Sunday, 6 May 2012

Bat 'n' Ball Games #5

Wizorb (2011)
By: Tribute Games Genre: Bat 'n' Ball Players: 1 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: PC First Day Score: 952
Also Available For: Apple Mac, Xbox Live

As video games evolve over the years it's inevitable that advances in technology will see new genres born, and equally inevitable is that sadly a few older examples will be consigned to the past. One that I thought had gone the way of the latter is that of bat 'n' ball games, or brick-breakers, or Breakout clones, or whatever you prefer to call them. They originally came about as a one-player version of the first commercially successful game ever - Pong. This obviously makes them one of the oldest and most basic types of game around which shouldn't make their demise too surprising! But wait... what's this? As if from nowhere, a splendid indie developer by the name of Tribute Games has sought to revitalise the ailing genre with this, their very first game!

The fruit of their fine endeavours is Wizorb which, as unlikely as it may sound, it actually a RPG-ish take on the traditional bat 'n' ball game style. It's set in the once peaceful Kingdom of Gorudo which has been cursed and is now threatened by a mysterious evil presence. Their last hope for salvation rested with a skilled swordsman named Owain but shortly after embarking on his mission to rid the land of evil, he disappeared. Then, when all hope seemed lost, a stranger stepped forward to save the helpless townsfolk: Cyrus, a wizard from a distant land who's versed not only in both black and white magic but is also master of a secret magic art called... Wizorb!

The quest undertaken by Cyrus encompasses five 'worlds' (which are actually themed areas of Gorudo), each of which consists of twelve levels before a boss battle. As with most games of this type, successful completion of a level is achieved by destroying all the bricks on it and there are several different types. However, each single-screen level also includes a few enemy creatures and these need to be destroyed as well by smacking them with the ball, or 'orb' as is the case here, and keeping it in play by deflecting it with the bat, or 'magic wand'. The orb does of course gradually increase in speed the longer it's in play but Cyrus isn't restricted to the wand and orb method of clearing the bricks. He's also able to deploy various magic spells and it's from here that at least some of the game's RPG-ness comes.

He can use his splendid magical abilities at any time as long as he has sufficient power available and there are two types - black and white. There are also two variations of each which are used depending on where the orb is in relation to the wand at the time of use. If it's very close, using black magic will unleash the Magna Orb which can smash through lots of bricks at once while using white magic will slow the orb down and give you limited control of it for a short while. If the ball is not close to the wand, using black magic will shoot a Fireball which can destroy bricks or hurt enemies (including bosses - hooray!) while using white magic allows you to alter the orb's trajectory. There are also two other magics - Teleport which allows you to reposition the ball after losing a life and Recover which refills a portion of your magic-meter if you manage to hit the orb with the wand eight times without hitting a block or enemy.

Each magic uses up a percentage of your reserves but luckily using the Recover magic isn't your only means of replenishing supplies. Destroying bricks often results in items drifting down the screen and these can include lovely potions (replenish 20% of your magic), coins (ups your gold reserves by one), gems (worth ten gold coins), keys (unlock doors), hearts (extra life), or most rare of all, a fairy (which flies around the screen randomly dropping items). As you make your way through the game though, other items called Curses start joining the more helpful items which have a variety of effects depending on the curse. They might shrink your wand, increase the speed of the orb, steal some of your magic or gold, prevent the orb from causing damage for a short while, impair your wand's movement, or even cost you a life.

As well as several different sizes of normal bricks, there are also lots of other kinds such as shield blocks, ones made of stone or ruby, the inevitable unbreakable variety, and each world has its own generic 'decoration' brick as well (crates in the first world, bushes in the second, and so on). There are also several block-sized features like bumpers, switches, runes, and treasure chests which may contain either a reward or a curse! Some levels feature doors. Ones that are already open generally lead to a similar exit elsewhere on the screen but locked ones need to be opened by hitting switch blocks or collecting keys. These either lead to a bonus room with lots of bubbles filled with items, or to a shop where you can use your gold reserves to buy other items, some of which are available in-game and others that aren't.

