By: Leland Flynn III
I think that it’s pretty safe to assume that anyone who has ever played a video game has probably played some form of a Breakout clone whether they were aware of it or not. The concept is such a simple one that this type of game is passed over by most gamers as “casual”. While the term may be apt when describing a game where the object is to bounce a ball off of a player controlled platform to break bricks at the opposite end of the screen, I don’t think that “casual” is a valid way to describe Wizorb. This game is astoundingly deep when it comes to mechanics which makes it a blast to play. But there is a catch: this game is also frustratingly difficult.
Needs More Cutscenes
Wizorb is a game with purpose. Or at least that’s what the opening text crawl would have us believe. A few paragraphs lay out the premise for the game and, as one might expect, it is every inch a boiler-plate fantasy story with something about evil, wizards, and knights. You might be wondering why on earth a Breakout clone would even need a story. This little bit of explanation is given with the intent of establishing a reason for this game not being just another run-of-the-mill brick breaker. While I admire the idea, I do not admire the execution as this feels unnecessary. No one is going to care about the story of this game. This all being said, the game establishes that you play a Wizard who practices an arcane art known as Wizorb and must use it to destroy some vague evil plaguing the land. I hate to be harsh here. I get what the developer was going for but it serves no purpose. I would have been much happier with no context at all. The story is essentially never visited again in the entire game adding another mark against the validity of its existence.
Fire The Magic Missiles!
On the surface, this game plays much as you might expect you serve your orb, hit your target bricks, and do your best to bounce the ball off of your platform wand. Rinse and repeat. Simple right? Well Wizorb has a lot more in store for you, dear player. Try following this pattern while also contending with enemies who will bat the orb back at odd angles, sneakily placed warps that move the orb across the screen, or deviously crafted block arrangements that are clearly meant to torture you. Then try all this while being taunted with power-ups, gold coins, and jewels that fall out of blocks ever so distantly from your orb. To make matters even more difficult, some of the blocks are cursed and will drop de-buffs that if touched may slow down your wand movement or leech your precious gold coins!
To aid you in your pursuit against the previously mentioned vague evil, you have a few magic spells that you can cast. I mean duh, you are a wizard after all. You have the standard fireball spell that can be used to break bricks or attack enemies on the screen. You also have a costly teleport spell that will let you drop your orb anywhere on the screen where there is not a brick. Add to this a few control spells that let you influence the movement of the ball and you have a fairly respectable arsenal at your disposal.
This game has some of the most challenging (read: infuriating) level design I have seen in quite some time. The progression of difficulty is not steep but I assure you there will come a time while playing this game that you will suddenly start failing repeatedly. Each ball lost counts against your lives; these lives can be replenished by picking up extras as they fall out of bricks or by purchasing them from many of the shops located throughout the games worlds with those precious gold coins that you have been collecting. You can also purchase a few shop exclusive power-ups such as a wand enlargement and a super ball that hits for double damage. If you expend all of your lives, you are given a limited number of continues. Once these too are exhausted, you have the option of purchasing another continue for 250 gold or simply starting the entire world over again. This can be an especially frustrating thing if you have no more gold and are almost to the boss battle for the current world.
Oh the boss battles! They are my favorite things about this game. Each one feels completely different and while none are anywhere near as difficult as some of the standard levels, they can be very troublesome in their own right. Some will simply deflect all direct attacks and force you to get creative. Others require you to be nimble and watch for patterns. In this right I am very much reminded of classic Mega Man boss battles. It’s very clear that these were designed with a lot of care.
Pixels Are Still Sexy
I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this that making “retro” style games has become very popular over the past few years. I’ve heard some people say that it’s been done to death and you know what? Those people are wrong. This game looks like it could have been a classic NES title. From the title screen to the sprites, everything is crafted in loving 8-bit glory. I call the design style 8-bit but it’s quite clear that the color palette and some of the animations would simply not have been possible on the 8-bit systems of my youth. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that this could have been a Commodore 64 game.
The art in this game is an exercise in economy of design. We get a lot of detail that is suggested very simply and cleanly. Again I look at the well-designed bosses of the game, these are absolutely some of my favorite low-bit style characters. This game does a lot with its willfully limited aesthetic and it does so very well. It’s fair to say though that without the wide color palette, this game would be much less enjoyable to look at and possibly less fun to play. Everything is washed in bright and vibrant squares of color making this game absolutely beautiful to look at. This leads to some truly stunning levels. I actually felt a little bad at times destroying the game designer’s hard work in my quest to vanquish unknown evils.
Final Thoughts – Is It Worth Your Money?
Wizorb is a very good game for a very good price at $2.99. It held my continued interest over the course of its 60 levels and kept me playing even when I felt frustrated. I had a lot of fun playing it and loved just looking at the art in the game. Overall I feel like it breathed some new life into a classic style of arcade game, I would love to see what they do with a sequel.
Wizorb Technical Summary:
- Time Played – 5 Hours
- Widescreen Support – Yes
- 5.1 Audio Support – No
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered – None
- Demo – No
- Control Scheme – Keyboard and Mouse
- DRM – Steamworks
- System Specs – Core2 Quad @ 3GHz, 4GB RAM, 1GB Radeon 4850
- Game Acquisition Method – Personal Purchase
- Availability – Steam