Today I’ve been playing a lot of Wizball, for much the same reason that I was playing a lot of Elasto Mania the other week. It must be something like 23 years since I last played it properly, and I must have been a glutton for punishment back then. That, or I must have given up and moved on to something else fairly quickly.
Plenty of games start you off relatively underpowered and force you to grab power-ups early on just to get you up to spec. Only Wizball has the sheer bloody nerve to start you off effectively crippled, a bouncing cabbage-thing in a state that bears no resemblance to the state you need to be in to play the game properly. Fire button aside, the only control you have is over your rate of spin, which controls the direction and angle of your bounce. It’s all too easy to overcook it and hit something deadly, so it requires a steady hand and plenty of patience to get to a position where you can shoot something and collect one of two power-ups you need to gain full directional control.
Even then you can’t play the game properly (which is all about colouring in the grey landscapes by collecting paint) until you’ve collected more power-ups and acquired your (ahem) catellite, a smaller cabbage that you can control with the fire button held down and which you need to catch paint droplets as they fall. And once you’re up to that stage, that’s generally when you catch an unexpected bullet, explode and have to go back to square one again.
It’s completely fucking infuriating. It’s too-bloody-clever-by-half designers letting rip when someone should be reining them in. And what makes things worse is that once you get past the initial hump and complete a few levels so that you can lock down the three power-ups that you absolutely need, the game itself isn’t actually that much fun. The presentation’s faultless, the idea’s great, the control scheme’s only mildly fiddly and pretty ingenious on the whole, but the game rewards acquiring the skills to not get killed every thirty seconds with, let’s be honest, a rather dull paint-nabbing slog.
It was a nice try at something different and you can kind of understand how it got away with a load of excellent reviews, but at the same time you can just as easily understand why the sequel, Wizkid, bears no resemblance to Wizball whatsoever, and why there aren’t a load of Wizball clones out there.