Retro Game of the Day! Magician Lord
Magician Lord by Alpha Denshi for SNK's Neo-Geo. This was a launch title for the "Oh my GOD!!!" Neo Geo megaultrasupersystem that debuted in 1990.
I remember seeing advance screens of this and other Neo Geo games in old gaming publications. My first thought was "Neo Geo? Why would they call a system such a bizarre name?" Followed quickly by "oh my WHAT - they are making home console titles that look this incredible? Forget the name!!" Mind you, this was still a year off before the Super Nintendo had even launched in the States-
From the get go, the gaming public was made aware that Neo Geo was going to be bringing bonafide arcade-quality titles to your living room in an unprecedented fashion - and by means of using actual arcade hardware! The carts were tremendous PCB bricks, no lie, that cost hundreds of dollars. This was not a casual gamer's system, this was for the diehard enthusiast who was willing to spend megabucks to own a system that looked better than any of it's competition would, for several years (no home console would really be able to match the Neo Geo's beefy specs until perhaps 3 years later (the 3DO system, which was a spectacular failure) and then not until 1995 when the first PlayStation released.
As for Magician Lord, this was a game which was intended to showcase the powerhouse abilities of the system - and it scored easily on that front. The graphics and sounds FX were lush and stunningly rendered, this looked pretty much on par with whatever other Shinobi/Rastan-styled arcade offerings you'd see in the arcades of the day. Extremely colorful, high framerates with smooth animation, tons of large characters moving around the screens, several levels of parallax multiplane scrolling, it was all in there and any gamer drooled at the thought of "I could play this at home!!" Though of course hardly any of us ever did, still it was fun to think about it (and could still be enjoyed at the arcade).
The game put you in charge of a sort-of silly looking Sorcerer fella, typical platformer (again, think Rastan/Shinobi) - running around and jumping, shooting energy bolts from your hands. The catch was that you could collect power-ups and metamorphose your form into a number of different characters, each with different offensive abilities (fire-breathing Dragon, Stealth Ninja, "Waterman," others). This was a relatively unexplored notion in many games, but appeared to limited expression in some notable cases (Mario 3, Altered Beast). ML really poured it on in that you could switch in/out rather easily, and gameplay didn't seem very dependent on it for the most part - and it felt very cool.
Unfortunately, the game was a little on the punishing hard side from the outset (SNK wasn't kidding when they hyped that this machine was for Serious Comers only!) and though the game was not badly designed, it did lack that ramp-up rhythm that makes a game a hit - and so you'd drop a couple of quarters in, get your ass handed to you in no time flat, give up and head to the next title.
Magician Lord is an important flashback to the history of the Neo Geo, and thus to the line between arcade gaming and home gaming - forever there was a huge gulf between the two, and with games like this it suddenly became (relatively) feasible that one could truly enjoy a high-range arcade experience at home.