Spectrum owners have been sadly missing a conversion of Midway's early arcade classic 'Wizard Of Wor' for almost 25 years. New RGCD conscript Uglifruit reports on whether it's been worth the wait...
Three years after it first appeared, Midway's arcade hit Wizard Of Wor was released for the C64 to great acclaim. An army of breadbox owning schoolchildren stuck two fingers up at us Speccy kids, and we sulked in the corner of the playground wishing we had a version for our rubber-keyed wonder. Twenty three years later, and it's time for us Spectrum owners to facebook our childhood nemeses and tell them we now have a Wizard Of Wor of our own. Huzzah!
Newcomers to the game are in for a charmingly old fashioned single screen maze shooter - guide your Worrior around and clear the area of Worians, before moving on to another level. You can only fire one bullet at a time and the maps resembles a Pac-Man knock off, complete with a tunnel from one side to the other. A radar helps to keep track of the (occasionally invisible) enemies, and after every couple of screens you have the chance to kill a fast moving Worluk (whichs double the score of the next level) or the eponymous Wizard. A two player co-op mode enables you to play with a friend helping you, although shooting your partner carries such a hefty score bonus that the 'co-operative' and 'competitive' boundaries are a little blurry. The differences with the arcade version (no computer controlled team-mate and no option for seven lives) are as per the 1984 C64 version.
Indeed this new release from Weird Science Software takes a lot of pride in using the C64 version as it's template by mimicking the fonts, layout and graphics surprisingly realistically - and goes as far as to carry this theme all the way to the cheeky loading routine that lampoons the Commodore start-up screen and loading method. It's a bit eerie to see the Sinclair machine pretending to be it's arch rival actually - it would have been baffling to see this loading in Dixon's back in the day!
WSS's technical mastery of the Z80 processor was showcased with their earlier release 'TV Game', and here it is no less apparent - plenty of sprites move smoothly around the playfield without flicker and the musical motifs that start the level sound very similar to their C64 counterparts. But it's not all perfect. Firstly, the movement of your 'Worrior' is very fussy when it comes to changing direction so lining up to go down a corridor is needlessly tricky. This is a trait directly borrowed from the C64 version, but there it drew less criticism as the main character moved quickly and responsively. Here he is slightly slower and the gameplay suffers - the fun blaster becomes much less visceral and lacks the appeal it otherwise could have had. This becomes really crippling to the game if you don't clear a screen quickly, as the enemies gradually speed up as they survive longer - your Worrior seems rather lacking in urgency and doesn't stand much of a chance when the enemies start racing around.
If played in two player mode, a strangely different gameplay style emerges. A slightly more tactical approach can be taken, which is actually very satisfying. The slower movement of your heros encourages you to work together and there is much fun to be had like this, although sharing a keyboard is very uncomfortable thanks to the very limited control options. Unfortunately, WSS have chosen to only implement the Sinclair Interface II joystick (or associated keys). Consequently 1,2,3,4,5 (player 2) and 6,7,8,9,0 (player 1) are used for left, right, down, up and fire respectively. These are fine if remapped in your emulator but very unfriendly for those who choose to buy the cassette version and use it on an original machine without an Interface II joystick.
It would be easy to dismiss this modern-day port for not being as much fun as the C64 version it takes as it's template - but that is to miss the point. Whilst it might not be quite as quick, or sound quite as nice, there are plenty of cherished ZX Spectrum games that this criticism could also been levelled at. What WSS have done is plugged a gaping hole in the Spectrum's catalogue, and offer plenty of simple fun into the bargain. And at the very least this game can be used as ammo in a playground argument - surely that's reason enough to have it in your collection.
Currently Wizard Of Wor is available as a free download tap file, and is soon to be available to order on cassette.