You'd think that being able to do magic would make things like running a magic shop a snap. Just wave your wand and POOF everything is taken care of. Well, turns out it's not all that easy, if Mystic Emporium is any indication. In fact, it's going it take all of your time-management skills to be a successful magic shop owner and satisfy the mystical people and creatures of the realm.
In Mystic Emporium you play Lilly, a young witch who, after working for some time at the magical library, decides to try her hand at running a magic store. She comes upon an old store owner who would like to take a well-deserved break from the business. Lilly takes over and her career begins. It'll be up to Lilly and her Miyazaki-inspired black cat to keep things going day-to-day to keep the shop open and lucrative.
During the course of the day, various witches, wizards, and creatures will enter the store, and it's your job to serve them in a timely manner. The goods Lilly sells are not just pick-up and go. They require some attention before they're ready to be sold. Potions must be mixed, berries must be grown, and magical items must be enchanted. Potions require that you first gather ingredients from your shelves and mix them in a cauldron. At first, potions only require one or two ingredients, but soon they will require more ingredients than you can carry at once, forcing you to make multiple trips to the shelves. Of course, you can only mix one potion at a time in the cauldron. Eventually, you will be able to purchase additional cauldrons, and upgrade the ones that you have. You will also be able to purchase other upgrades for the shop, including more shelves for magical items, objects to help keep your customers patient, new shoes to make Lilly move faster, and other things to spiff up the store.
Your customers don't have all day to wait for their wares, and they will let you know it. A small meter beside each patron shows their patience level. When that disappears, so does your customer, along with their money. The faster you serve them, the more money they leave. Collect enough cash by the end of the day to progress to the next level. If you can beat the expert goal, you'll get a bonus as well.
In between some levels, you are faced with a match-3 puzzle much like SameGame. As you make matches of a particular color, you slowly fill up a potion bottle. Once the bottle is full, the mini-game is finished, and you are rewarded with a special charm. These charms will do things such as giving you a greater chance that customers will leave a tip. Interestingly enough, the mini-game is sponsored by an actual real-world energy drink, Mana Energy Potion.
Back in the main game, as the customers come faster and faster, you will need to be able to think a number of steps ahead to make sure that you can serve them in a timely manner. Mystic Emporium allows you to queue up moves, regardless of how fast Lilly is moving. This lets you plan out her path and allows you to concentrate on future requirements while Lilly goes through the motions. You can gain more speed if you can memorize the ingredients for the spells, allowing you to go directly to the shelves after adding the spell to the cauldron instead of waiting for the cauldron to tell you what ingredients to add. In the later levels, if Lilly is standing still, then you're might be missing something!
Analysis: I was initially afraid that Mystic Emporium was going to be a simple retread of Miriel the Magical Merchant, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this game stand well on its own feet. The subject matter may be similar, but Mystic Emporium adds quite a bit to the formula, making the player concentrate on a number of different processes for getting the customers what they are asking for. From the couple of clicks required to sell a magical item to the eight or nine clicks required to produce a potion, you really need to keep your wits about you when the game enters the higher levels.
The graphics and animation in the game are nicely done; the visuals are very consistent and animations are smooth. There are some really nice effects for magical spells. The backgrounds are detailed, and the different ingredients and magical objects are distinct enough that you will not mistake one for another. The character designs all have their own custom animations for coming into and leaving your shop, and each have a very distinct look.
One minor problem I have with the game begins to manifest itself when the action gets particularly frenzied. The cauldron has two different areas that it can be clicked. You click on the top of the cauldron to start a spell and to add ingredients. To start the process of brewing the spell, you click on the bottom of the cauldron. As I found myself frenetically clicking around the screen in order to keep up with everything, I would often click on the wrong part of the cauldron at the wrong time, which would bring Lilly's chain of commands to an abrupt stop as the remaining clicks no longer were valid. You simply have to be aware of where you are clicking at all times.
Mystic Emporium is an excellent addition to the vast number of games in the time-management genre. The gameplay is solid, the presentation is professional, and most of all, it's fun! Can you help keep Lilly in business? Check it out and give it a try!