Wednesday 20 March 2013

Wizball - Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64 & Atari ST - 1987

Atari ST and Commodore Amiga ports share the same programmer and are virtually identical.

Wizball was initially released in 1987 for the Commodore 64 with other conversions quickly following.  Zzapp!64 magazine gave it a score of 96% and later awarded it the Game of the Decade accolade.  I gave it about five minutes of my time and never bothered with it again.  I never bought it so must have played it at a friend's house and had been put off by the frustrating controls, high difficulty level and the fact that your character looks like an anthropomorphic Brussels sprout.  Trying it again, the first issue can be overcome by purchasing upgrades and the second by playing one of the 16-bit ports. The third?  Well, two out of three ain't bad.

The story goes that Wiz and his cat happily lived in the brightly coloured Wizworld.  For some untold reason the evil Zark came along and removed all the colour, leaving the landscape in various shades of grey.  It is your task to control Wiz in his bouncy green transporter and return Wizworld to it's former glory.

Wizball on the Spectrum and Amstrad are left in the shadow of the C64 original.

In spite of its name the Spectrum does not handle colour very well so was immediately discounted.  The Amstrad game has more colour than the Speccy version but loses the scrolling. Neither have very good sound. Wizball on the Commodore 64 is in a different league compared to the other 8-bits.  Graphically it's as near as it can be to the 16-bit versions and aurally it is actually superior.  My main issue is with the controls - I don't know if it's because I played the 16-bit conversions first but the controls feel a tad 'sloppy' next them.  Maybe if I'd have played the game on the C64 first it might have been a different story so I'm still recommending it here.  This leaves the better balanced and graphically identical Amiga and ST as the top dogs. While the Commodore machine edges out the Atari with marginally (and I do mean marginally) better sound effects, it is not so superior that the latter can be discounted.  The difficulty level has also been slightly tweaked allowing only a single wave of enemies to appear at once compared to more on the C64.

Commodore 64 almost matches the 16-bit conversions.
You start the game semi-controlling your Wizball which bounces up and down at a fixed height.  Initially you can only adjust the rotation speed making just getting around both difficult and frustrating.  The first enemy sprites you come across are thankfully static and when shot drop a green bubble.  These bubbles (or pearls as they are described in the instructions) allow you to choose upgrades from a Gradius-style power-up meter.  The first two power-ups you will need are Thrust and Anti-Grav after which the game plays more like a regular shoot 'em up.  Other power-ups include shields, weapon upgrades, a smart bomb and the essential Catelite.  Lose a life and you lose your power-ups.

The Catelite acts as a drone following the Wizball around.  By holding down the fire button it can be controlled independently (or by a second player in two player mode).  The Catelite is needed to collect droplets of colour that are released when Red, Green and Blue enemies are destroyed.  Each of these enemies occupy a different level so you will need to move between the levels using pipes and holes in the ground. Initially three levels are available but more open up as the game progresses.  The droplets are collected in three cauldrons displayed on the screen.  You need to collect enough of these to fill a fourth cauldron which shows a target colour.  Completely filling the fourth cauldron brings up a bonus stage.

Two colours complete and the third is coming along nicely.
The bonus stage involves destroying as many enemies as possible to increase your score.  After this you enter the 'Wiz-Lab' where you can choose a power up which will be automatically assigned to any lives you have left.  From here you return to the game with one shade of colour restored on one level.  In all there are eight levels with three shades to restore on each.

In the 'Wiz-Lab'.  Here you can choose a upgrade that stays for the rest of the game.

I'm glad I didn't dismiss this game as easily as I did twenty-odd years ago. The Commodore 64 version is a revelation and is easily one of the best games to appear on the machine.  Until now I haven't been impressed by the much vaunted SID chip, but Wizball makes good use of it, surpassing even it's younger stablemate.  Naturally, though,  the Amiga and ST conversions have more colourful, detailed and higher resolution graphics.  As I mentioned earlier I also found the controls to be a little sharper than on the 8-bit C64, but that's just my preference.  Get past the bouncy ball stage of Wizball and you'll find a fun and challenging (read difficult) shoot 'em up.

Commodore Amiga gameplay....

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