Wizball
for C64

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Mr Creosote:
Company: Sensible Software / Ocean
Year: 1987
Genre: Action
Theme: Misc. Fantasy / Flight / Multiplayer
Language: English
Licence: Commercial
Views: 1079
Review by Mr Creosote (2023-07-29)
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The C64 was not exactly known for its sparkling colours. Its muted, earthy palette, featuring no less than three different shades of grey, were a statement at a time when computers would be either completely monochrome or using garish colours optimized for maximum contrast (yes, I'm looking at you, CGA). It therefore bears a certain amount of irony that it is this system which gave birth to Wizball. A game about returning colour to a dull, monochrome world.

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Grey

It is all decidedly weird. Playing a wizard who has turned himself and his pet cat into balls with faces, you find yourself bouncing around levels full of nonsense apparatus and other obstacles. It is all rather hard to control. Good thing you've read the manual in advance. Haven't you? Oh, you've pirated the game? Then, hopefully, you've received an explanation through word of mouth. Following the intended upgrade steps, the bouncy ball soon takes to the skies, flying from that point on, and it receives its “catellite”, a second, smaller ball orbiting around it. Which is where the game proper begins.

The purpose is to shoot enemies and collect colours. Each level needs to be tinted in a certain tone, which can be either one of the basic colours or necessitate a mixture. It's not like there will be sufficient drops of colours in the same level where they are needed, however. So some switching back and forth between the areas is essential. Managing to restore the correct colour to one level, there is a bonus sequence, then on to the next one.

Wizball doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it is one of those arcade style games in which the flawless mechanics shine. Requiring a modicum of strategy, it is the reactive controls, the smooth scrolling and the challenging, yet fair difficulty level which make it such a winner. Great musical track on the title and the highscore (!) increase the appeal.

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At last some colour!

The shooting and collecting scheme is complexified by giving the wizard and his sidekick different abilities. The former is able to shoot, but only the latter can collect colour drops. A design which encourages cooperative two-player action. Playing alone, there is a rather ingenious scheme of controlling the wizard by default, and catellite by keeping the joystick button pressed.

It cannot be stressed enough how fun this two-player mode is. Sitting together in front of one TV, things quickly become hectic, with shouting back and forth about what to do. Misunderstandings, unaligned actions lead to hilarious failure, but experienced duos can play with remarkable efficiency. The downside of all this being, of course: who still has a friend to play such a game regularly with, in a physical setup? The single-player mode is good, but doesn't come close.

Which leaves most of us in a state where for sure, we can still marvel at the ideas, as well as the technical execution of this past gem. Though the real experience, the way it was undoubtedly intended to be played, is broadly speaking a thing gone by. Such a pity.

Comments (7) [Post comment]

Sloanysoft Ⓜ:

YES!!! Very strongly agree. Playing Streets of Rage with a pal in your front room epic, playing some generic FPS with anonymous internet kids who have just learned how to swear, not so much.

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RetroSteveUK ️:

Guilty! :pain:

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Mr Creosote:

I think something was lost when sitting together in front of the computer to play stopped being a thing. All those network modes just aren't the same. Even worse over the internet

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Sloanysoft Ⓜ:

Absolutely spot on, my favourite game of all time is Bubble Bobble. Easy to learn, hard to master & even though there's an element of competition for high score, it's really all about working together to clear those screens.

Posted on Mastodon

RetroSteveUK ️:

Now I think about it, one of the games I had MOST fun on with a friend on my Spectrum was Target: Renegade. A cooperative beat-em-up, although if memory serves me well you could also accidentally beat each other up, which added an extra element of 'oops, sorry!' :D

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