A Respectable Nod to Breakout
There have been a lot of games based on the classic Breakout over the years, but not many manage to do something as charming with the formula as Wizorb. Available on Steam for £2/$3 and consisting of 65 different levels, Wizorb takes the Breakout framework and uses it as the basis for a unique love letter to retro fantasy RPGs.
A lot of the enjoyment that can be found in Wizorb comes from the fact that Breakout is just a fun game to begin with; the basic action of batting the ball against the blocks has a good sense of rhythm to it, taking out a large number of blocks quickly is very rewarding, when the balls speeds up the frenetic pace of the game makes things exciting, and losing the ball leads to those painful and yet somehow enjoyable “Oh damn” moments. This experience is only enhanced by the creative level design which exists throughout Wizorb. The only real weakness at the core of the game is the potential for those frustrating occasions where there are one or two blocks left on the stage you can’t quite hit, and it feeling like the game has become less challenging, and more just annoying.
One of the most immediately obvious twists the game adds to the core experience is that as you break away blocks coins, lives, and other items will fall towards the bottom of the screen and can be collected using the paddle, presenting you with plenty of situations in which you must make quick decisions between trying to collect an item and risking moving your paddle out of the path of the ball, or playing it safe but forgoing the valuable goodies. It’s a mechanic that helps add a further dash of tension to the game.
The coins you collect can be used for a few purposes, one of which is buying power-ups from shops which are accessed by hitting doors placed in specific levels. These power-ups are of a mixed quality though; the multi-ball, strengthened ball, and elongated paddle are all fun or at least useful, but the power-up which makes the ball stick to the paddle every time it hits it, or the slow ball, just seem to break the pacing of the game.
Your hard-earned coins can also be spent in “Tarot Village,” an area of the game which you can return to between worlds. Here you can walk around, talk to the locals, and donate your hard-earned money to reconstruct the destroyed buildings of the town. Unfortunately, Tarot Village seems like it exists just for the sake of the old-school RPG aesthetic, and feels boring to actually interact with. The only thing you can really do in the village is spend your money on buildings which serve little to no gameplay purpose. I kept wandering around, looking for the features of the town that I assumed must exist but that I had missed, and was disappointed to find this area was basically just a money sink.
Besides the aforementioned mechanics, Wizorb also features moving enemies on each level, boss battles, bonus stages, and more, but the last big mechanic the game boasts is its magic system. During levels you can cast various spells which include shooting fireballs, nudging your ball slightly to the left or right, and teleporting the ball, all of which drain your magic meter. This mechanic is pretty cool conceptually, but in practise none of the spells feel particularly useful. Destroying a single block or moving the ball slightly to one side aren’t particularly impacting abilities, and being prepared to cast any spell means constantly holding your hand over the J and K keys just for the couple of times in a level you may cast a spell, or else breaking the pacing by pausing the game to move your hands over the keys.
However, a significant part of the pleasure that can be drawn from the game is not in its gameplay, but in its aesthetics. A lot of indie games use pixel art or music that is reminiscent of the 8 and 16-bit eras, but it’s Wizorb’s specific reverence for old school top-down fantasy games that makes it special. If you have fond memories of games like Dragon Quest, Chrono Trigger, or the earlier Final Fantasy games, Wizorb is sure to spark some nostalgia in you.
Overall, Wizorb is a wonderful value-for-money proposition, and while a lot of the newer ideas it tries to tie to the Breakout formula are executed on poorly, its core gameplay is fun, and its look and sound are delightful to experience.