I've always been fascinated by the history of video games. Being born in the mid 70s, I quite literally grew up with the hobby, and have many memories of playing games at many different times in my life. For Co-Op Classics today, we'll take a look at what most video game historians consider a minor title: Wizard of Wor. Since it was released along with mega-classics like Pac-Man, Defender, and Centipede, and other hits from the extremely crowded arcade field in 1980, I have no clear memory of playing it. But Wizard of Wor stands out from the rest as a very early example of cooperative gameplay.
If you just look at screenshots, Wizard of Wor looks like a Pac-Man ripoff. The playing field is a maze, filled with monsters out to get you. The protagonist is even yellow, for crying out loud! But upon deeper inspection, the similarities to Pac-Man end. The hero in Wizard of Wor, known as a Worrior, wearing what looks like a spacesuit an armed with a laser rifle, has entered the labyrinthine dungeon of the mad Wizard. Only by killing the Wizard's monstrous creations can the Worrior advance deeper into the dungeon, hoping to hunt down the Wizard himself. As the Worrior fights his way through more and more difficult levels, the Wizard taunts him relentlessly.
There's a real sense of menace and urgency as you play Wizard of Wor. The music, a synthesized bass rendition of the famous "Dragnet" theme, is quite eerie, compared to the whimsical beeps and boops of other games from the period. The Wizard of Wor himself actually speaks during the game, commenting on your play and laughing at you from time to time. The laughter sounds more like "ka ka ka ka" than "ha ha ha ha", but any speech at all was a real novelty in 1980. The music, sounds, and especialy speech in Wizard of Wor added greatly to the overall tension of the experience.
This tension was also enhanced by the behavior of the enemies themselves. To begin, each level contained relatively slow moving, wolfish creatures called Burwors. Once defeated, the Burwors spawned yellow reptilian Garwors, who were in turn replaced by Thorwors, quick red scorpions. These latter two monsters were able to actually turn invisible when they weren't in the same corridor as a Worrior. Luckily, a radar screen at the bottom of the display showed you were they were even when they were invisible. Even so, it was still very difficult to track them, especially since the mazes themselves changed with each new level, and you couldn't really get too familiar with your surroundings.