Along with Jet Riders, Bits Studios has been quietly beavering away on a sequel to GameBoy Color strategy oddity Warlocked in the shape of Wizards. A peculiar hybrid of real-time strategy, platform and puzzle games, even in its unfinished state Wizards is starting to look magical…
Taking up the role of Arch Wizard, the player is plunged into a world of fantastical armies of the undead and a quest to free the land of Talismania from the clutches of the evil sorceress Kun-Mara. Players build armies of magical warriors to be sent to war against AI-controlled enemies or up to three other players via link-up, as well as beating fiendish puzzles and mastering a multitude of magical attacks. It's really quite compelling.
The game kicks off with a training mode to get players used to the controls, tasking them with unlocking the Arch Wizard from one of Kun-Mara's prisons and escaping an undead castle, defeating archers and watch towers on the way out of the compound. Meanwhile a wily white-bearded Wizard in a purple outfit briefs players on what to do via a smooth-scrolling speech bubble screen.
Units are controlled by selecting them with a cursor arrow and pressing A on the spot you want them to move towards, clicking on individuals or holding down A and dragging a net over them to select greater numbers. The mechanics of multiple selections are a little awkward at the moment, but the effect is delightful. The quirky overhead cartoon view of the game with small character sprites means that huge bands of wizards can be held under your thumb and directed to sling wave after wave of (bouncing) fireballs all over the place using the B button, and large scale battles can end up looking like something out of Gradius. Other neat touches include a very literal fog of war, like a bank of dark grey cloud obscuring your path until you approach it.
Fireballs are one thing, but the action really seems to heat up when the Arch Wizard starts wielding his repertoire of real spells. By holding the left shoulder button you can select a target and attack with nothing short of a Meteor to begin with, unlocking greater and more devastating attacks as you recover them from the various treasure chests littered about the levels. Apart from spells, you'll find chests containing gold coins and potions to replenish your magic bar, and levels are also home to various parchments strewn about to direct you in avoiding timed spike traps, defeating guard towers without being seen, and more.
The single player mode is a thirty level story-driven quest through Talismania, from the warm southern lands to a climactic showdown on the slopes of the Daggerfall Mountains. The main campaign mode was not in place in our version of the game, but there was a placeholder map with lots of levels open to try out, and objectives (laid bare by the purple Wizard from the training session) include stealthily sneaking into fortresses, freeing more prisoners, storming keeps and defeating armies of the undead on the plains of Talismania. Plenty of variation in level design and objectives could well sustain a very agreeable (and quite lengthy) adventure, but that remains to be seen. There are also said to be multiple routes through the game, with lots of sub-quests to complete, which seems realistic based on the scattering of blips representing tasks on the world map in our preview code.
Rounding off the package are several link-up modes for up to four players - Capture The Flag, Gladiators, Domination and Wizzball. Given the crazy tactics we've managed to use so far, there's a lot of scope for enjoyable multiplayer battles on top of the compelling single player campaign.
Like Jet Riders, Wizards is currently under development without a publisher, and it's not as close to release as its sibling. But from what we've seen it's an extremely adventurous little hybrid of several popular genres, and more than a worthy sequel to Warlocked. Expect to see Wizards on the market this summer.