Wizball / Ocean Software 1987
Screenshots: play/stop

Where do you start when you are trying to describe Wizball to someone? Answer... with difficulty! The game itself has become such a legend over time, it is one of those original concepts that only deranged minds such as the Sensible lads could come up with. So, for the uninitiated, here goes...

Far off in the land of Wizworld, the evil Zark and his hench sprites have drained all the colour from the land. Naturally the resident wizard (that's you) is slightly peeved at all this and sets out to do something about it. Transforming himself into a ball and venturing out, it is your job to return the colour back to the levels. First of all you need to power yourself up by collecting icons that look like DNA structures in a graded structure (similar to Nemesis etc). One of these powerups is your catalyte, which is vital part of your arsenal. For only the catalyte can collect the coloured drops that float about the screen, red, green and blue. Watch out though, some drops may make your cat insane, give extra lives, black out the screen or cause a police filth raid. Every eighth alien shot will leave a powerup icon behind, enabling you to equip some impressive artillery over time.

Each of the 8 landscapes has 3 missing colours, each colour may be one of the 3 primary colours, or a varient mix in between. The amount of each collected colour is displayed below in a set of cauldrons, together with the current target colour for the level you are on. Upon filling up the target colour cauldron you are taken off to a bonus game where the object is to shoot first, ask questions later! The more aliens shot, the better the score and the possibility of earning extra lives. Also you have the opportunity of permanently fixing one weapon in your arsenal each time so that you automatically start with it after you die.

So that's the basic synopsis, still with me? Wondering how it plays now? A number of people at the time the game came out found it too hard in the beginning, and I can understand why even though I didn't suffer such problems. You begin only having rotational control of the Wizball and must bounce over the land until you can powerup with the directional thrusters and antigrav booster. Once these are acquired, it becomes a lot easier. Still you have to be careful as some of the aliens can be tricky little buggers to shoot even when you're fully armed. Gameplay is practically flawless, you have almost perfect control over the Wizball once properly equipped and the catalyte idea works a charm. The difficulty level is set appropriately; the first few levels are fairly easy to negotiate, but once you get further you have to plan your movements accordingly. There's always the incentive to progress further and do better each time.

Graphics wise, it is pretty stunning, the Wizball is superbly animated as are most of the aliens, despite some being a bit simple in design. Backdrops scroll smoothly and stand out even when in grey shades; when coloured in they are bright, evocative and immaculate. It's a great piece of programming to get all that working properly! Living up to the same standards are several excellent Galway pieces of music, especially the hi-score piece, a work of aural art. To cap it all off, you can have up to 4 players enjoying the fun, with solo or team mode (catalyte under separate control) options to boot.

So, is there anywhere to fault the game? Well... the instructions were a little confusing (blame Ocean) I suppose when it came out. But that's just a pinprick of darkness in the wealth of light that is this masterpiece.

Reviewed by Matthew Allen.

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