Magic Pockets is a platform game by the Bitmap Brothers from 1991, it fits on 1 disk. I think that the first time I became aware of this game was when I saw it used as a phone in game during a live UK Saturday morning kids show called Motormouth, which incidentally was filmed less than a mile away from this very desk. Players would shout instructions down the phone and an off screen player would oblige. The segment was presented by Andy Crane who would later go on to present Bad Influence on CITV, a show dedicated to gaming on consoles and home computers of the time.
The Bitmap Brothers were well known for using music by recording artists in their works and true to form, before you have seen anything on screen Magic Pockets kicks off with a shortened version of Doin’ The Do by Betty Boo. A popular tune released in 1990 that got into the top 10 of the chart. Despite being over far too quickly the tune is great, the Amiga is put to good use recreating a slightly stripped back version of the lively tune using what seem to be the actual samples.
We then meet the Bitmap Kid (from here on referred to as BK). Being 90’s cool he wears sneakers and prefers to wear his baseball cap to the side. The pockets on his trousers are the titular Magic Pockets. We get a quick animated intro that shows us all of these points using small windows in a comic book type fashion.
Leave the game alone and the intro is repeated followed by a demo play through of the entire first level.
BK’s adventure is split into 4 worlds with each world containing 5 to 8 stages. The worlds are Caves, Jungle, Lakes and Mountains. The plot revolves around our young hero setting out to recover all his lost toys, his bike, boxing glove, space hopper and diving helmet…..what you didn’t have a diving helmet as a kid?
Each world brings a new set of enemies, new special features, a unique task and a new main weapon.
The main weapon is activated by plunging your hand into your pocket…..the longer you leave your hand in there the more powerful the result will be. I know it sounds dodgy but relax as the only things you will pull out of those trousers are whirlwinds, clouds, ice cubes and snowballs. You do this by holding down the fire button. Some enemies can take multiple small hits to destroy, if they are fast moving then this can become a problem but luckily there are a few standard ways to dispatch your foes. As you hold the fire button down you will see the pocket bulge get bigger and bigger, once it reaches maximum size you can release the largest and most powerful pocket attack available. During the first world it is a large whirlwind that can instantly contain a single enemy, some may require a second hit as the first will only knock them over causing them to see stars for a short time. Once the enemy is contained the whirlwind will remain where it is for a short period of time. If you can touch it before it vanishes you will burst the enemy and be rewarded with an item. If you can fall into it your reward will be multiple items. You can control the direction in which you throw your projectile by holding the direction when you release fire, this can be used to good effect when trying to hit enemies on the other side of the screen or on across a gap in the floor. Hitting more than one enemy at the same time with your maximum strength projectile will destroy them both instantly.
As you move through the worlds you will find your thrown weapons have other uses. For example, the clouds you throw in world 2 can float in mid-air allowing you to use them as temporary platforms. They also release a drop of water when they dissipate, if the water hits one of the large plant buds then it will instantly grow into a new set of platforms in a magic beanstalk fashion.
Another method of attack is the spin. Whenever BK is spinning he is invulnerable. A spin is initiated by simply falling. You can also stand in a large whirlwind and pull down, this throws you spinning up into the air. It’s a great way to reach platforms above or kill as many enemies as you can come into contact with before you hit solid ground again. You can control the direction of your spin with left and right to some degree. There are times when you are required to use this technique to continue your journey as the standard jump just won’t allow you to reach the next platform. In world 2, you initiate this spin by standing on top of your thrown cloud and pulling down.
There are a large number of power ups and collectible goodies. Masks will make you invulnerable and spikey, insta-kill helmets dispatch any enemy you touch. You will also come across gas tanks that allow you to throw fireballs and bags which when placed on ground spread nails which act as mines. Collect a milk bottle for an extra life.
Upon first or second play the effects of various pick ups available can seem somewhat random but Magic Pockets has a set of rules running behind the scenes. The manual explains one, at every 5000 points collected and when the next enemy killed using the burst technique the player will be rewarded with a power up. There are also stars to collect. Collect a gold star and a special item appears, the type of the special item is determined by the number of silvers stars you have previously collected. There is a lot to keep track of here so it may be best to just pile in and whatever happens, happens.
Magic Pockets is for the most part pretty slow. BK plods along at a pace that tells you that this isn’t a game to rival Sonic or Superfrog, it’s a game of exploration. Some areas are there simply to provide a few collectibles and power ups and you can ignore them completely if all you want to do is head for the exit. There is no in game map to help you get to that exit but every now and then BK will throw an arrow which points in the general direction you need to travel. There are also some television sets which will show you a zoomed out view of roughly 6 screens worth of the map surrounding you, these are slightly helpful as they allow you see the placement of enemies and a limited view of what is to come.
The only info shown on screen are the number of lives remaining, your score and the power build up gauge. There is no timer as such but if the game decides that you are not making progress quickly enough a BK seeking bubble will be dispatched. If the bubble gets you then you not only lose a life but your power ups too. You can attack the bubble to destroy it for lots of points, a constant stream of small attacks seems to work best.
There are other methods for getting around. Bubblegum machines dispense gum capable of producing bubbles of such incredible size that you can float up to higher platforms, you can maneuver in flight to avoid enemies. You have no attack while floating so avoidance is your only option. You cannot carry any collected armour with you while you float.
