Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Defense: Wizorb

Having heard of this game recently on GiantBomb, and also hearing that it was created by the same guys who worked on Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, I knew it was likely something I would eventually check out. There was also the fact that it's a retro-styled Arkanoid or Breakout game...and that really got me interested. I've always liked games like that, particularly Arkanoid, so I decided to give Wizorb a shot. You can find it on the XBox Live Marketplace for 240 MS points, or $3.00 in real-world terms (it's also now downloadable on PC!)...and if you're into this kind of video game, it also happens to be more than worth every damn cent.

In Wizorb, you take the role of a wizard named Cyrus who has mastered the titular technique, causing him to turn into an orb and bounce around to destroy bricks using his wand as a paddle to rebound off of. The game begins with a town under attack by what seem to be Kobolds or Werewolves of some sort, and you must destroy them to gain access to the village. When you find yourself in the village of Gorudo, you find it in shambles, and everyone you talk to requires funds to rebuild their homes and services (even a dog wants money...but it's okay because his 8-bit styled barking noise is absolutely hilarious). So you must venture forth into 5 different worlds and make your way through the 12 levels in each, and along the way you'll collect gold that you can use to repair the town and gain rewards. The point of your adventure is, of course, to slay the monsters, destroy every little brick you possibly can, and stop the source of the creatures once and for all.

Welcome to Gorudo, the town of lovingly-crafted pixel art!

How do you do this? By bouncing an orb off of a paddle, of course! In traditional Arkanoid style, your paddle occupies the bottom of the screen, and you move it left or right in an attempt to hopefully keep the orb from going past you, which causes you to lose a life. This is trickier than it sounds, as the orb continuously speeds up and hitting an enemy will cause it to fly off in a direction that's difficult to predict...but luckily, there are other little perks you have that can help you out. Being a wizard, Cyrus has access to multiple spells that you can use to aid you in clearing a map: Fireball, which shoots a projectile straight up and destroys bricks or damages enemies much like the Laser found in classic Arkanoid; Alter, which causes a gust of wind to change the trajectory of the orb slightly; Fire Orb (or so I'm calling it), which sets the orb itself on fire allowing it to bust through any brick or enemy it touches for about 3 seconds; Control, which gives your orb wings and allows you to steer it with the control stick; and Teleport...a spell you can only use upon losing a life and when you have the ball docked at your paddle, which allows you to place the orb anywhere you want on the current level.

How you use these spells is completely up to you...Hell, you could even be really intense and never use them whatsoever if you wanted! They're damn useful though, and you aren't able to use them all the time. The fire spells are employed by pressing A on the 360 controller. The simple projectile fireball shoots when the orb's well away from the paddle, and the Fire Orb spell is triggered by pressing A at the same time the orb hits your wand. Alter and Control work in the same's simple but it's slick and it works great. Your magic use is governed by a meter at the side of the screen that you can replenish by picking up Potions that are dropped from certain destroyed blocks or from enemies. Each spell uses a different amount of your magic bar, so a fireball will only take up about 10% while a terribly handy spell such as Control will use up 30%. It's a good tradeoff system that works very well, making you wonder if you can finish a level without using magic in order to save it for the next, or if you should just blast that last damn brick with a fireball and get it over with before you mess up and lose a life.

If you like to hit things in the face with your orbs, this game is for you!

And let me tell you, you'll damn well be losing lives left, right, and center if you're not careful! I downloaded this game thinking it was going to be a nice little jaunt into retro-land, and wouldn't ABSOLUTELY RUIN MY BRAIN AND LIFE FOR TWO WEEKS. Wizorb is one of those games that's easy to learn, but tough to master and refine. Smacking an enemy with the orb is dangerous because it can fly off at a completely unpredictable angle and lose you a life, and as the ball speeds up, this gets even harder to deal with! In addition, there are curses that come out of certain bricks or can be cast by some enemies that will mess up your day. Such curses can be relatively tame, such as the one that takes 50 gold from your current total...but others are downright nasty. One will speed up the ball to its maximum speed right on the spot, while another will flat out destroy your paddle, eventually resulting in a lost life when the orb finally hits the bottom of the screen. You have to avoid these at all costs.

So getting though a set of 12 levels is not a walk in the park...particularly later on when the layouts get even more devious and require you to make some really good shots, something that's difficult to control when the ball's moving at high speeds. Luckily, you have some other tricks besides your spells that can help you out. Classic powerups make a return to this game, such as one that enlarges your paddle (it doesn't work, no matter what the Internet tells you!), a multi-orb that splits the ball into three, a damage increase that causes the orb to strike bricks and enemies for more damage, and a magnet that causes the ball to stick to the wand so you can line up your shots a bit better...but at the expense of being able to use your Fire Orb and Control spells. These all definitely make your life a bit easier, especially the magnet powerup in the later worlds.

