Mixing RPGs with other genres often produces great results - just look at Borderlands and the first Puzzle Quest. Then there's Castle Crashers, which is many fans consider the finest beat-em-up ever. Now Canadian indie developer Tribute Games has combined the brick breaker genre with mild RPG elements to create Wizorb, another best-in-class title. Yes, I like it even more than the seminal Arkanoid DS.
In Wizorb, the land of Gorudo's greatest hero has been possessed by the evil Devil King. Can't there ever be a kind and gentle Devil King? But I digress. With the stock hero out of action, it's up to the elderly wizard Cyrus to save the day. He transforms into a paddle and hops into the fray, destroying monsters the old-fashioned way: by smacking them with a ball till they asplode.
The brick-breaking action takes place across five areas, each of which contains 12 levels, a boss, and three hidden levels. Other games of this type often construct cute pictures out of the bricks in order to make the levels more interesting - who doesn't like chipping away at a Space Invader or the dinosaurs from Bubble Bobble? Wizorb has some levels like that, but even the non-picture ones tend to be pretty interesting. Stages resemble 16-bit RPG settings, with breakable pots that drop money, locked doors that lead to shops and bonus levels, and even simple switch puzzles. Note that once you start ana rea, you'll need to beat all 12 levels with a single batch of lives - no checkpoints here, but you can at least save if you need to quit.
Breaking bricks is good fun on its own, but it's made better here by the awesome magic system. Cyrus has four magic spells to call upon, such as shooting fireballs to knock out bricks or enemies, or pulling the ball towards the paddle. These can make troublesome layouts and bosses so much easier. Of course, casting spells drains the Magic meter. To fill it up, collect magic vials droped from bricks and enemies. If the ball bounces off the paddle enough times without hitting any targets, that adds magic too.
Further lending an RPG feel to the game is the hub village that Cyrus saves during the tutorial. At the outset, all of the inhabitants' homes have been destroyed by monsters. As you collect gold from levels, you can return to the village and spend it repairing each building. The owners will reward Cyrus with keys, extra lives, and other items. I love the village component of the game, but it needs more work. You'll have everything fixed about halfway through the game, with little reason to return outside of purchasing lives and barriers. Some environmental interactions and giving the villagers more things to say would have enhanced the immersion.
Wizorb impresses the eyes, thanks in no small part to the art of Paul Robertson, the same pixel artist behind Scott Pilgrim: The Game. Each character and background oozes with charm and would fit perfectly in the 16-bit action-RPGs of yore. The chiptunes aren't quite as amazing as the graphics, but they fit the game perfectly and should strike a chord with anyone who played the original Legend of Zelda.
Wizorb is available both as an Xbox Live Indie Game or on PC and Mac for the low price of three bucks. The Steam version even has Achievements and Cloud support. On computers you can play with keyboard, mouse, or controller. Mouse works excellently during the actual levels, but Tribute really needs to improve mouse support in the UI. That niggle aside, if you like like brick breakers even a little, Wizorb is absolutely a must-buy.
Editor's Note: The Co-Optimus Co-Op Review of Wizorb was based on the Steam version of the game.