If you release these one way they tend to be projectiles, or at least directional. Released another way, they affect your character. Yet another way, and they expand in a circle around you. Finally, if you melee attack while you've got an element ready, then you perform a special attack.
So there are at least four ways to release every spell. Before, that is, you add in the effects of say, lightning on wet enemies, or water on frozen ones. And also before you get to "Magicks". These are super-spells that you pick up from Grimoires as you go along, in either the adventure mode or challenge modes.
You can cycle through them with the mouse wheel but they require particularly complex combinations to trigger. They basically comprise stuff that's too powerful for you to be able to use from the beginning - summonable elementals, super-speed, grease (terrifyingly effective if set on fire), instant-kill thunderbolts from heaven and so forth.
As you combine elements before releasing them, your character slows down. So if you're going for something huge, like conflagration, you'll either need to have sped yourself up using the haste Magick, or be prepared to take evasive manoeuvres to keep yourself alive.
If you die, you can blame no one but yourself as all the tools to survive were at your disposal. Most of the time, that is; annoyingly, the most common cause of death is being thrown off the level by a huge explosion or strong enemy.
This can sometimes be avoided by turning yourself to stone, but generally these insta-kills can only be tolerated if you know you'll be resurrected in one second by your multiplayer mate. Otherwise, getting knocked off the side of the tallest staircase in the world by a blow that hardly touched you is misery, and misery squared with the game's miserly check-pointing.
The enemies are definitely worthy of praise for their variety and canny design, though they are easy to kite. Each of the troopers has immunities and weaknesses. They range from the armoured orc-types who need to be soaked in water, then electrocuted, to leviathan mortar and hammer-wielding armoured giants who are best disposed of with grease and fire. The huge range of hedge-wizards, witches and sorcerers offer the toughest battles of the game, matching you spell for spell.
Then there's the plot. [Spoiler alert: the events described in the next few paragraphs take place in the first third of the game, so skip on a bit if you're all about surprises.]
About a third of the way through, we encounter a bottomless pit. Unusually, this is a very good sign. In front of it is standing a messenger, the bearer of bad news. In front of him is the King, a raging, powerful figure who we've only seen once before.
Back then he was tied to his throne, about to be chopped up by the laser of a troll-powered Bond-styleDoomsday machine, shortly before he picked up a wizard crackling with electricity and hurled him down a pit, in an homage to Star Wars.
Now it must be time for the 300 parody, surely. The cry of "This! Is! Magicka!", shortly before booting said messenger down the inexplicably convenient bottomless pit.
The messenger says his piece about only 50 men facing unmatchable odds and the king. Then he mumbles for a second, agrees that it's lunacy, and sends in the wizards (that's you) as a disposable first wave. So not only do the Magicka boys understand the basics of a running joke - they understand how to subvert it, while creating a believable world where wizards are basically hateful idiots. In about two sentences, with one visual cue. Excellent stuff.
Paradox has been patching Magicka hugely regularly, and the patches finally seem to have fixed the netcode. It's hugely disappointing that this astounding game should be so crapulent at launch; it has the best magic system we've experienced, Pratchett-esque wit and immense variety. The arena mode alone is perfect fun, in a Team Fortress way, though it's crying out for PvP.
It's long, it's tough, it's huge fun, and it's cheap. But it will never be perfect.
8 / 10