You get these abilities, as well as extra lives or magic refills, by entering stores and purchasing them with your collected gold. Stores are located within levels of the game, as doors along the sides or on the top wall. Sometimes these are opened by hitting a switch somewhere in the current level, while others are locked up and require you to have a key to open them when your orb hits the door. Keys aren't terribly frequent, but you always seem to have enough to open the doors you encounter...they drop from treasure chests quite frequently, which are scattered throughout the levels of the game, and keys are also given to you by some of the residents of Gorudo when you repair their houses. Again though, using stores becomes a trade-off sort of thing in that you need to decide if you'd rather use the gold to fix up the village, or to get through the current world. Gold also can buy you you need to bear that in mind as well! Each time you start a world, you have 3 lives and 3 continues. Once you run out of these free continues, you can continue again by paying 250 gold...otherwise you have to retry the entire world from the beginning. There were many times where I would do terribly at the beginning of a world and restart the entire thing over so I didn't use up continues early and could save them for the tough parts.

Saving up gold and repairing the town should certainly be on your list of priorities, and not only because you're just a nice guy and love to give people you cash to help them out of a shitty situation! Residents of the town will give you various rewards as you help them out. Keys, as previously mentioned, will help you access the shops and bonus stages throughout Wizorb's worlds. You can also get extra lives from them, and a few will even provide you with a neat feature called a Rampart. This is a castle wall that's built behind your paddle in the next world that you go to, so if the ball happens to sneak by you, the Rampart will take a hit but save you a life and rebound the ball back up into play. Ramparts can take 3 hits before they break, so basically it's a set of three extra lives if you play your cards right. There are some other rewards as well, but I can't divulge everything or I'll spoil all of the game's secrets!

Wizorb has a lot of fun in STORE for those that play through it!...sorry.

As I've mentioned before, enemies can be found in many of the levels you'll travel through, and they vary depending on what world you're in. At the beginning, you'll encounter monsters such as Slimes, which bounce around randomly and pretty much wait to be destroyed, while in a later world you'll be plagued by wizards that teleport around the levels at random, making them not only hard to hit, but also causing them to frequently appear in the path of your orb and throw it off, causing you to panic and lose a life. They're simple but devious at the same time, and I was certainly swearing a lot at some of them as I made my way through the game. Each enemy takes 3 hits to kill too, so banishing them all in a level can take quite a bit of work (at least on Hard Mode anyway, the mode I played through on). In addition to enemies, there are bosses at the end of each world. They're pattern-based and certainly beatable, but they're also quite clever at times. I don't want to spoil any of them, but they're definitely a fun deviation from the standard formula of the game and test your reflexes with their various forms of attack.

The presentation of the game is top-notch, with graphics that resemble those of an early Super Nintendo game, or perhaps a PC game from around 1992. Everything is done in well-drawn and fluidly-animated pixel art and it all looks fantastic. The sound effects are clearly 8-bit inspired, and there are even a few nods back to some classic games that you can find within Wizorb. For example, one resident of the town will occasionally say "Welcome to the town of Ruto" by accident, and then apologize and claim that he used to live in a town by that name (found in Zelda II, of course). These little funny touches really show where the mindset of Tribute lies, and there are a few others that pop up...some obvious, and others that are extremely hard to notice unless you've got a keen eye.

The one weak point of Wizorb, I find, is the music. It's also done in a retro 8-bit style fashion, but none of the music really had me humming it afterwards or anything. It's not terrible or anything, and I feel like maybe it was made to be simple and somewhat low-key so as to not be a huge distraction to the player...but I found myself selecting from the music on my 360's hard drive to play to. In the grand scheme of things, though, this is a small gripe and it's one that's completely subjective and dependent on who's playing the game. Maybe others think Wizorb has a great soundtrack, but I had Metric on in the background when I finally polished the game off!


The Bottom Line

Wizorb is a damn fun game that fans of classic arcade games will get a lot of enjoyment from. It's a solid mash-up of Arkanoid-style gameplay with extremely light RPG elements, and it works well for what it is. Though the music falls flat at times, it doesn't cancel out the fact that this game is extremely well-programmed and well-designed. I can see it frustrating people (because it frustrated me to fits of swearing at points) but it's never because the game's just have to be careful and learn how to react. For a $3.00 game, it wound up being around 10 hours of gameplay, if not more. Consider the fact that you usually get the same amount of game time these days for 60 dollars and I'm pretty sure you can see what a steal this game is.

Overall, I give Wizorb a 9/10!

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