Though we don't tend to do full reviews for Xbox Live Indie Games, we attempt to highlight the ones worth playing. The perception is that this hub is primarily filled with bad to mediocre games, and while I think that's still very much the case today, there are gems hitting the scene every now and again.
Wizorb is one such title. It's a brick breaker in the same vein as Arkanoid, but with a splash of RPG elements added in. From the moment you dive into the title screen, the menus, and then the actual playable content itself, you can tell much thought went into the game's overall design.
It feels like a fully realized product, one that would have fit in on Xbox Live Arcade.
Wizorb (Xbox Live Indie Games [reviewed], PC)
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Released: September 28, 2011
MSRP: 240 Microsoft Points
As I said, the remarkable visuals and animations immediately stand out. They're a great introduction to Wizorb, which comes off feeling like a celebration of the 16-bit generation. Between the art, the attention to detail in the user interface and menus, and even the soundtrack, this is professional-grade quality.
You play a Wizard who must earn money to rebuild a devastated town by completing levels. Interestingly, you're able to walk around and interact with citizens of the village in typical RPG fashion. While this part of Wizorb is charming -- and you're rewarded with perks for your generosity, so it's not a total waste of time -- it does ultimately feel unnecessary. Little of your in-game time will be spent messing around here.
Instead, the in-level action takes the form of Breakout. Stages are broken up into 12 individual levels where the win condition is clearing all breakable blocks and dispatching enemies. You aren't simply using a paddle and ball, though -- you've got magic, too.
There are a handful of spells, such as an upward fireball attack, the ability to manually place the ball on the field, and a gust of wind that can shift movement left or right, to name a few. As helpful as these are, you only have a limited amount of energy and can't always fall back on using them. Collectable potions and a few other methods do replenish your reserves, however.
You can also come across bonus rooms, which have extra lives, coins, and other assorted goods floating around in breakable bubbles, in addition to item shops. An extended paddle and having three balls on the playing field at once are two examples of temporary upgrades you can buy.
Each of the five stages ends in a boss encounter, which is always fun to see in this genre. They all basically come down to you chipping the enemy's health away while avoiding brushing up against any projectile attacks with your paddle. Straightforward, sure, but these fights are at least visually interesting.
The one question that's bound to come up is that of paddle movement. All in all, it feels pretty tight. I like that the d-pad offers a slower, more deliberate speed than the analog stick, though I primarily stuck to using the latter because that's what I'm more comfortable with when it comes to the Xbox 360 gamepad.
Wizorb is a joy to play early on, but a little past the halfway mark, levels become increasingly obsessed with either having many unbreakable obstacles or packing the screen full of blocks. In both cases, I often found myself destroying all but a few targets only to run out of lives and have to restart the entire level again. This becomes incredibly frustrating rather quickly, since the levels really aren't compelling enough to retain your interest a second time. Certainly not a third.
This carries into another complaint I have, which is that there are perhaps too many levels per group. In order to unlock the next area in Wizorb, you must complete every single level of the stage. I took my sweet time going through the game, and even still, it felt like too much for any one sitting.
Despite being overly challenging for my tastes near the end, Wizorb remains largely enjoyable and is worth checking out even if you have no intention of seeing everything on offer. If by chance you ran into a game-killing error at launch, that's since been fixed via update. Put this one on your to-play list.