So, this game is called Magical Error wo Sagase, and to be honest I only played it in the hope that it'd be about an accident-prone wizard. You know, always leaving his wizard's staff on the bus, accidentally summoning a basket of summer berries instead of the underworld's most hideous and bloodthirsty demons. Sadly, Technosoft's 1994 arcade offering is not about wizards, clumsy or otherwise. If I tell you that Magical Error wo Sagase translates as Find the Magical Error, that should give you a clue about what the player is expected to do in this game. I hope you've got the eyesight of a hawk - unless hawks are colourblind, in which case even they might struggle.
No matter what the title screen says, you should never, ever insert corn into an arcade cabinet or any electrical device. Not only will you void your warranty, you'll attract electro-rats. I don't care if grains are used as currency wherever you're from, don't insert them anywhere besides the ground or your mouth.
Some Japanese that I can't read appeared. It might have been important, but I was too distracted by the player characters at the bottom of the screen to pay attention. Even for something born from the world of anime, where the eyes are enormous and the noses have receded into nothingness, these kids seem especially anime-ish. I think it's because you can see the whole of their irises, giving them the wide-eyed expressions of someone who has just stepped, barefoot, into something squishy but unidentified. Also, check out that blue-haired kid's eyebrows, he could give Kenshiro a run for his money.
Once the game begins, it immediately becomes clear what's going on - Magical Error wo Sagase is actually Spot the Difference: The Videogame. Two almost-identical pictures are displayed, and it's up to you to move the cursor around the left-hand picture, clicking on any variations between the two images. Find three differences, move on to the next image.
As it's right at the start of the game, the differences in the picture above are all pretty obvious: the dog and bird are different colours, Spherehead-san the Samurai Mannequin has a peach on his headband and best of all that sweet old couple in the background of the left image are transformed into cast members from a geriatric recreation of Reservoir Dogs.
Naturally, the transition from "activity found in children's colouring books" to "arcade game" means that Magical Error can put its own spin on the subtle art of comparing two pictures. For one thing, they're animated. Not too much of a problem with the early, much easier puzzles, but later on all that movement can make things tough. The pictures are also mirrored for some reason, which has the effect of making differences close to the middle much easier to spot than those at opposite ends.
It's the "game" element that's the big change, of course, because you can't release an arcade game that allows the player to carry on indefinitely without pumping in more credits. You have a life bar, and as you can imagine time is your greatest foe - your health gradually ticks down, forcing you to hurry. If you make a mistake and click the picture in a place with no differences, you lose a chunk of your health bar, which raises all sorts of questions. Are those kids wired up to a generator that electrocutes them after each mistake or something? It'd certainly explain their facial expressions. Look at the blue-haired kid in the screenshot above, I've seen people passing kidney stones that didn't look so pained.
Finding errors, magical or otherwise, is what you do in this game, and as such I've already shown you pretty much all there is to it. It gets more difficult as you progress, obviously, with denser images to scan and the required number of differences to spot rising from three to four to five. Some images pan around, showing you only a portion of the whole at time. The early puzzles in each stage work on a grid system, with the joystick moving a box around the screen that highlights one square on the grid, but later on this is replaced by a simple pointer that requires much more accuracy for a successful hit.
Magical Error is all you'd expect it to be and very little else, so why did I decide to dedicate a whole article to it? Well, for one thing I'm fascinated by games that take a simple, quiet pastime and turn it into a flashing, blinking, bells-and-whistles videogame with a competitive edge and the strange dichotomy that brings up. Aryol and Pieces did it for jigsaws, Quiz and Dragons gave pub quizzes the Dungeons and Dragons treatment, and now Magical Error has done it for spot-the-difference. Any day now I'm expecting to play a zombie-apocalypse-themed wordsearch game, where each discovered word causes another undead skull to explode gorily across the screen. Smartphone app developers - there's a free one for you.
The other reason is that I really like the pixel artwork in this game, and a lot of the puzzles are pleasantly daft, so I'm going to talk about a few of them.
Here, a girl is baffled by some extremely small bunting. Maybe she's organising a street party and now she's mortified that the neighbours are going to laugh at her sub-standard decorations.
Don't go down to the beach - a horrifying creature formed from human limbs and leftover bikinis has dragged itself ashore and thirsts for the blood of man! Raw terror lurks amongst the dunes! Nerve-shredding evil hunts along the coastline, although it's always careful to pay attention to the local tide times and plan its attacks accordingly! It's Octobeast, wetly dragging its way onto a cinema screen near you! Rated 12, contains mild peril and comic cryptozoology.
Ah yes, a pervy favourite of Japanese comedy - the old "men try to sneak into the women's side of the hot springs" bit. Except that's a dog climbing over the fence on the right. Why would a dog be so desperate to get over to the other side of that fence? What was going on back there? I think the expression of the man peering over the top clues us in that it was something unpleasant.
What looks at first glance like a simple scene of healthy young men playing basketball falls apart on closer inspection. For one thing, that's a medicine ball, not a basketball. Playing basketball with a medicine ball is going to make throwing three-pointers rather difficult, but it would definitely strengthen the upper body. More confusingly, Number 7 here doesn't seem to be jumping. He's just, like, ten feet tall. Kid's got a bright future ahead of him in the sport, assuming his legs don't collapse under the burden of belonging to an actual giant.
"Yes, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball. Did I mention that the ball is being held at the Playboy Mansion? Also, I amputated one of your legs below the knee. No need to thank me, it's all in a night's work for Fairy Satanmother!"
At one point, you have to spot the errors in a picture of duck-headed biomechanical death-bot. Alright, so maybe not a duck, but definitely some form of aquatic robo-life. It's a jolly little stage which illustrates how mean the game can get towards the end - you see that little blue octopus thing near the main creature's tail? It's an ever-so-slightly different shade of blue in the other image. This is what I mean about the colourblind not exactly being catered for in Magical Error.
