Thursday, January 27, 2011

Game 44: Wizard Warz (1987)

Oh, good. Four-color graphics.
Wizard Warz
United Kingdom
Canvas (developer); GO! (publisher)
Released in 1987 for Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS; 1988 for ZX Spectrum
Date Started: 27 January 2011
Here's one I can bang out quickly. Wizard Warz is not remotely a CRPG. I'll grant you that the interface looks vaguely CRPG-ish, but it doesn't have enough of the elements that make up a CRPG: no character creation, no development except the acquisition of an occasional new spell, no inventory (okay, no player-controlled inventory), action-based combat rather than tactical combat, no NPCs, and so on. Really, MobyGames needs to get its classification act together. Their own definition of "role-playing game" is: "any game for which character development is the main driving gameplay mechanic." [Ed. This definition has changed several times since this was posted.]

And yet, I'm going to count it as a CRPG and give it my six hours because I want to get to 50 games before my first anniversary (February 15), and with The Bard's Tale III coming up, I need all of the one-shots I can get.

The story is that you are a wizard's apprentice. As you approach your graduation, your master sets out the history of the land: it was once peaceful, prosperous, and generous, but an invading horde took advantage of that generosity and massacred the land's leaders at a banquet. The land's allies tried to sail to its rescue, but the invaders summoned seven powerful wizards to hold off the rescuers with evil summoned creatures. Now, decades later, the land is ruled by fear.

My quest will proceed in three stages: first, to slay all of the beasts of the island where I currently reside, using their trophies to convince the capital city to aid me; second, survive a series of challenges to ensure I am strong enough to face the seven wizards; third, travel to each of the seven wizards' castles and defeat them and their guardians.

"Character creation."

Character creation consists of assigning a sex and choosing four out of 10 spells to put in my spellbook: fireball, wall of ice, icy blast, spit, wall of fire, rock shower, magic missile, wall of stone, and slow. The "wall" spells are defensive spells. Once you select the four spells, you are set loose on the island to kill the six evil beasts. The game window is rather tiny.

Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors! Two days in a row!

When you near the beasts, their portraits appear in the right side of the screen, growing more solid the closer they are. Once you run into them, the game switches to an arena where you engage in battle with the enemy. Curiously, although the beasts all look properly beastly in their portraits, they appear as the same little wizard in a cloak once you actually get into combat.

Portrait looks like a werewolf, icon looks like a little girl.

Combat consists of pointing towards them and firing your chosen spell. Certain spells work better against certain enemies, so it's best to have a good mix at the outset. The pointing and firing is a bit of a problem, though. The game was really meant for a joystick, and it's hard to be dexterous enough with the number pad (at least, for me) to hit your target, especially since the diagonal keys don't work. You can move diagonally by pressing two keys at once--for instance, 8 and 6 (up and right) moves you northeast--but needless to say this is a bit cumbersome.

How did the crown fit over his horns?

You have three meters to watch: physical, spiritual, and mental energy. All of them are depleted by casting spells in their associated categories or by taking damage from spells in those categories. If any of them reach 0, you die. Physical energy is recharged by food, and you can transfer from either of the other categories to physical energy, but not the other way around. I had a lot of false starts and many deaths before I realized that the towns would give me food that I could use to survive in combat.

If you succeed in combat, you get some artifact from the creature. Turning in the artifact at the nearest town (there's nothing else you can do at the towns) rewards you with food, which, by increasing your physical energy, helps you win future battles. Once I realized that you could eat food in battle, I was able to defeat the six beasts: a spider, a monkey, a scorpion, a werewolf, a venus fly trap (or something like it), and some kind of water demon.

This was my last.

Phase 1 ended with an awesome cut scene:

No, just kidding.

In Phase 2, you choose what monsters you want to fight, and after you fight them, you choose whether you want a spell or attribute bonus. There are like 30 monsters and you have to beat them one at a time. I took a video of some of it.

I was doing fairly well until I fought a genie who had some spell that made me forget my spells. One-by-one they all disappeared from my spellbook, leaving me offenseless and, thus, useless. I had to essentially kill myself.

There's no way to save a game of Wizard Warz in progress, so I assume the whole campaign, should you succeed, won't take more than a couple hours. The control problem will likely preclude me from winning the game, but I'll keep trying for another 2.5 hours. If you're reading this, you can assume that I didn't win, because if I do, I'll return and edit this before it posts.

