September 29, 2011 14 Comments
Wizorb has several things going for it. First, it has style to spare. It’s one of those rare retro games on the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace that tries to look like an NES game and actually succeeds without in some way pulling back the curtain so that you can see we’re still on the Xbox 360. Second, it has an honest to God gaming pedigree, having been designed by Jonathan Lavigne, who worked on the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World game. And third, just look at this fucking promotional art by Michael James Brennan.
Wow. Who wouldn’t want to buy a game with flyers that look like that? That’s some sexy ass promotional art there. Of course, all the credentials, artwork, and prettiness can’t mask the fact that Wizorb is still a brick breaker. There’s really only so much you can do with that genre. Shatter on the Playstation Network stretched the limits of it, but otherwise this style of game hasn’t changed all that much since Arkanoid back in 1986. Still, for all the muck I’m about to rake up about Wizorb, it’s likely the best Breakout clone on the Xbox 360. Not just for an Indie game, but the Xbox 360 in general. Are we clear on that? Good. Now watch me go all Lizzie Borden on this thing.
Wizorb does look good. Really good. And it looks like it tries to do new stuff with the Arkanoid formula. But it really doesn’t. A lot of people are throwing around terms like “it’s Arkanoid mixed with an RPG” or “it’s a whole new take on brick breakers.” It’s not. At all. It’s not an RPG in the slightest bit, nor is it innovative at all. It’s the same fucking game that has been around for twenty-five years now in a different coat of paint. It’s like saying painting a Pinto red makes it a Ferrari.
Let’s talk about the RPG elements. Along the game’s 48 stages you can get cash that you can use to buy items, or alternatively give to the town’s citizens to help them rebuild their houses. That’s the entirety of the RPG experience. There’s no exploration, exposition, or any decision-making that has any consequence other than “give your money away, get a free life.” But it does have a shopping element, which is different from any Arkanoid clone. That doesn’t make it an RPG though, and if it does than perhaps you’ll like such other titles from the genre like Forza or Mario Party.
The whole town thing is completely underutilized. You give the townsfolk money to rebuild their houses that some evildoer thingie destroyed instead of telling them to get up off their asses and go find a job to pay for their own fucking repairs. See, this is always what happens when the democrats get the White House. If you give them a so-called “donation” you’ll come back to the town later and see that all the buildings that you donated for are fixed up and you can walk around inside them. But what can you do in them? Not a God damned thing. They’re just there for decoration. Even if you see a treasure chest inside one, you can’t open it. There’s nothing more interactive about it than “go in building, leave building.” So what your hard-earned money got you was essentially parsley on a dinner plate and some arbitrary bonus item, like a free life or a key that you can use in a level to open up a door for a shop or bonus room. Big fucking whoop there. I figured something good would happen if I opened up most of the town stuff. Instead, I felt like a total idiot later on when I found out I could buy some crown-thingie for $10,000 and I didn’t have the money because I was busy acting like the chairman of Habitat for Humanity. I don’t know what it does, but I’m guessing I would have enjoyed wearing it a whole lot more than I would have enjoyed having some idiot I never met get to sleep under a roof while I’m off fighting monsters by way of ricocheting a ball off my wand.
So Wizorb really is an Arkanoid clone and NOTHING ELSE! How does it fare as what it is? Not bad. There’s a paddle. There’s a ball. There’s bricks. Hit the ball with a paddle and break some bricks. You’ve played this game under different names a zillion times before, and they’re all the same thing. And that includes all inherit flaws, chief of which is what I like to call “Last Mother Fucking Brick Syndrome.” You know what I’m talking about. You clear out a whole level and all that’s left is one god damned brick that you can’t seem to kill no matter how carefully you try to. It just stays there, taunting you like a raven perched on a chamber door, leaving you swearing that you’ll play this genre of gaming nevermore.
Wizorb does try to help this, or at least it gives off the appearance of trying to do so, sort of like a Good Samaritan who saves you from a mugger only to run over your puppy with a steamroller afterwards. You get magic spells to help. Using the A button you can shoot a fireball at blocks or enemies, and this works fine. Or at least it does until you encounter a level where the breakable bricks are behind indestructible walls, at which point you might as well use it to light your own farts on fire. The alternative is using the B button to change the direction that the ball is going. It does help, but all this stuff drains your magic, and later in the game it’s hard to get it. Making a few volleys in a row without breaking anything gives you 10% of your magic back, but it won’t be much help. There’s also two power spells that can be used if you press the button at the same time the ball hits the paddle. The A button power shot turns the ball into a comet that instantly destroys any breakable bricks that it touches. Sounds awesome, but in reality it lasts for about one second and then the ball returns to normal. It doesn’t even make it to the ceiling before it wears off. Fuck that noise. The B button power shot gives you control over the ball and allows you to steer it any direction you want. Again, it sounds good, but you only have about two seconds to get it where you want it to go, and usually it’s not helpful with Last Mother Fucking Brick Syndrome. Both these spells are almost totally useless and take too much magic to use. So fuck them.
There was an effective method towards combating LMFB Syndrome: suicide. If you have enough magic and you lose a ball, instead of just launching off the paddle with your next life, you can place the ball anywhere you want on the play field that isn’t occupied by an enemy or a brick and let it go. So the lesson we can take away from Wizorb is that if things get tough in life, kill yourself and everything will sort itself out.
Wizorb has cruel level design, useless “RPG” stuff peppered in it, and some fun “what the fuck moments” like the fourth boss that I killed in less than five seconds when my ball somehow got pinned to it. Also, the guys behind this were just a little too married to the concept of making an NES game. The game has two-button controls. The triggers, bumpers, and Y button go completely unused, while the X button is used to adjust the speed of the paddle if you use the D-pad like a bitch. They could have used the other buttons to create more spells and really dial-up on the action. But no, they ran with the whole NES concept. Which doesn’t explain why the game has online leaderboards, but I like those so I’ll forgive it. At the end of the day, like any brick breaker, LMFB Syndrome swiftly turns fun into tedium and frustration. During the later stages, if the developer had been within stabbing distance of me he would have been on the receiving end of more pricks than the ticket booth at Yankee Stadium.
If you go into Wizorb with the right mindset, that you’re playing a really fancy NES version of an unreleased Arkanoid sequel, you’ll enjoy it. I did. I actually feel bad that the guys at Tribute Games just so happened to be on the receiving end of this extended rant when, in reality, the first competent Arkanoid game I came across on the Xbox Live Indie Game marketplace was doomed to get it. Wizorb is actually really good, if you’re into this sort of game. If you’re not, it’s not going to cause some kind of epiphany and convert you. Breakout has been around for thirty-five years now, and Arkanoid for twenty-five years. If, after twenty-five years, you can still enjoy playing a new version of the same tired game that offers absolutely nothing in the way of innovation, you’ve already spent your 240 Microsoft Points on this and you’re only reading this review hoping that I will reaffirm your taste in games. For everyone else, I’ll pose you this question: did you like Arkanoid? No? Don’t buy this. Yes? Go play the Arkanoid you already own. Don’t already own one? Well than, I guess you can feel free to buy this one. Just one more question: how did they get electricity and an internet connection in the cave that you’re living in?
240 Microsoft Points fired the guy who made bricks that can be shattered by a ball the size of a marble in the making of this review.
I’m taking a three-day weekend, folks. See you on Monday with the new Top 10 list.