Incantation was made so late in the lifetime of the Super NES (1996) that it surprises me that it was even released at all. Character recognition certainly wasn't going to get this game anywhere, and neither was Titus's "reputation". Although I'm positive I heard of it somewhere before (maybe in Nintendo Power magazine), I know the first time I ever actually saw it was in the SNES bin at Funcoland. I thought maybe I had discovered some long-lost little gem of a sidescroller. Instead, what I got was a painful example of why everyone hates Titus.
Clearly, the best thing about Incantation is its graphics. They look very similar to the Playstation/PC game Rayman. The artists had a lot of competency in creating forests, swamps, caves, and mountains full of parallax scrolling and neat color layering and shading effects. Your hero character is a well-animated boy wizard with an "attitude". The medieval snowbound town is somewhat impressive, too.
As good as some of these graphics are, they're a bit too repetitious. Those caves made of melting skulls look cool at first, but we're talking three levels in a row of nothing but that! Bosses are often repeated, sometimes with palette-swapping, and sometimes without. There are very few enemies, and much like the bosses, the same ones are used over and over again.
Incantation's sound is forgettable, to say the least. Instead of medieval, epic, or creepy tunes, most levels have an obnoxious theme accommodated by a thumping bass that repeats every few notes. Sound effects are few and far between, and most are muffled or standard.
Incantation has some major problems with its play control, the first being a momemtum factor. The boy does not stop immediately upon letting go of the control pad, which makes it all too easy to slide off of ledges or run into enemies. Making precision jumps can be tough, but the game is so poorly designed that it hardly ever requires you to do so, anyway. For some inexplicable reason, the same button used for running is also used for performing another move, which can cause difficulty when executing long jumps. To make matters even worse, your character's sprite is exceptionally large, making him a huge target! Even though there aren't that many enemies, I've gotten hit by most of them at least once because of this.
I do not have Incantation's manual and the game does not have an opening story or cinema, so I don't really know exactly what it's supposed to be about. But as near as I can tell, it's about a good boy wizard who is on a quest to defeat an evil wizard. The characters and settings are very cartoon-like, and the boy's animations emote a sly attitude (which doesn't seem to make much sense, but that was the trend back then).
I don't really mind generic plots in sidescrollers, but Incantation seems a bit too generic. With a cool title like "Incantation", I would've thought there'd be a lot more sorcery and mysterious magic going on, but there isn't. The game feels more like a disguised, inferior Mega Man clone. The "spells" are nothing more than mere power-ups for your boy's arm cannon, oops..magic wand. The ending is merely one screen of text. (Sorry for the spoiler, but trust me, I felt I had to mention that.) And there's something really bizarre about this game that I couldn't help but notice...
When the boy takes a hit, he makes a noise like a cat. In fact, it sounds almost exactly like the cat character in the SNES game, Claymates. Not only that, but he makes a weird face upon getting damaged, and I could swear it looks like he has pointed teeth...like a cat! Why is this boy so catlike? Was Titus planning to make the main character a cat and changed it at the last moment? Also, the boy is pictured on the title screen riding on a broom (like a witch), but he never does this during the actual game
Incantation plays similarly to the Mega Man games. Your wizard character shoots fireballs from his magic wand, and you can find different "spells" that change the fireballs into other things like a homing beam and bombs. The object of each stage is to find three golden feathers, which usually aren't very well-hidden, so that you can move onto and defeat the boss.
Maps are haphazardly laid out. It's not unusual to go through a level that basically consists of a flat ground with very few pits and obstacles, and even these would pose little threat if it weren't for the squirrely play control. Enemies, both minor and bosses, take far too many hits to be defeated. The bosses all have one simple, predicatable pattern that's so easy to learn, you'll be fighting the boss long after you've proven you have the ability to avoid it. This is especially tedious considering you will often fight the same exact boss, with no new attacks or patterns, three levels in a row.
One area of the game showed a little more potential in level design than the others, and that is a mountain where you have to move upwards while avoiding one-hit-kill rocks that bears drop on your head. Unfortunately, even this falls flat as any kind of an action challenge, because I only got hit by the rocks when I couldn't see them coming, and once I knew they were there, they no longer posed a threat.
Incantation falls short not only in its challenge, but also in its fun and playability. I admit that I love a good challenge, and I think the truly best games are those that test the utmost skills of the player. But I have played and enjoyed many games that didn't quite achieve that level, such as Super Mario Bros. 2, SkyBlazer, and Mega Man 2, because they had other charms, like fun or original gameplay, excellent play control, and moments of excitement. Incantation has none of these. I beat it with very minimal effort after just a few hours of seriously playing it. Well, I actually had trouble with one jump in the mountain level, because I hadn't yet figured out how to run. But once I passed that, I blew through the rest of the game, and even beat the final boss on my first try. To say Incantation is "uninspired" is an understatement. It consists of the bare essentials of a playable game and nothing more.
I wouldn't have been too happy if I had paid full price for Incantation. I try not to make fun of or be too hard on games, but this is not a game I can go easy on. I often hear people talk of how many sidescrollers produced near the end of the Super NES's life lacked decent gameplay, and the only purpose Incantation could ever serve is to be more fodder for that argument. Had the main character really been a cat, the game may have scored some brownie points with me, but that would've been it.
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