Developer: Tribute Games
When the artist behind peerless modern brawler Scott Pilgrim Vs The World designs an Arkanoid-style brick breaker mixed with 16-Bit RPGs, you've got to sit up and pay attention. As you'd expect considering Tribute Games' pedigree, Wizorb looks absolutely sensational, perfectly channelling the big pixel retro aesthetic and authentic/nostalgic feel of classic titles like Shining Force or Final Fantasy, while also fusing Breakout's gameplay with all the magical powers of a traditional black mage. This is a thing that we want. We like this immensely. So seeing as it first came out nearly ten months ago, you'd be well within your rights to ask why we don't have a Wizorb review on-site already.
Because I suck, basically. Having embarrassingly missed Wizorb when it first graced the XBLIG channel and fumbling the catch, I then botched the opportunity to cover the PC version. Now, thankfully, Wizorb has released on the PS3 and Vita as a PS Mini - so I can correct my costly mistake. And tell you, once and for all, that Wizorb is really rather grand.
At a basic level, Wizorb is just another Breakout clone. Your Wizard essentially turns his magic wand into a paddle, bouncing a magical projectile (ball) around a screen filled with blocks to destroy. A few harmless enemies saunter around providing mobile targets, and the occasional boss will even fire back, but it's a fairly simple premise nonetheless. Bounce the ball. Don't let it fall off the bottom of the screen. All blocks must die.
However, Wizorb is infinitely more than just another Arknoid wannabe, thanks to the presence of several powerful magical abilities. You are a mage, after all. Throughout the campaign, your wizard will learn new spells, such as being able to blast stubborn blocks with a direct damage fire bolt, imbue the ball with elemental effects, change its direction with a gust of wind or even stop it dead on the paddle. A strict mana supply means that these abilities don't overpower or unbalance the skill-based experience, but they're potent enough to turn the tide or cut down on several minutes of grinding after that one last block. By thoughtfully integrating this slick RPG-esque system into the gameplay in a powerful yet balanced way, Wizorb absolutely towers above the slew of similar titles on iOS and other download marketplaces. Not to mention those stunning good looks.
Wizorb doesn't just look like an RPG. Alongside the aforementioned spells, it features a surprisingly strong economy system, an engaging storyline and a village to chill out in between levels. Money can be spent in hidden shops by perfectly aiming your shots into doors, granting you lives, magic power and other acoutrements, or spent on continues should you run out of lives. The remainder can be splashed out on your home town of Tarot, a destroyed shell of a hamlet that needs to be rebuilt. Parting with your cash gradually allows you to restore houses, farms and shops to their former glory - which kicks forward into the gameplay as well as providing a neat meta-diversion. Want to guarantee finding a shop between levels? Save up and rebuild the item shop. As much as anything, strolling around this town in the four cardinal directions and talking to the townsfolk is a great throwback to the 16-Bit golden age, providing an intoxicating nostalgia high.
You've probably gathered this already, but Wizorb really does look fantastic regardless of platform. On a Vita, though, the art direction really shines: the screen is big enough to let the personality-laden sprites work their magic, but small enough to provide a flattering resolution.
Both sides of Wizorb's split personality are fantastic, and they work well together, but Wizorb is best enjoyed as a pure Breakout game as opposed to a true genre hybrid in the vein of Puzzle Quest or Runespell: Overture. Tribute has arguably drawn on one of the Breakout's main conceits a little too strongly - the idea of limited lives and marathon sessions.
We're fine with limited lives, for the record. They're an outdated arcade relic when they appear in most genres, but you need a sense of risk and a failure condition in a brick breaking game. This would have worked well if players could approach each level individually or in small chunks, yet aggravatingly, Wizorb dishes out its stages a dozen at a time, with no ability to save progress mid-session.
The effect is twofold. Firstly, Wizorb makes for a rather daunting mobile proposition - having to complete a dozen levels before you can save your progress isn't exactly the most handheld-friendly notion. At least you can use your PS Vita's suspend function to pause the action for extended periods (a unique selling point for the platform, I guess, and I assume that the iOS version has some sort of backup/redundancy), but this isn't ideal. What's more, RPG fans will balk at having all their gold and progress taken away from them, and having their hard work go to waste should they fail to complete a level or get drawn away from the game. Persistence is a key draw that keeps both RPG and mobile players hooked, and Wizorb sometimes seems designed to make you ragequit. Basically, this brave little attempt just doesn't quite manage to seize the golden opportunity to completely marry the two genres, instead settling for a traditional Breakout clone a with a great gimmick.
Which, when coupled with the fantastic art direction and the price tag, is totally fine by us. This isn't a criticism; only an observation designed to keep unrealistic expectations in check.
- Addictive Breakout gameplay with refreshing magical abilities
- Nostalgic RPG elements, authentic art style and visuals
- Great value
- Lack of mid-level saves can be awkward on the move, though can be suspended on Vita
- Having to complete 12 stages on the trot is frequently aggravating
- There's room for another, true RPG/Arkanoid genre hybrid
The Short Version: Wizorb is a great brick breaker, featuring some fantastic gameplay innovations that provide a new take on the genre without redefining it beyond recognition. Its level structure is a little too rigid to be a perfect handheld game, and it's not quite the breakthrough RPG hybrid we hoped it would be, but solid gameplay and sensational artwork win out.