The Turbo Grafx-16 is a haven for shooters of nearly all stripes be it horizontal or vertical. Unfortunately if you are a top down shooter fan the pickings are slim. Bloody Wolf is usually the go to but after that it gets sketchy. Final Zone 2 is just flat out bad and as much as people laugh at it (with good reason mind you) Last Alert is actually a good game. Mystic Formula was a game I coveted when I saw it in an issue of Gamefan but it would be many years before I would actually purchase it. While I would like to say that it was worth the wait it is not. While decent overall it feels lifeless and more like an afterthought compared to its lengthy cutscenes.
Ah yes, the frequent cutscenes. It is very obvious the bulk of the game’s budget went into these as they are sometimes long and many. The game’s very simple plot follows a group of adventurers as they track down a mysterious purple stone for its one million dollar reward. The cast of characters is small but they are a likable bunch. Even though the cinemas aren’t animated it does almost give off the feel of a mid-90s OVA. Once gameplay actually starts it drops off a cliff beyond its initial level. That first stage leaves a good first impression with its cool mid-boss and is paced well. The end level boss reminded me of Legendary Wings but it cheaps out from there. Each level seems to be built on one looping tile set with little variation and while there are a few cool bosses they aren’t enough to save the presentation.
The soundtrack on the other hand is fantastic. Micro Cabin has a long history of excellent music in their titles and Mystic Formula is no exception. The hard rock tracks suit the game well although I wish they were longer; they stop and repeat frequently.
There are a lot of surface similarities with similar titles like Capcom’s Mercs however Mystic Formula has a few features uniquely its own. All four characters differ in terms of their attack range, speed, and special attack although there isn’t one clear victor. The power of your shots is governed by a meter. When you aren’t attacking it fills up slowly with your attacks changing at different points. Since your basic attack only covers a short distance this is your only means of ranged attack. While it sounds like it would slow down gameplay the power bar fills up pretty quickly.
Sadly power-ups aren’t too common and I don’t understand why. The few available aren’t game breaking and would actually go some way towards bringing some excitement to the proceedings. You can increase the power of your normal shots, obtain scrolls for extra uses of your special attack and boost your speed. The most fun item will temporarily summon one of your teammates to fight by your side for a while. All of these items are gone upon death or the following stage which sucks since you see them so rarely and their drops are easy to miss.
As sad as it sounds Mystic Formula definitely plays as though its creators did the bare minimum in terms of content and gameplay between cutscenes. The game’s pacing is very slack; there are large gaps in between enemy waves. Aside from a few areas where they enemies respawn you’ll be hard pressed to find any excitement. You know things are bad when even a ride on a hover bike is just flat out boring. I’m not saying the game has to be like Smash TV or Mercs but it is a shooter, give me something to shoot!
If you are the type who likes a decent challenge you won’t find it here. You’ll have to bump the difficulty up to hard and reduce the starting number of lives and continues for that. And even then you will probably still breeze through the game. Despite single hit deaths you will rarely die as enemies are sparse and the levels are short. While they have their differences every character is decent enough to plow through the game without much trouble. At the midpoint the game steps it up a bit but that simply means groups of five enemies who still die in a single hit. The scarcity of power-ups should provide some measure of challenge but the game is far too laid back to present any kind of intensity. Sadly it is also incredibly short. The six levels are over far too quickly and while there are some cool moments they are few and far.
Mystic Formula is a solid top down shooter that is fundamentally sound but feels a little under cooked. With a few more levels and a bit more action it could have been a great game. While I like it well enough it is incredibly pricey and definitely not worth the king’s ransom it commands. Shame too as the system could have used more games like this.