has always wanted to get into magic, Master of Illusion is a good way to get started. It's not going to get you a gig headlining your own Vegas show, but you'll be mystifying your friends in no time.