McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)
"Master of Illusion"
For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild suggestive themes)
Unless you're hopelessly jaded and regardless of your feelings about magic and magic-themed video games, "Master of Illusion" is capable of amazing you in ways you never suspected a Nintendo DS could.
Take, for instance, the Vanishing Card trick. Your DS scatters a handful of face-down cards on the screen and asks you to select five with the stylus. All at once, the cards are revealed, and the game asks you to pick one and focus on it before turning the cards back over. No buttons are pressed nor screens touched during this step; you merely look at a card and commit it to memory.
Whether you stare a hole into a card or merely sneak a glace, "Illusion" somehow manages to pick your card. It's not initially clear how it does this every single time, but it sure is awesome. Show this and "Illusion's" other tricks to unwitting friends, and it's almost certain to drop a few jaws.
The discovery of how this and other illusions work is what comprises the meat of "Illusion," which functions more as an interactive teaching tool and social showpiece than a full-fledged video game. ("Illusion" includes a suite of Solitaire-style mini-games ostensibly designed to hone technique, but they likely exist as much to justify the "video game" tag as they do anything else. That's fine; they're moderately fun at best and inconspicuous at worst.)
Like Nintendo's other training games, it encourages daily play and offers incentives to continue learning through scoring and a steady stream of unlockable tricks. It doesn't inspire long play sessions, but it does offer plenty of reasons to pick it back up after you've put it down.
"Illusion" divides its trick library into two categories. The first, Solo Magic, drops you into the audience's shoes while the game plays the part of illusionist. You contribute via audience participation, but the real fun comes with figuring out how the game executes these seemingly impossible feats. Some are clearly attributable to formula, but others aren't so transparent.
Still, the game's real showpiece is the Magic Show mode, which allows you to perform tricks for friends using the DS (and, where applicable, the pack of playing cards Nintendo bundles with the game). The game details your role in the deception, and if you follow the directions properly, you'll learn how to pull off some legitimately dazzling feats of prestidigitation.
(Billy O'Keefe writes video game reviews for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.)
(c) 2008, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.