Mages and Treasures is about as no-nonsense as a game gets. A mage turns their back for five seconds, only to find that their treasure has been yoinked and spread over six realms. So they grab their wand and head out to regain their life savings, massacring woodland creatures on the way.
Think of Mages and Treasures as the dungeons in a Legend of Zelda game, sewn together. All of the towns, townsfolk and world exploration get chucked out as offcuts, and what you’re left with is sprawling dungeons revealed room by room, ranks of enemies, and a boss at the end of each floor. On the way, there are block-pushing puzzles that reveal heart containers to boost life points, and magic containers to increase fire-rate. It’s even got the same map.
It’s not the worst game to emulate. Legend of Zelda didn’t deviate from this formula for decades. And Mages and Treasures isn’t quite as devoid of its own ideas as we’ve made out.
The first few moments of Mages and Treasures might not lead you to this immediate conclusion. It’s a confusing five minutes, as the optimal way to play isn’t exactly clear. Sure, you can move around and fire spells from your wand with the A button if you want, and it’s even presented as the main way to play, but going down that path only leads to death and frustration. To get anywhere in the game, you need to play it as a twin-stick shooter. You need to be using the RT button to fire, and use the second analogue stick to strafe. This allows you to move out of the way of projectiles at the same time as being on the offensive. We’re not quite sure why it’s not promoted as the only way to play, but there you go.
The second rule for getting the most out of Mages and Treasures is to consider reducing the difficulty down to Easy for the first level only. This is a bit counter-intuitive, and the game’s balancer should probably have been on this, but the game’s hardest enemy – the frigging spider – is on the first level, and two hits will kill your limited-health character. On the default difficulty, death means losing coins, which is used to purchase health increases, which in turn allows you to survive more spider hits. It’s all too easy to end up in a spiral where you have no coins and no survivability against spiders, and to toss away the pad in frustration. But do the dirty and dip into Easy Mode if you’re struggling, just for the first few spider rooms, and you will gain enough health to not have to worry any more. And those spiders disappear for a bit, too.
We want to get the sandpaper out and smooth off these two issues, because Mages and Treasures is well worth a pick-up, particularly at that £4.99 price. Once you have a handle on the twin-stick controls and navigated the spider-hump, it’s near-frictionless, and you can focus on working through pretty large dungeon maps. There’s some branching here and there, so you can choose your path to the boss, and it has a deft approach to collectibles, where they are completely optional but definitely useful, so you can choose to spend time pushing blocks or killing enemies to get them. There’s a fair amount of agency in how you want to approach Mages and Treasures.
Combat isn’t anything spectacular, but it has a reasonable rhythm of backing away from charging enemies and dodging the bullets of ranged enemies, before picking them off one by one. We’d have taken a bit more variety – they don’t really deviate from these two templates – but Mages and Treasures is a compact game, taking no more than a couple of hours to complete and even less to get 1000G, so the enemy repetition doesn’t gall.
The lack of variety stretches to the puzzles, too, which are almost exclusively Sokoban box-pushing games. They’re on the easy side, sometimes acting more like makework than actual brainteasers, as the only concern is getting a barrel stuck in a corner. But by avoiding anything too onerous, they don’t get in the way – they’re mostly there as a change of pace.
Even the bosses are one-note and easy: dragons, wizards and giants that are blown away in a few minutes. But they gently prod at you, requiring you to do something different without forming even one-thousandth of the difficulty of an Elden Ring boss. Killing them nets you a new amulet, which gives you new attacks, but they don’t do much more than offer increased range and a fancy new colour. But we enjoyed unlocking them nonetheless.
Writing the review, it’s clear that Mages and Treasures is more than the sum of its parts. You could nitpick about its mechanics individually, and they wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. They certainly don’t do anything that you could mistake for ‘new’ or ‘innovative’. But I felt myself falling under its spell. It’s a woozy, sleepy spell, that allowed me to charge through its levels and complete it with barely a life lost. But I enjoyed being under its glamour: I emerged feeling like I had got my £4.99’s worth, and the colourful world and satisfying pace meant I was always entertained.
And that’s how the majority of Mages and Treasures goes. It’s an action-adventure dungeon-crawler as meditation, a relaxed romp around dungeons that feel like they’ve already been cleared out by Link. The lack of challenge won’t be for everyone, and the harder difficulties don’t offer that player much in the way of salvation. But if you fancy a budget Legend of Zelda that gently warms up your muscles, then Mages and Treasures has all the charm and unlockables that you could possibly want.
You can buy Mages and Treasures from the Xbox Store