Magrunner: Dark Pulse PS3 review – Puzzler keeps its finger on the… hang on, I’m stuck

Peanut butter and jam. Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie. A 50ft gorilla and a half-naked blonde starlet. Your physics teacher was right: opposites really do attract. Although magnetising different coloured cubes to solve platform puzzles isn’t quite as exciting as some King Kong-sized foreplay. Sadly.

Magrunner: Dark Pulse PS3 review

An obscure object lesson in noodle-scratching physics work, Magrunner puts the ‘S’ and an army of Frank Gallaghers into the word ‘shameless’. In fact, I’d advise GLaDOS, Chell and Wheatley to take out 500ft restraining orders sharpish, because this puzzler has clearly been hiding in the bushes with a particularly observant pair of binoculars watching Portal’s every move.

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That’s not to say it’s a derivative mess. On the contrary, Dark Pulse is a seriously clever cookie, serving up dozens of well-constructed conundrums. The basic premise is simple: you manipulate block and elevator platforms with a physics-powered glove to solve puzzles. The game uses a basic colour-coding scheme to help explain its systems: a red block repels a green one and vice versa, while two cubes of the same colour get pulled together. In action this means standing on a red platform and turning a nearby switch the same colour sucks you towards it, creating an impromptu floating escalator.

While puzzles are satisfying when you wrap your grey matter around them, the game does a poor job of initially explaining its mechanics. One of the many reasons Portal 2 was such a success was how elegantly and seamlessly it introduced new ideas. Over the course of 15 hours I never once had to use a guide. But here? I was straight on a coach to Cheaty Walkthroughville.

Magrunner Dark Pulse owes a huge debt to Portal but doesn’t match its intelligence.

The learning curve on display is akin to having an advanced calculus quiz shoved in front of your schnoz then being shoved out of a plane without a pen… or a parachute. In the early stages, such stern puzzles can be hugely dispiriting – something that could have been easily avoided if Magrunner was more patient in explaining its mechanics. That said, if you have the endurance to withstand the first couple of hours, progression becomes much more intuitive.

This is also a game that evolves really smartly on a visual environment front. Think you’ve got it clocked by its first dozen sterile test chambers? Prepare to be shot to the stars – quite literally. Yes, the plot is utter pap (imagine The Hunger Games replacing Jennifer Lawrence’s hot archery with a jumbled conspiracy involving mutants) and its visuals are sinfully fugly, but Magrunner can pull you in if you have the legs for a taxing-but-muddled brain workout. An unrefined Portal-lite it may be, but this first-person puzzler occasionally weaves sharply spun noggin teasers to provide some proper ‘Eureka!’ moments.

Our Score

Score: 6