|Platforms||Xbox 360, PC, Mac, Linux|
|Genre||Breakout, wizard style|
Breakout and Arkanoid and similar paddle games never resonated with me. Maybe because their Atari heyday ended before I started playing games, or maybe because I disliked the loose shot control. Whatever the case, the genre’s most polished and inspired entries still manage only a passing fancy.
So I’m flummoxed by my lingering affinity for Wizorb, a three-dollar, three-hour curiosity. I completed the brief game in a weekend fling and have no real desire to revisit it, yet it’s still on my mind. I do relish the lively lo-fi style and RPG window dressing, but the game is still a pretty standard brick breaker at its core.
I’m not terribly impressed by this new appstore era, this flood of amateur developments selling for less than a vending machine lunch and rarely lasting as long. But Wizorb is one of the few $3 games that’s more filling than its price tag and play time imply. A few thoughtful little gameplay functions that address the genre’s weaknesses are what make it shine among its Breakout-clone peers and its bottom-dollar indie competition both.
One of the most annoying staples of Breakout is the dreaded final brick on any board, often sandwiched between some indestructible barriers and nearly impossible to reach with paddle and ball. Yet on that mostly clear play field, there’s no real danger of losing the ball, and thus any tension whithers away almost immediately. All that remains are tedious minutes of angling shots until, finally, one manages to sneak to the target. Another irksome regular is the crawling loop, in which the ball ricochets between unbreakable surfaces without the player’s input for an extended period, halting gameplay until the ball finally sneaks out of the cycle.
Wizorb challenges these and other frequent irritants with its quartet of magic spells. The fireball launches a straight-shooting projectile from the paddle on command, providing a dependable fallback weapon for targets out in the open. A wind gust ability tweaks the ball’s trajectory, handy for cutting short those lengthy ricochet cycles. The power-enhancing spell allows the ball to plow through everything that isn’t indestructible, useful for clearing out a large path of bricks quickly. And the last ability turns the ball into a remote controlled drone, making even the most protected corners of the play field very accessible.
The handy spells come with the cost of MP, which is usually in short supply but replenished often. MP-restoring potions are one of several catchable items that fall when freed from bricks, but even when the play field is empty, MP is restored over time. This low-ceiling, steady-growth MP economy ensures that the magic spells neither become a crutch nor a rarity.
Many of Wizorb’s other frills beyond the Breakout core are merely genre and arcade staples that are smartly melded into the RPG/adventure context. Bonus rooms and mid-level shops are accessed by collecting and expending dungeon keys. Extra lives and other helpful augmentations can be bought with collected gold.
One element that doesn’t quite develop is the tiny RPG town full of townspeople with typical one-line personalities and no purpose except to act as a protracted shop between each world. You can donate your accumulated wealth to each citizen to help rebuild their homes (and receive useful items in return), but there are no quests or sideplots to be uncovered. The town is merely a rest-stop between each dozen of stages.
Its cheery 16-bit RPG charm is undeniable, however, and more genuine in its nostalgia than most faux retro games, which play the style for laughs. Wizorb’s wholly low-res visuals are a knockout from the title screen to the smallest details. The playable wizard’s animated character portrait especially delights me with its jolly laugh when a board is cleared. The music, too, apes classic Zelda and Final Fantasy themes well enough to drive home the feeling that this could have been one of 1993’s top sellers in an alternate reality.
Whether you consider Wizorb’s evocative aesthetics to be a stylistic success or a cheap ploy to nostalgia, it’s hard to deny that there’s some small genius in its mechanics. It’s still the same demolition-Pong game that I find rather dull, but I’m impressed with how it weaves elegant solutions into the core Breakout-style game systems through a smart contextual setting.
Steam sales and smartphone app stores have led to many three-dollar purchases lately, but most barely even justify that meager asking price. And I wouldn’t have expected a Breakout clone to make my shortlist of fair value.