The shops sell several helpful items for very reasonable prices such as potions, a longer wand (snigger), extra lives, magnets (sticky wand), multi-orb (three orbs at once), strong orb (double damage), slow orb (orb starts at half-speed), or even a jewel crown which blinds you for being greedy! There are also all sorts of different bonuses to aim for, some of which are awarded at the end of a level, others at the end of a world. Talking of the worlds, each is named (Clover Village, Slime Forest, Rotten Mines, Cursed Castle, and Netherworld) and home to some of its own features including one type of enemy for each - Wolfkids (who live in towns), Slimes (which move slowly by hopping), Eyeballs (who thrive in dark areas), Ghosts (which can teleport), and finally, Skull Knights (who can deflect the orb with their sword).

Each world also has a boss, which usually takes the form of a giant version of that world's standard enemy, and it's own graphical theme - medieval-style town, grassy plains, rocky mines, royal castle, and even spooky, mystical, spacey stuff! Regardless of the theme, however, the graphics are absolutely fantastic throughout. As a recent game, Wizorb obviously doesn't feature state-of-the-art 3D environments and ten billion polygons per brick and all that stuff but Tribute pride themselves on being perveyors of fine pixel art and to that end it is a success, for it is indeed a wonderful-looking game. The presentation is of the highest quality and includes plenty of detailed options and instructions screens, and in-game, things are of an equally high standard.

The levels themselves have had about as much detail packed into them as you would think possible without distracting from the actual gameplay. Each world has a great style and, while some are more colourful than others, all of them are superbly detailed and full of character. There's also a lot of nice touches like the pink slimy curses, watching a Magna Orb smash through tons of bricks, or even the old codger himself, Cyrus, who makes a few appearances. All the sprites are detailed and appealing (even the enemies) but Cyrus is my favourite! The audio is also superb with lots of nice effects and some great music. Each world has its own tune (Slime World has the best in my opinion) and there are a few others for the title screen, bonus rounds, boss fights, etc.

However, of greater importance than the aesthetics with games like this is the design of the levels and the controls used to play them. Happily, both aspects of Wizorb are also superb. Movement of your 'wand' is achieved by either mouse or keyboard and while both are accurate and fairly forgiving, the mouse obviously offers greater accuracy, although efforts have been made to keep the keyboard option as close as possible. You can launch the orb in any direction you want at the start of a level or life as well which certainly makes tackling the more fiendishly-designed levels a little easier. It's not an overly easy game to actually play but the increase in difficulty is nice and gradual and you can save at any time too - each reload gives a full quota of continues so it doesn't take too long to see all the game has to offer.

When such an apparently simple game offers as much as this one does though, it feels like a privilege to see it all, and there are plenty of bonuses and achievements to keep you playing which is all the more impressive given the game's meagre asking price. There's even a village you can explore called 'Tarot' which is in ruins at first but by making donations to villagers you can help to rebuild it and then make use of its services. Things like this are what make Wizorb such an appealing game to play - it's always clear how much love and effort has gone into it which makes you love it back even more! It's a great game anyway but if you have even the merest hint of fondness for bat 'n' ball games, Wizorb is an essential purchase - it could be the best couple of quid you ever spend.

RKS Score: 9/10

Gameplay Video: Here's the official Wizorb trailer from the Tribute website :)

Special Note: Many thanks to Bryan for making me aware of this great game (check out his great blog here) and also to Tribute themselves for the review copy of their splendid title!


  1. Ah! So glad you enjoyed this one, Simon! I thought (hoped) you would like it. As you said, all of the details that are present in this are wonderful, and I really appreciated the things the folks at Tribute added to the basic gameplay.

  2. I sure did enjoy it, Bryan :) Perhaps the finest game of its type ever! Certainly the one that's had the most effort put into it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention :)

  3. Interesting - great review, but for a title I knew nothing about, I have to say you got me interested in it. Of course as soon as you mentioned RPG elements I was even more curious, but this sounds like a somewhat surprisingly deep game that I'll have to look into. Thanks for the write-up. :)

  4. Thanks :) It must sound like a strange combination but it works really well. It's still a bat 'n' ball game so it's not the deepest game ever but they've done about as much with the concept as must be possible! :P