Monday 3 July 2023

Evil Wizard Review (Steam)


Back in the realm of satire, Evil Wizard works hard to evoke some nostalgia for character pieces. Swimming around in this spirited but messy game there’s all sorts of things to enjoy for fans of retro games, ARPGs, metroidvanias and arcade slashers. Evil Wizard comes with a big ask, however, and if you don’t want an all-encompassing, ever-present satirical performance, you may struggle to maintain patience. I just about found enough, in balance, to enjoy a lot of this title, but the gameplay is playing a bit of second fiddle to the main orchestra of poking fun at games, media, pop culture, and the like.

I would say that you play as the titular wizard, but within bare seconds of the introduction the fourth wall is broken and the player is acknowledged directly. After being defeated by the hero, the wizard is looking to take back his castle and exact some oft cited “sweet sweet revenge”. There is, therefore, an odd sense of discovering what the wizard should already know about his castle as you break back in. This is the only sense in which this game is similar to the film The Rock.

There are three elements to the gameplay as you progress through the castle. General combat with enemies, boss fightin’, and environmental puzzles. Of the three, the most satisfying are the boss battles because they lean into the strength of Evil Wizard. Enjoyable characterisation kept the game afloat for me. Finding the different ways each boss was designed to mock or satirise was a lot of fun, and similarly some of the NPCs had some great dialogue and crass sensibility. The combat of boss encounters went on the rumble strip close to the verge of too-frustrating, but not fatally. The environmental puzzles, similarly, have a nearly-too-simple feel that strips back a lot of the gameplay experience to something a bit more passive than I’d like.

General hack-n-slashin’ in Evil Wizard lacks a depth, or maybe a heaviness. I felt the movement skatey, but functional. There is a lack of connection between the wizard and the world, in a “physical” sense, which causes a floaty feeling.

While some enemies are nicely conceived, there was a bit of a repetitive vibe, and you’ll see familiar faces a lot. Abilities and moves, items and weapons all are present but again are in service for the atmosphere rather than a great playing game. A lot of these elements feel like opportunities for gags than developing play experiences.

Where Evil Wizard works is in presentation. The artwork is charming as hell. It is bold, well executed, yet detailed and subtle. The animations are cracking, and the lighting effects set everything off. The utility animations for GUI and game signals are really solid too, with lots of dynamism and zing to help the screen stay active. Visually, this for me was somewhere between Zombies Ate My Neighbors and Dungeon Keeper. I like the blocky, yet nuanced pixel work so much that I resented it when the game zoomed out for sections. The other part that I cannot skip over is the music. This is pitch-perfect stuff that evokes some real old time Sierra games vibes.

The drop in rating for me is simply the uninspiring combat, as it drags the whole effect down. It is a tough game and can get tense when you’re trying to execute finishers as a way to bolster your health, but most of the time just lacks the punch I expect from something predominantly arcadey-fighty. Placed next to the clear creative zeal of the developer for the presentation of the game, it is a shame to mark it back. This sort of crass fun is very welcome in my world, and I think games that satirise games are a welcome relief, but I hope the developer ups the ante for a more robust gameplay experience to match a clear talent with artistry.

Overall 6/10

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