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Magrunner: Dark Pulse

By Bobfish05-07-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
Magrunner: Dark Pulse

The Defence

Focus Home Interactive
Puzzle, Platformer
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Dual-Core 2.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon HD 4850
2 GB
4 GB

The Case


What do you get when you hook up HP Lovecraft with GladOS and get them both jolly so that they really enjoy each others company and ultimately fall in love. Then, after nature takes its course, they lock their mutant, ill begotten spawn in a deep, dark cellar, far away from the world, for our safety. Of course this happens only to have it escape, a thousand years later, violently angry at this extended incarceration and fuelled by an overwhelming urge to outsmart even the most fervent of lateral thinking problem solvers. Armed with a devious mind, dizzying budget, mind boggling technological skills and an intimate control over the force of electromagnetism? Well, let's have a look at the Frogwares developed Magrunner: Dark Pulse and find out shall we?

The Trial


You take on the role of Dax Ward, something of a technological wunderkind, who has been chosen as one of seven contestants charged with the task of solving puzzles using nothing more than magnetism and your own wits. The prize is an all-expenses paid trip into space itself. Not to mention international acclaim. Though for Dax, he has a more personal motive. See, Magtech had something to do with the mysterious death of his parents several years earlier. So, armed with his self made Magtech glove and the support of his adoptive parent, the six armed mutant Genji, he sets out to find the truth.

Taking multi-tasking to a whole new level.

Taking multi-tasking to a whole new level.

However, the truth he finds is far from comforting. As it transpires, MagTech are nothing more than a front for a cult that worship the endless one himself, the mighty Cthulhu. Shortly after beginning the trials, everything goes straight to hell, sending Dax way off the beaten path, into a decrepit, rundown 'backroom' of the facility. Here he must battle more than just platform puzzles as he, eventually, makes his way into space for a confrontation with Cthulhu himself. But somehow he still finds the time to solve the mystery of his parents along the way.

The comment earlier about GladOS was no mere hyperbole. From its visual style right down to the very game play, the game screams Portal at almost every turn. But this is no bad thing. The amount of attention and care put into crafting the game is self-evident throughout. This is no mere cash in on the popularity of cake, it is far more than a simple copy-paste job. Think of this in the same way as you would compare and contrast Star Wars with The Lord of the Rings. Where one is merely a reflection, a personal reimagining and pastiche of the other.

Talk to the hand.

Talk to the hand.

Of course, the nitty gritty of the gameplay is somewhat different. There are no portals here, obviously. Instead, all of the puzzles are solved through the use of two magnetic fields. Red and green by default, with an option to make them red and blue if you choose. Unlike real world magnetism, red attracts red and repels green, which took a moment for me to adjust to, as my mind kept screaming at me that two magnets with the same charge repel each other. But from a gameplay perspective it makes a lot more sense. It's much easier to see a glowing red object and instinctively hit the button for your red magnet.

Once an object is magnetised, you can hit a key to see a glowing, mostly transparent sphere around or extending from the object which corresponds to its magnetic charge. Sounds simple right? Well, actually, it kind of is, and that's what makes some of the puzzles so deviously difficult. Especially later in the game when your glove is upgraded with Newton, a replica of Dax's first patented creation, an electronic dog, that is also magnetically charged and can be fired out, much like the portals of Portal, to attach to any surface and provide, effectively, any magnetic effect you could wish for. Though you are limited to having only one Newton at any one time, you can still, for example, place one above the platform you are standing on, wait for it to be lifted by the gravitational field, then place another one at a higher point. Rinse and repeat.

Such a nice homicidal fish man. Helping that man who fell over.

Such a nice homicidal fish man. Helping that man who fell over.

This allows for more greater fluidity as to how you solve each puzzle room. Which is very good thing, because each room is almost literally just that. A room. You come in at one side, solve the puzzle to reach the door, go to an interim section and then enter the next room. Though it's not quite that simple, as some areas have hidden side rooms, with extra items, like blocks and batteries that you may need to power a lift for example. But though the end aim is fixed, the way you go about solving that can be extremely varied. As long as that block hits that switch, it doesn't matter if you use a magnetic launcher, a pile of boxes, or Newton and a lift to get it up there.

Visually speaking the game has me in two minds. On the one hand, aesthetically the game is gorgeous. Richly detailed and dripping with colour, with some of the transitions between puzzle rooms, where you ride on an elevator between two sections of the Magtech building which seem to extend off into infinity in every direction. They reminded me a great deal of a series of Lionsgate films from the 90s called The Cube. Something which stuck with me in the tone for the rest of the game. Perhaps not an intentionally influence, but clearly a strong one nonetheless.

We really don't need a hentai joke. But...

We really don't need a hentai joke. But...

On the other hand, the engine is clearly no graphical powerhouse. Textures are generally of lower resolution, animations are clunky and often wooden, the water is absolutely terrible and there isn't really a massive variety of scenery when it really comes down to it. They just offset the sameness with a very clever and deliberate use of the strong colours I mentioned earlier. Something which reminded me a great deal of Mirror's Edge actually. Having said that, some degree of leeway has to be afforded Frogwares, who are clearly a small studio working on a tight budget. Something which seems to be a theme for Focus at the moment, supporting the underdogs.

