The fourth game in the popular budget Dizzy series, 'Magicland Dizzy' was the first to be produced by Codemasters without the direct involvement of its original creators the Oliver Twins, although they retained supervision privileges to ensure their egg was being looked after. 'Magicland Dizzy' is thus quite similar to its immediate predecessor, 'Fantasy World Dizzy,' but with improvements in graphics and more involved, extended gameplay. Once again, Dizzy's friends and family the Yolkfolk have been transported to a strange, fantastical land by the evil wizard Zaks, and the brave, boxing glove-clad Dizzy sets out to rescue them and return them all home.
This particular game was always one of my favourites, and the first in the Dizzy series to offer a really engrossing and great-looking adventure game, alongside 'Spellbound Dizzy' which was produced at the same time by different staff. The screens are all very nicely detailed and realised, from the opening Stonehenge clearing to the vast castle and ice palace interiors, and the treacherous volcano. Like most games in the series (with the exception of the extensive underground complex in 'Spellbound'), the game primarily involves moving Dizzy to the left or right of each screen to progress to the next, with some important but less prevalent movement up and down, aided by stairs, lifts and cloud hopping. The game is a puzzle adventure, meaning that it plays like a platform game (moving Dizzy with the joystick or keyboard), but progress is made by picking up items and using them in the correct places. There are a number of enemies that need to be avoided, as Dizzy can't harm them - apart from one instance with the ghosts, which is amusingly inspired by PacMan. The player has three lives and an energy bar that depletes with damage, but some obstacles such as the annoying water will kill instantly.
Targeted mainly at children, there's still a lot of enjoyment to be had from 'Magicland' for all ages, even seventeen years after the game was first released. The graphics are fairly basic, though attractive and fully coloured on the more hi-tech Amiga version, but as a simplistic (yet difficult) puzzle game it isn't restricted by age in the way that other games would be, intended as a cheap budget release in the first place. The controls are very easy to master, even if some of the obstacles could do with a little rethinking, and unlike some earlier games in the series, the objects and puzzles are relatively abundant and occasionally even multi-purpose. Continuing from the previous game, Dizzy must use some items on the Yolkfolk themselves in order to rescue them from their fiendishly metaphorical predicaments - for example, the hippie Dylan has been transformed into a bush, while cool Denzil has been frozen in a block of ice. The ultimate objective is to rescue Dizzy's token blonde girlfriend Daisy, who is trapped inside Zaks' ice palace, but the nature of the game means that, while some degree of freedom is granted, many events need to be set in motion in a fairly linear order to progress.
'Magicland' is one of many Dizzy games to feature castles and fields, and the one I view as the most definitive. The fantasy setting is explored better than in the previous game, despite that having 'Fantasy' in the title, with a handsome Prince (well, he's not my type, but that's what he's called), a green witch and even a Billy Goat Gruff. The interaction with these characters and others makes for a more interesting Dizzy game than the first couple, where greedy shopkeepers were pretty much the only contacts, and the map has been nicely designed to stay interesting and not too annoying in the inevitable back and forth travels that constitute most of the playing time. This is an annoying feature of Dizzy games, particularly as there are permanent dangers that must be traversed with every journey, but fortunately the majority of the game takes place roughly in the middle of the map, with only sections near to the end occurring in the ice palace to the far left and the volcano (or is it Hell?) to the far right. This brings up my biggest complaint with the game, which is sadly completely intentional: some areas require jumping from such a specific point that even the most experienced player could slip up and lose, just when they were about to finish. This is most noticeable in the screens between the start and the castle, with both a well and a moat to cross, but is even more dangerous when crossing the witch's lake, particularly as annoying birds swoop down to have a peck at you. They wouldn't like you doing that to their eggs, so why should Dizzy have to put up with it?
Although I will always have a softer spot for its brother 'Spellbound Dizzy' (informally 'Dizzy 5'), 'Magicland' excels in providing a more authentic Dizzy experience, and perhaps even setting the standard. There are no sound effects as usual in these early games, but the music manages to avoid the annoying whistling tone of 'Spellbound' in favour of quite a pleasant tune that repeats endlessly but gives me a lot of nostalgia, so that doesn't present a problem - sadly, it's not quite up to the excellent early standard set by the 'Treasure Island Dizzy' theme. The Dizzy games never looked better than this, despite some cosmetic alterations and side-scrolling introduced to the bigger budget later releases, and the idea of cursing the anthropomorphised Yolkfolk with predicaments that act as metaphors for their personalities is a very nice touch that would be repeated a few times afterwards: gotta love that evil wizard's sense of humour.