Wizorb Review—It’s a Kind of Magic
It’s amazing how much a simple twist can add to a genre. Wizorb is either the fifth or sixth Breakout-style (or Arkanoid-style) game released in the Minis program so far (and the second from the publisher, Beatshapers, who also brought us BreakQuest), yet it seems to have generated a lot of buzz based on its premise of adding RPG elements.
Alas, in practice, the RPG elements are fairly minor. Essentially, you can walk through a JRPG-style town and talk to people, who ask for money to help rebuild their town and, in exchange, give you a gameplay item. As you return to the town, you can see the buildings of the people you helped get rebuilt.
So, Wizorb is primarily a Breakout/Arkanoid-style game. Atari’s Breakout was the first game in the genre, essentially being a single-player version of Pong. You control a paddle and bounce a ball towards layers of bricks, which disappear when they are hit by the ball, but not before bouncing the ball back towards you. It was a fairly simple, but fun, game. Later, Arkanoid from Taito greatly expanded the gameplay, adding power-ups and all sorts of unusual layouts, revitalizing and popularizing the gameplay for a new generation.
In practice, Wizorb plays somewhere between the two. While it features some very elaborate layouts of bricks, it really lacks the many power-ups found in Arkanoid. There are some, but these are used on demand, rather than as random drops. The whole premise of Wizorb is that you are playing a wizard, and thus, the power-ups effects are now spells. To cast them, you simply press a button—X for black magic, Square for white magic (O is used to speed up the paddle).
What exactly happens depends on whether or not the ball is on your paddle. If it’s not, X produces a fireball shooting up from your paddle to zap a block or monster, while if it is, it charges up the ball so it destroys any brick it touches, even bricks that normally take more than one hit to destroy. White magic with Square lets you control the ball for a brief moment.
The catch is that you need to spend magic to use these abilities, the current amount of which is displayed by a meter at the right of the screen. You build up the meter by catching certain drops when bricks are destroyed. The most common drop, though, is gold; magical drops seem to be rather scarce. Sometimes other things drop: keys, which can be used to open doors. Doors occur on many levels, and when you move the ball through an unlocked door, it pauses the level and takes you to an item shop where you can use gold to buy things like more lives or magic potions, or sometimes an upgrade to your paddle.
There are five different worlds, each with twelve levels plus a boss fight at the end. Every world shares the same graphic style and has the same sort of monsters, little critters that walk about the stage and which you need to kill by hitting them with the ball multiple times. On most levels, monsters are sort of a throw-in, but on a few, they are the primary objective.
Two things really determine the quality of a game like this: level design and controls. The genre was originally meant for a paddle or dial controller, which lets you do fine or gross movements with ease. That’s not the case with a D-pad or a nub, but Wizorb controls as well as any game played with a D-pad. The paddle is not at all twitchy, but solid, and while a bit slow, you can speed it up temporarily with the O button, or by going into the controls menu and changing the default speed.
The level design doesn’t quite match the excellent controls. While the variety is good, with lots of special blocks, the overall pace of some levels is slow, often requiring you to use indirect shots to hit one or two hard-to-reach blocks. In practice, that sort of thing is just monotonous, creating tedium, not difficulty. And while there are boss battles which are very well done and creative, they occur after twelve levels, which is a lot. Bear in mind, the original Breakout had only 2 levels, after which they apparently assumed you’d get tired of playing.
The graphics remind me of the early 90s, when PCs had VGA cards and developers would sometimes opt to use the high resolution mode but with only 16 colors. There’s a lot of detail to the graphics, but it’s not that colorful; things look a bit flat, but not at all blocky, like in console games of that time. The music is absolutely charming, though, and if there is one aspect that is pure JRPG goodness, it’s the music.
I did like the RPG veneer to the game, though it’s just begging to be developed further. The problem with Wizorb, however, is the level design—so many levels are apparently designed to be tricky, requiring indirect shots. I played nearly 15 minutes trying to get the last brick on one level. I ran into that a lot, though no others took quite that long. The size of each world was also too great—rather than having twelve stages, six would have been better. It just feels like it takes too long to get to the good stuff.
Still, despite the monotony at times, Wizorb did keep me glued to the PSP. As far as Breakout/Arkanoid-type games go, I would say it’s not quite as good as BreakQuest or Bashi Blocks, but much better than the others. And its overall design is quite clever, even if the level design is not always so.