RELEASE DATE: 05/1991 – (JP – Game Toshokan)
The Sega Game Toshokan service in Japan is known for two things:
1) the ability to play and download approximately 41 games from the Internet to a cartridge between 1990 and 1993. This is amazing.
2) A whopping 15 of those games were either Phantasy Star II side-stories or entries in the plentiful Pyramid Magic series. Even if you enjoy perusing Phantasy Star II fan-fiction and/or puzzle-platformers, that’s a lot of digital real estate occupied by only two types of games.
The question is: why did Sega load up their revolutionary online service with 8 PSII text adventures and 7 Pyramid Magic games? The PSII content is mostly mediocre, so your guess is as good as mine with those.
After playing the first Pyramid Magic, however, I understand why Sega kept pumping them out for Game Toshokan. The title (and presumably its sequels) functions as a low-stakes addictive time-waster that’s just deep enough to keep players coming back to the service.
You control an archaeologist who must traverse through a single-screen room. Within each room are stone blocks, treasure chests, a dirty crate, and a floating mummy that guards the exit. To get past the mummy, you break the crate, obtain the red key, open the red treasure chest, get the green key, and unlock the green treasure chest. Out of the latter comes a piece of parchment that dissolves the mummy and opens the exit.
Sounds needlessly convoluted, but easy enough, right? Heavens, no. The meticulously intricate level layouts are designed to have only one way to reach the exit. Don’t even think about pressing pause to study the level layout, either; all you’ll get is a move list for the archaeologist. But hey, if you mess up, you can kill yourself a la Adventures of Lolo and start anew. Extra lives (which you will need) are obtained through completing the levels as quickly as possible.
Thankfully, your archaeologist has quite the advanced move set compared to other puzzle platforming protagonists. They can jump, lift blocks, kick blocks, destroy blocks by jumping on them, and creep under narrow passageways – but only if a block is on their back.
The blocks are key to progression. Knowing when to kick a block to the other side of the screen or drop it down through a hole to the ground – or any number of scenarios – makes all the difference. Trial-and-error is crucial to get a feel for your archaeologist friend and their abilities. Once you do, however, Pyramid Magic quickly falls into that “just one more round” addictive gameplay loop.
Pyramid Magic has 40 levels, which is quite the generous amount of content for a Sega Game Toshokan entry. Unless you’re some sort of stone block-moving savant, you’ll be chipping away at these rooms (oh my, yes) for many hours. Meanwhile, the PSII text adventures are easily completed in 45 minutes or less; yet another reason to toss them into the fire of forgetfulness.
No, Pyramid Magic won’t alter the course of your existence for the better, but it is a surprisingly fresh take on the underappreciated puzzle/platforming genre. Fresh for now, anyway. Not sure how I’ll feel after playing Pyramid Magic Special, Pyramid Magic II, and Pyramid Magic III. Hopefully the formula holds!
Sad Day, Maybe
While the Pyramid Magic series did receive 7 entries, all on the Sega Game Toshokan service, only four of them have been recovered: Pyramid Magic I, II, III and Special.
Pyramid Magic Yokokuhen, Pyramid Magic Editor, and Pyramid Magic Sōshuuhen have all been lost to time.