Tribute Games first released Wizorb to the masses via the Xbox Live Arcade back in September of 2011, and since then it’s been ported everywhere from PC to PSP and, most recently, the iOS. The game really is a testament to the growing influence of the indie scene. However, just because something is all over the place doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect (ahem, spiders), and Wizorb is no exception.
In Wizorb, you’ll take on the role of Cyrus, a powerful wizard and Santa Claus lookalike who must defend the land of Gorudo from an evil invasion. Cyrus is a practitioner of an ancient and powerful school of magic that transforms his body into a paddle that can bounce destructive magical orbs with no real accuracy, because practicality be damned.
If you haven’t gathered by now, the core gameplay of Wizorb is, in a word, Breakout. You’ll move your paddle back and forth across the bottom of the screen, bouncing a ball into various obstacles including crates, colorful blocks and hostile creatures. Obviously, missing a ball will cost you a life, and when they’re all gone it’s game over. The game is augmented by a few twists including myriad magical spells and curses, boss battles and a heavy emphasis on old school role playing elements.
You’ll also have the ability to explore the hub town of Tarot, which has been all but utterly destroyed by the encroaching evil. As the game progresses and you reclaim more of Gorudo, you’ll have the option to donate some of your adventurin’ loot to the townspeople, which in turn restores the city from a smoldering pile of rubble to an idyllic metropolis. Eventually, you’ll even have the option of building your own shop from which you can purchase all the swag Cyrus will need for any upcoming battles, a feature you’ll be thankful for in the later stages of the game.
All-in-all, the gameplay style that the title pursues is very well-done, if not the most original concept on the market. Where Wizorb falls short, as have so many otherwise great games, is its controls. On paper, the interface should be pretty simple. All you have to do is slide left and right while occasionally tapping a button to launch a spell. Finger sliding, tilt controls, a virtual D-pad; there are options upon options on the table here, and they should all be easily executable. Unfortunately, Tribute Games somehow failed to deliver on what should have been an incredibly simple matter.
The Breakout-esque portion of the game will have you sliding your finger back and forth across the bottom of the screen to move the paddle. The sliding isn’t nearly as smooth as it should be, and a lag in responsiveness led to me occasionally dropping a ball that should have been easy to reach. Because the two spell buttons are directly in the path of the paddle, I also found myself accidentally flinging fireballs across the map and wasting my preciously limited magic supply. The game is also plagued by a solid black bar bout the width of your thumb that spans the entire bottom of the screen. Other reviews have chalked this up to a glitch that the developers are too lazy to fix, but I attribute it to good intentions gone awry. The space seems to be an area where you can safely slide your finger without blocking your view of the actual gameplay. The problem is that, while it’s a solid idea, the extra space doesn’t do much at all. No matter how I positioned my fingers, I wasn’t able to see the paddle one hundred percent of the time. On top of that, there’s the matter of design choices. A huge, ugly black bar? Seriously? I’m no artist, but I find it hard to believe that this eyesore was the best way to dress up the feature. At the end of the day, the well-meaning bar is just an exercise in futility.
Things start to look up again when you consider the artistic direction Wizorb takes. Admittedly, nothing will wow you to the point of jaw-droppery, but the 8-bit graphics and chip tunes will surely throw you back to the glory days of the adventure RPG on the SNES. If you’ve read any of my reviews before, you’ll know that I have a serious problem with games adopting a retro persona just for the sake of being retro. Fortunately, that isn’t an issue for Wizorb, which is clearly homage to a bygone era. Its essence is that of sweet nostalgia, and it’s an incredible feeling.
At the end of the day, Wizorb is a great port of a retro console throwback. It has the right gameplay, artistic style and atmosphere to transport you back to a simpler, better time. The game’s controls are frustratingly slow and unresponsive, which, in a title in which timing is so important, borders on game-breaking. Eventually you’ll find ways of counteracting the sluggish interface, and when you do, you’ll be glad, even though it should never have been an issue in the first place.
If the game carried the average $0.99 price tag, or even a slightly higher $1.99, I would have no problem recommending it. However, Wizorb weighs in at a whopping $2.99, so I’m hesitant to tell you to go out and buy it right away. There isn’t a lite version available to take the game for a spin, so if you aren’t absolutely sure you’ll be a fan from the get go, you’ll be making quite a gamble.