But again, much as I said with their earlier published game this year, Mars: War Logs, they are also clearly a development team with a lot of potential. There are hints of much larger ideas in there which, I'm certain, someone had to make the gut wrenching decision to not utilise for the end game. In that perspective, seeing what they were able to do with everything despite the limitations of, frankly, not being rich enough, they produced a solid, extremely enjoyable (a little shorter than I'd like) and thoroughly entertaining game.

Good doggy. Stopping that platform with your face.

Good doggy. Stopping that platform with your face.

The music is superb and the voice acting is extremely solid. Some performances do seem a little off in places, but in the final context of the end destination of the narrative, you'll find yourself looking back and thinking “ahh, now I get it!” Though the plot itself is rather light, it's compelling and a lot more complex than it seems on the surface. A lot of it takes place in very much a show don't tell mentality. With only really the opening and closing cinematics having anything in the way of a significant plot dump. Which they do efficiently, providing a neat set of bookends to the whole experience.

The Verdict


In my heart, Magrunner is a game that has gone immediately into the list of my all-time favourites. Only a few rooms in I already knew it would be one of my choices for best games of the year. On a professional level however, and even on a personal one for that matter, I cannot in all honesty ignore the flaws. Graphically it doesn't even qualify as par for the course anymore, it's only a little below, but it is below the standard. The length could also be something of a deterrent, but for the low price point, and given the almost unlimited freedom with which you can solve the puzzles, there's a lot of incentive to go back and play around with alternate methods.

Case Review

  • Atmosphere: In a word, utterly fantastic (don’t care if that’s two words) especially in the closing Cthulhu section.
  • Audio: The music is superb, incredibly atmospheric.
  • Complexity: Such a simple gameplay mechanic with a dizzying level of freedom.
  • Difficulty: It can’t quite find its equilibrium, with some sections very easy, some punishingly difficult and sudden fluctuation between the two.
  • Length: A six to seven hour completion time, but with enough freedom of gameplay mechanics to warrant replaying your favourite puzzles.
  • Visuals: Artistically superb, but still lacking on a purely technical level.
Score: 4/5
A very strong game from a very small studio who have a big future ahead of them.


Magrunner: Dark Pulse is a very interesting game. For starters it obviously takes inspiration from the likes of Portal and Q.U.B.E in certain aspects, which isn’t a bad thing at all. It basically uses magnetic physics to control the movement of boxes and other objects such as panels that control platforms, platforms themselves etc. The colours involved with manipulating the magnetic force of certain objects resides on the green and red colours. Attraction is based on the same colour, while different colour magnets will repel each other. Similar to Portal, this mechanic is used to solve and perform actions to get past obstacles in the game.

The story for Magrunner is an infusion of adventure and the Cthulhu mythology mixed in together, which makes it quite interesting to follow. However, at the start of the game I felt they could have done a slight better introduction to the game as it didn’t really give too many hints as to how to do things. The game basically throws the player into the lion’s den, so to speak, something the developers could have done better and made a little clearer. It is a very amusing game, and if you really like to think and solve puzzles, you will most certainly enjoy this game as those elements are very solid. It might not be as polished as Portal, but comparing it to Portal is unfair, even though it clearly has some inspiration from it. What it does is good and I have certainly enjoyed my time playing it, but overall the story could have used a little improvement overall with a few other minor things I could nitpick about, but I won’t bother. All I will conclude with is, if you enjoyed Portal or Q.U.B.E or any type of puzzle based game, I definitely recommend giving Magrunner a try, it won’t be for everyone, but it is very good.

Score: 4/5


When I saw Magrunner for the first time I instantly thought “Oh, another Portal clone. We definitely need more of those” and I was dead right. The Portal inspiration is so clear that the game doesn’t even try to hide it. Is it a bad thing though? No, it’s not. But the more appropriate question is if it is a good Portal clone. And that part is tricky to answer. In short Magrunner is a good game with a lot of flaws. The game’s heart is in the right place but the way it goes about it is very inconsistent. This inconsistency can be attributed from difficulty to the way the game looks, with spikes in unclear puzzles, or rather missing puzzle parts (like hidden cubes), and all the way to how the game looks extremely good at the start to how inconsistent it looks at the end with some great textures and some flat sprites all the way from the early 2000’s. And there are many more similar nagging details that irritate you throughout the whole game. One of the most obvious being the level loading screen that can be witnessed as often as 30 every seconds which reminded me of the first Portal 1 levels and elevator travel.

With all that said you might think that Magrunner is not worth your time then. You would be wrong. If you like puzzle games that is. Magruner has a certain magnetism to it even with all the negatives. The story is a bit silly but it keeps you interested to learn how it all turns out. The visuals might be flat at times, but they look very imposing at others (like the Cuthulu silhouette in the background of the final stages). Some puzzles are too annoying but others are just genius. And even though the elevator rides bugged me because of the upcoming loading screen, every time I stepped into the later level elevator I kept thinking about The Cube (the movie), which is quite good. As strange as it all sounds, if you are a true gamer who is interested in more than 3 franchises and 2 genres then you will probably be in the same boat as me and enjoy this game despite the shortcomings.

Score: 4/5
Comments (2)
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Posts: 3290

Yeah, it kinda' does. Would be interesting to see something like this in 2D actually. It would make for a much tighter focus which could work heavily in its favour. Allay some of Stunt's concerns that he was 'cheating' his way through

Posts: 1317

Don't know why, but looking at the cover art makes me think this is some indie 2D platformer type thing.