So I noticed something very odd when I booted my Windows box yesterday, specifically something very odd on my Steam friends list.
I had two friends on and actively in-game, and both of them were playing something called Secret of the Magic Crystals.
This turned out to have been the Steam Daily Deal, making a five dollar game about raising magical horses into, apparently, an irresistible deal at $2.50.
Browsing the Steam thread on the Penny Arcade forums – a wretched hive of classy gentlemen – reinforced this impression. Grown men, who by all rights ought to have been living out vicarious male fantasies in Duke Nukem Forever or similar were, instead, raising and training unicorns, pegasai, and fire-breathing horses.
Obviously I needed to investigate this for myself.
As part of my campaign to skew Steam’s OS usage statistics – and because it just seemed a more appropriate platform for magic horses – I switched back to my MacBook and laid my money down.
First impressions were positive. The first thing you see, after selecting a save slot and engendering your character, is an actually-rather-attractive farm, with weather effects and a day/night cycle. It’s basically a menu from which you choose activities – you don’t ever walk around your farm, as far as I can tell – but it’s a really pretty menu.
It’s not the main draw, of course, so I dutifully followed the tutorial advice and trotted off to the stable to meet my first horse.
See what I did there? Honestly it takes a force of will not to fill this entire post with horse jokes.
Anyway, I met my first horse and it was a little disappointing. It didn’t have wings or breathe fire or anything, it was just a little colt sitting in a stable.
Again following the tutorial, I picked a brush off a nearby hook and commenced grooming.
Brush brush brush brush BAM.
My colt exploded into a full-grown unicorn.
Now, as far as mythical horses go, the unicorn is one of the duller ones. That’s a bit harsh, I suppose, but once you’ve gotten past “it has a horn and can detect virgins”, there’s not much to them.
Nonetheless, I had a unicorn. It was time to get to training.
Training takes place in the corral, and consists of mini games where I sent my unicorn jumping over gates, or walking down forest paths, or – and this was actually a little disturbing – dragging heavy loads along the ground, all of these while playing a little mini game involving pressing arrow keys at the right times.
This enhanced my unicorn’s stats, but also tired it out. After a couple of training sessions, he needed to go back to the barn for more brushing.
Brushing seems to really be at the core of the game. You have three different brushes – for body, head, and hoof grooming – and it seems like you really need to vary which you’re using; sticking to the body brush alone won’t get your horse back in the mood for more training.
A couple of rounds of training followed by grooming had most of my unicorn’s stats at or near the maximums, and it seemed like it was time to get to questing, which is how you earn money, which you use to buy more horses, or upgrade your buildings to hold more horses, or buy things from the in-game store to improve your horses, or well I didn’t really get too far into this; it seems pretty deep really.
Money, however, seemed like a good thing to have more of even if I didn’t quite have a handle on all the uses for it, so questing it was.
After the mini games in the training session, questing was a little disappointing. I opened my mailbox and the first quest was a simple request from a neighbor to go deliver a letter. Accepting this quest sent my unicorn prancing off-screen, leaving me with nothing to do but watch a clock tick away.
A minute or so later, he came back, a little tired, and I got a gift of 30… Well, 30 of whatever the in-game currency represents.
Since he wasn’t too worn out, and since I wanted to keep the money flowing in, I immediately opened and selected the next quest, from a neighbor who needed a horse to plough something.
A minute later, as my unicorn slunk dejectedly back on-screen, something was obviously wrong. He needed medical attention.
In the barn, I was able to do a checkup and determine that he needed medication – medication that was going to wipe out most of my earnings for the day, but essential medicine nonetheless. I dropped the 50 currency on the medicine, got a sparkly hypodermic, and then couldn’t figure out how to actually apply it.
It is an oddly helpless feeling to be staring at a sick unicorn, knowing you hold the key to its recovery, and yet unable to figure out how to make the two interact.
Worse still, when I closed the game to see if I could find any advice online, I apparently exposed a bug that resulted in the game not actually saving my progress, meaning that my unicorn simply poofed into the ether, lost for all time.
Now, this is clearly a game aimed at young girls, and I believe that this sort of bug is simply unconscionable.
Imagine, if you will, that you are the father of a young girl whose magical horse has just fallen ill and then – for all intents and purposes – died.
Imagine the Talk you are about to have with your daughter.
I don’t think the Dead Unicorn Talk is something anyone should have to endure.
That aside, there’s a lot of the game I haven’t seen yet, so it might be worth another go-round if they fix the save issue.
After all, those unicorns won’t brush themselves.