When combined, these bizarre mechanics lend The Magic Circle a sense of freedom. Each obstacle you encounter has multiple solutions - perhaps even ones the developers never considered - that you can MacGyver together with glitches and NPC traits. Want to reach a distant cliff? You could throw something with a teleport trait to the other side to beam you over. Or set up a tractor beam that targets the player to carry you. Or give an enemy a repulsor weapon that sends you flying in that general direction. And that's just one puzzle. You're only limited by your imagination and willingness to try something a little unusual.
What's more, there's a very clever emergent story built into the game as well. As you explore, you'll come across in-game commentary and office recordings from a time when everyone expected The Magic Circle would be finished, revealing how everything went wrong. The voice cast is an absolute dream here, from a bitter pro gamer trapped in the company by binding contracts, to a loyal fangirl who worships the original game and its creator. Each character also appears in-game as giant floating eyes to create new challenges that frustrate the player, but as you learn more of their backstories they reveal surprisingly sympathetic characters.
But the best performance, hands-down, goes to The Venture Bros.' James Urbaniak who plays The Magic Circle's lead designer. If you're familiar with his work as Dr. Venture you know this was an inspired choice, wonderfully capturing the drive of an optimistic creator with the pride and hubris that drives him to self-destruction. More so than any other character in this game, you'll hate him one moment only to feel sorry for him the next - to the point that you'll probably despise yourself a little for destroying his dreams.
On the downside, a lot of The Magic Circle's allure evaporates in the final levels. Oh, there are still clever twists on the mechanics, like sabotaging a live E4 gameplay demo or taking complete control of level creation tools. But for the most part, these scenes are hamfisted ways of forcing messages into the story, lacking the playfulness and subtlety of earlier levels. They aren't bad morals - especially in our current games industry - but they're obvious and drag on for too long. I mean, The Magic Circle has three or four end game climaxes that should've been condensed into one - that's going to strain anybody's patience.
Criticisms aside, I still lost several hours to The Magic Circle, looking up to notice it was well past dinnertime. And that's counting the endgame sections which felt out of place with everything that came before. Players looking for something more casual to pass the time may not be the mood to stretch their creative muscles, but The Magic Circle is one of the most wonderfully unique games we've seen this year. If you love games at all - or just like poking fun at how they're made - you cannot miss this gem.
Bottom Line: The Magic Circle is the best "broken" game you've ever played - and a rich satire of the industry to boot.
Recommendation: The hype is real. Play this game.