Super Cane Magic ZERO Deep Look
It’s meant to be enjoyed, but not necessarily understood.
Once upon a time last Thursday in the magic land of WOTF, the grand wizard Cake the Wizard, who made only cake, passed away from complications of a loud sneeze over a delicious breakfast of suspicious-looking cake salad. He was survived by his magic cane, AAAH!, which was actually a dog because dumb Latin puns are cool. The cane that was a dog ran yippily-yappily amok, zapping everything in sight willy-nilly until mountains were sideways, the sea was upside-down, candy rained down from the heavens, the moon was coated in a lovely couverture chocolate, and the world in general had broken a little. In the middle of the chaos, the Hero rode down from the heavens on a comet. Or perhaps they were a comet. Either way, they’re summarily arrested for property damage and illegal parking / crater formation. Not long after they arrive at the jail, the president of the world resigns and all laws are nullified, so the Hero is released to find his destiny. And the dog. Maybe some cake, too.
If you think this sounds interesting, then Super Cane Magic ZERO might be a game for you. If you think the above paragraph is a word salad sprinkled with bacon bits of gibberish, then, well… you’re not wrong. Be forewarned: that was literally the first five minutes of the game, and it only delves deeper into the gonzo as things continue. SCM-ZERO makes no pretense of sense whatsoever, instead reveling in odd segues and flashes of illogic. It’s meant to be enjoyed, but not necessarily understood.
This goes a long way towards explaining why it was less than ten bucks at the used games store here in Japan. I’m sure that the localization into Japanese from the original Italian or English was serviceable, but there is no chance that it made any sense.
The least bizarre place to start is with the combat. SCM-ZERO sees the player’s chosen avatar — whose name is likely to be some variation of Dude — running around either shooting things with guns and magic or whacking them over the head with swords, clubs, or artisanal baguettes. This game leans into the insanity as it provides an action RPG experience with oddball weapons and offhand items of myriad effects. Most items or attacks with elemental powers will cost small amounts of MP per use, though that quickly refills in quiet moments. More interesting is how anything the player finds on the ground can be picked up and thrown at enemies, including other enemies that have been knocked over by strong attacks. Prone enemies tend to right themselves quickly, gaining a rage boost at the same time, so it’s always in the player’s favor to pick one up to slam into other foes, or even into bits of random scenery, for the extra damage it incurs.
Likewise, the game’s zones are littered with items, many edible and the rest theoretically edible. For the most part it is possible to guess how an item will act when thrown, e.g. nuts and melons will break into more readily consumable pieces, while boxes will unload explosively into the face of enemies. Drinks almost always deliver water damage when tossed, while the goods from the Lava Bakery tend to burst into fireballs no matter how they’re used. Finally, anything with the slightest hint of curvature to it — be it croissant, hockey stick, melon slice, or miniature model map of the Japanese archipelago — will act like a boomerang when thrown. Making use of every resource is both fun and essential in single-player mode, wherein the Hero needs all the luck they can get.
That is because this game was made for multiplayer raids, and it shows from the moment the starting screen loads up with four character slots. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be an AI setting for the player to use for the various Dude avatars or the recruitable characters one finds over the course of the game. Not having one-to-three friends available for the local co-op feature, I was obliged to take on later levels such as the Lava Bakery or the monastery on Mt. Laser Volcano by myself, which did not end well the first dozen or so times. SCM-ZERO gives the player a set number of lives upon entering a new zone via travel gate, with the number varying according to the difficulty level chosen when the game file was first created. More 1-ups can be found, won, or purchased, and sometimes it is worth sacrificing the current life for the explosive cometary re-entry the Hero performs soon after.
One last thing to exacerbate the single-player lifestyle is the way the game handles experience gating. As the player gains levels in SCM-ZERO three things happen: one, they receive points to put into the game’s multiple skill trees; two, higher-level items become available at set tiers; three, enemies become stronger at those same tiers. The sticking point is the first one, because the skill trees are gated behind major events. The very first such skill tree lets the player fill out everything, given enough levels for points, but the later trees force a choice between mutually exclusive sides. These skill trees are the only way to increase the player’s base power and stats. So at any given time, the player’s strength is limited by how many skill trees are available, while the strength of enemy forces is tiered according to the player’s actual level. By the end of my time with this game, I was stuck for getting the later skill trees due to how enemy strength had outpaced my own. Local co-op would have helped with the areas I was stuck on, but again, that was not really an option for me.
The best thing to be said of the graphics in SCM-ZERO is that they are consistent to a style, that of the Italian comic book artist Sio, which could charitably be compared to Picasso’s Early Crayon Stick Figure Period. Everything is bright, colorful, and so oddly proportioned that it somehow comes back around to looking alright in context. On the Switch, the sheer number of enemies in later levels can lead to slowdown issues, but the monsters themselves are always cute, cheerful bundles of murderous intent.
There are a few other bugs worth mentioning for the Switch version. The most frequent one occurs when a player runs out of lives and is booted back to the world map. Less frequently it may happen when using a gate to exit to the world map instead. Either way, the game crashes, but since exiting an area is always preceded by an auto-save, no progress is lost. The same cannot be said for whatever bug randomly crashes the game at the armor depot in the main town. That one is thankfully far rarer, though more annoying. Finally, it is possible to go outside the borders of the main town map using a combination of water-walking and jumping, and then get stuck there without any way out until the game is rebooted. That last one’s more about looking for trouble, though.
I should have more to say, but due to issues with soloing the later levels, I had to give this game up in frustration. If I had some buddies over to mess around with the multiplayer, things might be different, but as it is I shall likely be gifting this game to someone else later in the year. If and when I find someone of a mind to go along with the weirdness. Super Cane Magic ZERO is simply too precious, too uniquely itself, to be appreciated by everyone.