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Review: Nintendo's "Master of Illusion"

Magic for the Gaming Masses


Review: Nintendo's
With Nintendo's "Master of Illusion," we're not talking about some kind of trading card for kids or the newest role play game. By combining electronic interaction with magic, Nintendo, with the help of Tenyo, unveils “Master of Illusion.” With the title, gamers can perform some 20 intriguing magic-style tricks with their Nintendo DS handhelds.

There's not much here for magic pros or serious amateurs, but I was impressed with the creative application of the DS that results in some good tricks that are easy to learn and perform.

Show Time
The "Show" mode, the core of "Magic of Illusion" (MOI), allows gamers to perform tricks for their friends. Here you'll find some brilliant adaptations and creative tricks that can only be performed with a DS.

In "Two Candles, the screen displays two burning candles and by blowing into the DS microphone, a spectator extinguishes the flames. Later, you ask a spectator to choose a candle by pointing at it with their finger (pointing is employed because the DS could, in theory, rely on voice recognition to figure out which candle was chosen). By blowing again, only the selected candle is extinguished.

Mystic Hand” allows a spectator to draw a cartoon hand on the DS touchscreen and then point to one of three objects on the upper screen (the upper screen lacks touch sensitivity). The drawn hand then animates and “grabs” the selected object. Here, the game offers clever use of animation.

Shuffle Games” is a mentalism style effect where a spectator secretly selects a month, place or activity on the screen, which is mixed with other similar objects into a list. The spectator reads the objects in any order and without looking, you are able to tell the spectator which object he selected.

In the Cards
One of the best effects is “Card Fortune,” a card trick that works with a deck of cards that comes with the game. A spectator mixes the cards, freely chooses one, looks at it and lays it down onto the table. The spectator answers a series of on-screen questions unrelated to the cards. In the end, the DS names the playing card. I performed this one several times and it got good reactions.

I don’t normally reveal a secret when reviewing a product, but it’s common knowledge that “Master of Illusion” comes with a marked deck of cards. The bridge-sized deck is not a standard one, and while the card case says “Nintendo,” the backs have a traditional-looking design. The markings are easy to read and the cards can be readily identified at a glance.

There’s More
The “Solo” mode offers a series of interactive magic tricks where the DS performs a trick for a single player. These tricks are of the mathematical variety and make use of the DS touch screen. One trick is a well known one that is featured on lots of web sites (but not here on Magic.About.com), and on the DS, it’s the best version that I’ve seen because the interaction and animation creates a stronger presentation.

A third mode, called “Training,” offers solitaire style games. In true video game style, you have to unlock tricks by using the program and you’re only given a limited number of unlocks per day.

Test Drive
Since the game just came out and few in the United States have had a chance to see it, I took my Nintendo DS to my restaurant gigs this past weekend and tried out some of the tricks. They got good reactions.

While it wasn’t my intent, by performing some of the tricks, I probably sold several copies of the game. The kids, in particular, were excited by what they saw, particularly when they learned that they could perform magic with their DS handhelds.

Magic Secrets?
The tricks rely on a variety of methods. Some are based on classic mentalism techniques while others are innovative approaches that make use of the DS touch screen, buttons and microphone. And the addition of animation - mixing cards on a virtual table by moving the stylus over them, for example, adds lots of whimsy.

I’ve read many comments that say the title teaches gamers “the secrets of magic.” In reality, MOI relies on only a few conventional magic secrets, many of which are seldom used by performing magicians. Tenyo has effectively created a new genre of magic that relies on electronic interactions.

Magic for the Masses
If you’re a magic enthusiast who thinks it would be cool to pull out a DS and perform some tricks, keep in mind that once this game gets out there to the masses (and with a Nintendo title, we’re talking masses), there will be reams of kids who will already know the tricks and many parents and other adults who have long tired of watching them.

If you’re thinking about buying MOI for a kid, I estimate that MOI is best for kids who are at least eight years old. I think younger kids will be frustrated by it and there’s a good chance that they won’t be able to understand and perform its tricks.

Finally, can "Master of Illusion" inspire a new generation of magicians? By combining interactive electronics with magic, it's an innovative step in the right direction. Perhaps the bigger question is, can anything generate enough interest to encourage kids to put down their Nintendo DS handhelds and pick up some playing cards?

-Wayne N. Kawamoto

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