Every now and then you will come across a push bike. Mount it and click fire like crazy (or use auto fire) to build up speed. You will kill anything you hit on the bike and if you get up enough speed you will pop a wheelie! The bike is used for the first special stage of the game which is the last thing you will do before ending world 1. It’s a bike race, you will have to grab a bike and race some Gorillas to the world exit. Go fast and jump to avoid the snail shells left in your path, as they slow you down, the other racers ignore the shells. Rewards are based on your finishing position so switch on autofire.
World 2 takes place in the jungle and this could be the games best looking set of levels. The difficulty ramps up here and you are often up against 5 or 6 enemies at once. The homing wasps are a real nuisance. The special stage is a boxing match with a large jumping Chimpanzee, the only fight of its kind in the game.
World 3 introduces underwater sections. You’ll need a diving helmet to access the water though, the first one is sneakily tucked behind an enemy you’ll need to eliminate to pick it up. The surface of the water can be frozen by throwing your ice cubes. It freezes in sections and the ice can be broken again by falling onto it. If you enter the water without the diving helmet then BK will scrabble around at the surface and you’ll have to throw an ice cube to make a platform. Before you leave this world there is a timed treasure hunt, no enemies just beat the clock. Each treasure chest bags you many points so check everywhere before heading to the exit.
World 4 changes your attack abilities slightly again. This time you are throwing snowballs and once thrown you can push them along the ground to build them up. At full size they will consume enemies as usual but you can also nudge them off of platforms to hit enemies below. In open areas it pays to keep throwing small balls while moving as they build up into a snowy wall of death! You also find a new form of transport in here in the form of a space hopper, it’s no faster than walking but one bounce on the head is enough to kill enemies and while riding you are immune to the homing bubble. Your final challenge is to confront a number of snowmen on space hoppers, survive and its game complete after first collecting the huge amount of high scoring goodies on offer.
Throughout the game airborne nasties will either follow a set path back and forth or they could swoop down to attack you. The wasps of world 2 will slowly fly towards you when they notice you. Bad guys who require solid ground to get around move at various speeds. Generally, those that move faster are more likely to jump around the platforms so be prepared to get out of the way or lay a trap. Some enemy types to develop new skills as you progress. The green blobs will learn to spit at you and how to jump up small steps. Frogs while content with hopping about at first will soon start shooting their tongues out at you.
Complete a level and you get a quick reprise of the title tune and BK will give you a wink, bow, wipe his brow or issue a thumbs up. Your collected goodies are dispensed of, each one earning you some bonus points.
Sound is pretty good. The in game effects are all high quality and are very clear. You might think that they are a bit minimal at times though. Gaps between action are accompanied only by the tap of BK’s feet as he walks and jumps. Occasionally a jump will be accompanied by “hup!” with other sampled speech including “oww” and “yeah”, that last one being reserved for when something really good happens. Sometimes events off screen can be overheard, the opening of an exit or an enemy bashing its way through some blocks. Sadly, the only music you will hear in game is when you complete a level or lose a life. The tone of the tune is either happy or sad depending upon what just happened. The option for in game music could have been a welcome addition but the effects with the occasional musical sting works well. The level complete music feels like a reward.
Graphically, Magic Pockets is clearly a Bitmap Brothers game. It shares a certain style with their other platformer, Gods. No surprise that they share the same graphic artist, Mark Coleman. Not that you could get the two mixed up but there is a resemblance. Clearly this game was written for the Atari ST’s 16 colour mode and sadly nothing was done to up that number for the Amiga. The game makes the most of the limited palette through diligent use of dithering and while the first world can seem a bit bland things pick up in world 2. While there is always a foreground and a background there is sadly no parallax effect used. Enemies all move smoothly and are well drawn and animated, with each level containing its own unique set. Technically nothing special appears to be going on, the real effort seems to have been put into the unusual gameplay. Not such a bad thing as we know the Amiga had its fair share of games full of clever effects but not much gameplay.
Amiga Magic Pockets Verdict
It pays to take your time and explore. As you do and as you learn how to use your changing abilities you will realise that a lot of thought has been put into this game. Level design changes from world to world, each one forcing you to use your current skills to progress. Yes, it can be frustrating but it has enough secrets and little moments where you work out what you can and need to do that it is quiet addictive.
There are times when some slowdown is noticed. It is always present on the end of level screens when BK’s pockets are emptied. So many items fly out at once and the engine just cannot cope. It is seen to a lesser extent when there are a high number of enemies on the screen during play.
- A very polished production.
- Unique visuals.
- New game mechanics with each world.
- Great music and interesting audio.
- No set time limit, you can beat the bubble!
- The graphics weren’t upgraded for the Amiga version.
- No in game music option.
- Some unfair/tricky level design.
- May not initially grab your attention.
- Can be frustrating.
It would be easy to write Magic Pockets off as well presented but boring. It will annoy you as some situations can seem overwhelming but I urge you stick with it to discover all it has to offer.
Should you need to you can skip levels using hidden warps. The methods needed to activate these warps are listed on the Bitmap Brothers own website.