MobyGames's entry on Wizard Warz is interesting. For something that looks like a barely-noted shareware game, it sure was ported to a lot of platforms: Amiga, Amstrad, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, and ZX Spectrum. Was there really that much demand for a light CGA action game by 1987? (Pirates! was available!) The developer is listed as Canvas, which also developed Airborne Ranger (1988), a game I remember playing with great joy on my C64, and incidentally probably much more a CRPG than Wizard Warz. [Edit: Canvas didn't develop Airborne Ranger, of course. They just ported the Amstrad CPC and ZX Spectrum versions of it.]

One way or another, some game called The Ancient Land of Ys is next.

[Edit: Many years later, I returned to Wizard Warz and won it. Read the updated entry.]


  1. Ys is another Falcom developed, japanese action-rpg. The Ys series is remembered fondly by many, though I suspect it might not do much for you.

  2. I remember playing Airborne Ranger as a child. It actually has quite entertaining gameplay. The only problem, if I remember correctly, is in order to successfully beat any level, you just had to hide in a bunker at the beginning of the game, and all the enemies in the map would eventually get bored, and run up to you and let you shoot them from the safety of a bunker. After that, beating each level was pretty easy, since there were no more enemies.

  3. I know it's against your rules, but as a composer I have to say that you should really try to play Ys on a TurboGrafx emulator, or buy it on Wii Virtual Console if possible. The soundtrack for this game is pretty famous for being amazing on some platforms and crap on others, and a quick search reveals that the PC version is one of the worst ones.

    The first 30 seconds of the video is the PC audio, the second 30 is the TurboGrafx audio:

  4. If you don't have the manual for Ys, the one thing you're absolutely going to need to know is that you attack enemies by walking into their sprite BUT NOT HEAD ON. Either attack from behind, the side, or if you must go head on, be half a tile off center.

    This one isn't very good... the PC-88 version was okay, but the game's sequel is a ton better. Plus the IBM PC version's music is horrible. Good luck!

    @Taylor: I know most people like the TurboGrafx version's music more, but I've always had a soft spot for the original PC-88 soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, especially for Ys II.

  5. Not that it probably matters, but there was a graphical overhaul/remake called Ys Eternal released a few years back for PC. I think it may require a fan translation patch to be played in English, but I'm not sure.

  6. Well, let's see if Y's can make a good impression on you. I myself know nothing of the game series but that what has been stated in the comments (the gameplay sounds like it could be challenging in a good way, and I think I remember reading somewhere that your PC attacks by "football-tackling the enemy") and a DS Game that I saw reviewed on X-Play before DirecTV dropped the G4 channel.

    Also, thanks for the shout-out in PoR!)

  7. I'm not a graphics whore, but even back in the good ol' days I never liked CGA. I think I had one game with CGA graphics and avoided anymore like it. Instead I just stuck with the C64 until more games started coming out in EGA.

  8. Thanks for the advanced notice on Ys, everyone. First posting on that in a little bit, and the information about combat tactics was very helpful.

    Skavenhorde, I don't know if Wizard Warz is the last CGA game of the bunch, but it has to be close.

    Taylor, I hate to say this to a composer, but video game music does nothing for me. Even in games celebrated for the quality of the music, I usually turn it off. So it's not enough to make me mess with another emulator. Thanks for posting the video, though: the distinction is quite stark.

  9. @CRPG: I don't mind; some people don't care about game music and that's perfectly fine. It was worth warning you in case you did, though :)

    @Karnov: Sorry if I picked the wrong version to recommend; I didn't know which was the best one myself and just wanted to post something here about it ASAP.

  10. Wow Airborne Ranger! Good memories, pc version.. Very good action game of its time.. classic.. Didn't know it was from the same company as "Wizwarz" I think I thought the game or .exe was called.. Never could play it for more than like 5 minutes ..

    Never played Ys games.. though I liked both music sets from the above youtube link! If you've grown up with the PC, then you have to love the beeper, lol!

  11. I always confuse this game with Wizard Wars... Stupid Phantasy Spelling Fallacy!

  12. It seems that Wizard Warz actually looked far prettier on other systems, which could explain its PC problems. I assume you have noticed in your endless astounding meanderings that often games that looked and sounded* like dynamite on Amiga or even C64/Atari/Apple sometimes ended up in 4-color CGA with PC speaker sound effects and seemed like one of the worst games ever. Phantasie III always struck me as a particularly worrying example of an awful PC port of a fun game.

    1. The colors are definitely better on other ports of the game, but the graphics still aren't "good." But yes, it's often been pointed out that I'm playing the worst version.

      After I played this, MobyGames removed it as a "CRPG."

  13. Many years ago when I was just a lad my dad bought an Amstrad computer second hand that had, among other games, a copy of Wizard Warz. I had no manual, box or clue about what to do and there was no internet to glean so much as a hint from, and until reading this blog post, I wasn't sure if maybe I'd just imagined the whole thing...


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