That's not the interesting bit, though. Depending on your definition of interesting, a definition that I fully accept this tidbit may fall well outside, you might be interested to learn that this is actually Gargoyle Diver, one of the bosses from Technosoft's Megadrive shooter Thunder Force IV.
He doesn't look quite as cheerful in his original incarnation.
I'll be honest, I was expecting a cameo of this sort at some point in the game, simply because Magical Error is so far outside Technosoft's usual wheelhouse. Technosoft made shoot-em-ups, for the most part. The Thunder Force series is probably their most famous work, and the two Technosoft games I've previously written about, Hyper Duel and Elemental Master, were both about shooting things. Magical Error represents something of a departure for them and I would have been shocked had they made a game that's ninety-nine percent looking at pictures with slipping in some reference to their lasers-and-spaceships foundations.
I say "ninety-nine percent" because after every five puzzles, you get to play a bonus minigame for the chance to fill up your life bar and they require skills separate from those used by the average proofreader.
Skills such as button mashing, which is all the first bonus round consists of. Actually, that might be a little unfair because there's definitely an optimum rhythm to it beyond simply pressing the button as fast as you can. Tap the button to punch down the tower, either rhythmically or as though each time you pressed it another zero was added to your bank balance. That's it.
The girl on the right looks very familiar, but I can't quite place where I think I've seen her before, if indeed I have seen her before. Another cameo, perhaps? If you know, tell me in the comments. There is no prize beyond the warm satisfaction of helping your fellow man.
The second bonus round is a simple memory test, where random items are thrown between what look like two large and intricate slices of Battenburg cake and you have to select the corresponding items from your bingo card of object. The only real difficulty you're likely to face here is that the bunch of bananas and the rubber gloves look very similar, which is probably why all the major supermarkets keep the cleaning products so far away from the fresh fruit. Frustrating when all I came to buy was bleach and ingredients for a fruit salad (which I will later poison with bleach) but if stops just one kiddy from choking to death on a pair of Marigolds then I suppose it makes sense.
Hey look, it's Pop-Up Pirate! Except, you know, with a pig instead of a pirate. Maybe he's illegally uploaded hundreds of shaky camrips of the latest blockbuster movies and that was enough to condemn him to the torture of the barrel-o'-knives. Someone's written "KILL YOU" on that barrel, so they obviously mean business.
Next up, a maze to navigate. You're briefly shown a top-down view of the whole maze before being switched to this tight-focus view, and the idea is that you're supposed to memorize the top-down plan and then translate it to this isometric viewpoint as you make your way to the goal. In practise, you'll just remember roughly what corner of the maze the exit is located in and blindly stumble your way in the general direction. It seemed to work for me.
Lastly, there's a sliding block puzzle. Slide the blocks around to create a path for Mr. Penguin. I hate sliding block puzzles and thus refused to participate, leaving Mr. Penguin stranded on the starting block. Good. I would rather a million boggle-eyed penguins be kept from their goals than have to endure a sliding block puzzle.
Back to the actual game, and now that we're nearing the end Magical Error has redoubled its efforts to give me permanent eye strain by making me peer into a dark and writhing mass of insects. I'm sorry, Technosoft, but if your videogame experience can be replicated by sticking my head into my neighbour's compost bin then you can't be surprised when I lose interest. I don't need to put 100 Yen into the compost bin, now do I? Although funnily enough it would be a perfectly suitable place to Insert Corn.
I did lose interest towards the end, to be frank. If you've spotted one difference you've spotted them all, and as Magical Error reaches its climax the puzzles just about cross the line between "challenging" and "headachey and frustrating." A few items or special events might have livened proceedings up a little, but there's none of that included here: just the same gameplay as the first stage, copied for every other stage. It's to Technosoft's credit that they managed to keep such a slim premise entertaining for more than two or three minutes you'd expect it to bore you in, mostly thanks for the fun animations and charming pixel work.
I mean, who wouldn't be charmed by the Cavalcade of Edible Delights, starring a delirious, cartwheeling onigiri and a chicken whose dark eyes and angry demeanour suggest it might snap at any moment and shoot up the nearest branch of KFC? I'm charmed. Only a little, but just enough.
This Formula One scene was the last puzzle that Magical Error threw at me. It's a good job it was the last one, because after spending so long scouring these pictures for minute differences my eyes were about ready to stage a revolution and exit my skull via my ears. In the end, I resorted to wildly tapping the screen in search of differences - that's what the blue crosses represent. My failed attempts, each mistake costing that poor boy a portion of his very life essence. Then I ran out of time and cleared the scene anyway. Yup, if you run out of time - as opposed to running out of health - you just move on to the next scene or, in this case, the ending.
Magical Error wo Sagase is a game that takes a concept that didn't need to be turned into a videogame and does a decent job of turning it into a videogame. Why? Who the hell knows. Technosoft ran out of ideas for shoot-em-ups, maybe. Perhaps they were on a tight deadline and they figured a spot-the-difference game would be be quick and easy to knock out. Whatever the reasons, we're left with a competent if low-effort title that you could probably have fun with for fifteen minutes / until the inevitable eyeball rebellion.
It's a shame Technosoft didn't try to mix up the gameplay even a little, and some items or special skills might have been a good idea - something to give you the occasional clue, at least, because blindly clicking all over the screen will only rarely work out in your favour. But, hey, spot the difference. I spotted some differences. There were colourful moving shapes to reward my error detection skills. My primitive cave-ape brain was momentarily satisfied. It's over now. Back to the cave. See you next time.