On paper, I think hurling magic fireballs and casting spells is a near perfect match for the wonders of VR gaming. Who doesn’t want to wave their hands in a vaguely mystical fashion to summon an ice bow? The Wizards attempts to capture the mystic arts by making you swing your hands around like you’re trying to swat a wasp that has no concept of personal space. To the outside world you look like a raving lunatic, but in The Wizards: Enhanced Edition you’re wielding powerful forces.
The Wizards places you into the shoes of a mute wizard who has somehow got caught up with helping out the disembodied voice of another wizard that managed to get himself stuck in a different dimension. There’s not a lot of interesting plot to be found, largely because there are no other characters outside of the disembodied voice, but there is a nice undercurrent of humour.
When you fire up the game you’re given the choice between regular movement, teleportation or a mixture of the two. The choice is actually pointless, though, because you can always teleport regardless of what you choose. The levels make it a requirement to zip around, and the nature of the combat where enemies charge directly at you makes teleporting very handy indeed. Sadly there is no smooth turn option included, so you have to put up with turning by degrees. The VR options on offer are slim, but they do the job.
What would a game about Wizards be without some magic, right? Conjuring up a spell is as simple as holding the trigger/s on your Move controllers and making the appropriate gesture, and I don’t mean the middle finger.
The most basic spell and the very first one that you get access to is the fireball. With a simple flick of your wrist you can summon up a burning orb of pain and hurl it at enemies. Throwing stuff precisely in VR has long been a bit of a tricky problem so a generous aim-assist that lets you somewhat consistently hit the small selection of goblins and trolls. It’s not perfect, certainly, so you’ll see a lot of your fireballs hurtling off in completely the wrong direction.
The next spell is summoning up a shield with a simple wave of your off-hand. You can use this to batter projectiles away or fend of melee attacks, and an upgrade even lets the shield deflect ranged attacks right back at the attacker. Best of the shield can be used in conjunction with fireballs. Quite honestly, walking into a fight and summoning a shield and fireball makes you feel like a certified badass. And trust me the shield is important because the Move controllers ironically make it a bit tricky to move around while casting spells. The lack of analogue sticks continues to be a problem for PS VR in instances like this, and I couldn’t help but wish I was playing on my Oculus Rift.
As you move through the game you’ll get some new spells to play around with that need both hands to use. The ice-bow, for example, feels pretty cool (HA!) to use and allows for some precision aiming at range. You also get the ability to fire electricity from your hands like the freaking Emperor from Star Wars, or you can summon up a bunch of little diamonds that will seek out enemies. The variety of spells on offer wouldn’t exactly make for a thick spell book, but you can buy some upgrades along the way using points. In total, you’ll get a meagre six spells to play around with, all of them handed to you within the first hour of gameplay.
The less than perfect tracking of PS VR does present a couple of problems, though. I’ve got my camera set up at a decent height and the tracking is typically consistent, however in Wizards a few of the spells seem to give the camera some problems. Even the simple flick of the hand to summon a fireball would frequently fail to register correctly. The key seems to be keeping your movements slow so the shape your tracing can be registered.
For the first half of the game the tracking is stronger, simply because there’s less to deal with on-screen. A few enemies will appear at a time, during combat sections where you get locked in until everything is dead, giving you some room to be precise with your movements and nail whichever spell you want. Later, though, there are more baddies on the screen and so your actions become more frantic, which is where the PS VR system seems to struggle.
As a direct result of the sometimes wonky tracking it becomes worryingly easy to rely on the shield and fireball spells over anything else. In the midst of a fight with goblins charging at you and a few trolls edging closer it can be infuriating to go for a more complex, powerful spell only for the tracking to fail. Even without the tracking problems, though, the more powerful spells simply require a lot more time to use properly and in the middle of a bunch of goblins trying to cave your skull in time is a luxury.
I think the other issue here is that The Wizards doesn’t have the presentation values to really sell the wizarding fantasy. Your fireballs look more like glossy orange orbs and the impact of the magic lacks oomph. Even with some upgrades that allow you to set enemies on fire or to arc lighting from one baddie to another the visceral feeling it needs is missing. However, due to the budget nature of the game these drawbacks are understandable and forgivable.
The environments are more of a mixed bag of quality. A fantasy world is ripe for amazing vistas that use the power of VR to immerse the player and make them want to explore every inch of it. But The Wizards often has bleak, lifeless environments that are only occasionally spiced up, such as when you get to see a dragon land on a tower above you. It’s one of the very few moments where I stopped to soak The Wizards world in. A little too much time is spent in bog-standard caves, tunnels or rooms, none of which help to make the game’s world more interesting.
Tight money restraints make themselves felt in the lack of detailed textures, clunky animations and limited enemy designs, too.
This is all sounding rather negative, so let’s balance that out because The Wizards can still be a lot of fun at times. There’s a wonderful tactile sense to the gestures required to use spells, which is funny since you are just waving your hands in the air. While I do wish there was more variety in the available spells – especially since you get them all quite quickly, leaving nothing new for the rest of The Wizards – the ones that you do get are fun to use. My personal favourite were the shards which automatically seek out enemies. When summoned they float in the air in front of you, and to send a shard out you have to touch it. An upgrade will turn certain shards red which causes them to do more damage. Each time you tap a red shard another shard changes from blue to red, so if you do them in sequence you can unleash a barrage of deadly projectiles that murder anything in the area.
There’s a good sense of scale in the game, too. The many trolls you fight become repetitive, sure, but they also tower over you and thus when they swing their clubs it feels threatening. The shining example of this are the rare but fun boss fights where the bad guys is quite simply bloody massive. Use of scale like this is something I love in VR because it really does help put you into the game.
Some light puzzles elements help to break up the otherwise predictable action. The Wizards began life as a standard wave-shooter with the player rooted in place, but free movement and exploration got added later in development. That wave-shooter design is still strong, though, as combat areas are obvious, you get sealed into them until everything is defeated and the enemies tend to spawn from obvious spots. The occasional puzzles provide some welcome change, even if they don’t tax the mind very much. One section, for example, involves opening doors by standing on coloured switches.
The Wizards: Enhanced Edition takes somewhere in the region of three hours to complete. The leaderboards and difficulty modifying cards you can find make it clear that the game is meant to be about chasing the highest scores. Sadly that’s not for me as the gameplay doesn’t have the depth I look for when chasing high scores. Because I didn’t feel the urge to replay levels the repetitive nature of the gameplay was a difficult thing to forgive when the whole experience is only three hours long.
You get an arena mode as well where you unsurprisingly just battle against waves and waves of enemies, the ultimate goal being to simply survive as long as you can. Personally, I played a few rounds and then dropped out of the Arena. On its own the spell-based combat in The Wizards: Enhanced Edition doesn’t offer enough flexibility or depth to support nothing but constant fighting.
Ultimately The Wizards doesn’t quite manage to nail the whole wizarding thing as much as I’d have liked. The small spell selection and repetitive gameplay left me feeling uninterested after an hour or two of playing. However, it does make for a nice, casual VR game, especially if you’ve always longed to be the next Gandalf.