There are no two ways about it, this is a very strange game. Wizkid is the type of game that French programmers seem to churn out with monotonous regularity, but it's better than anything I've seen over the English Channel for a very long time. I'm not saying that it's fundamentally bizarre; it's just a cutesy platform game, but hiding within Wizkid's structure is a mischievous intelligence.
The colourful graphics and irritating tunes that pervade the game simply can't hide the fact that the people who wrote it were having wicked fun. Unheard of! Coders enjoying their work indeed - what is the world coming to! But the benefit to you and I is that we'll enjoy playing it at least as much as they enjoyed writing it, and possibly even more.
You play Wizkid, the son of the Wizard of Wizball. Hold on a second; unless you've got a very long memory you probably don't know what the hell the shoot-'em-up classic Wizball is. Never fear, here at Amiga Format we don't like to leave our readers guessing, so if you glance around these pages you'll find a box explaining just what it's all about.
Your dad, the Wiz, and Wizball have been captured by Zark who is holding them captive in his castle. You have to travel to his island while freeing kittens on the way. If you're successful, you'll face a final showdown with Zark and have the chance to liberate your parents so everyone can live happily ever after. But if you fail, the Wizard and Wizball will remain incarcerated until you improve your playing technique.
It gets even more complicated when you discover that Wizkid isn't just a simple platform romp. There are huge great gobbets of adventure/role-playing game lurking in there too.
The playfields are themed quite strangely - traveling towards the castle is sometimes taking a strange, LSD-fuelled trip. Along the way you meet a host of cute-looking animals and people, all of whom prove to be less than friendly to touch. Headbutting the objects on the screen can help you on your quest. They are easily dislodged and when they hit the little unicycling clowns or the multi-coloured butterflies (see what I mean about weird) it splatters them most effectively. And this is just the easy bit!
If you can get one 'thing' to hit more than one creature, a bubble is created. If you hare around the screen and manage to collide with the bubble, it will burst to create a musical note. If you get enough notes to fill the stave at the top of the screen, the tune shown by the notes is played. I did tell you it's a strange game, didn't I?
Not all the bubbles contain notes, however. Some have clown's noses in them and some have sets of false gnashers. If you burst a 'nose' bubble you will gain the ability to 'juggle' dislodged scenery on your head. This may sound like a superfluous talent, but it can prove very useful. You see, on some levels there is a short supply of things to headbut at the nasties, so being able to keep once piece of debris going for a while can be very useful.
On some screens you can just dislodge an item and sit there with it bouncing on your head until all the baddies run into it and expire. And when you are juggling things, you can throw them anywhere you choose by moving the joystick in the desired direction.
The false teeth, or thunderchoppers as they're called, are almost as useful. When possessed of a pair you have the ability to pick up (in your teeth, of course) any item of scenery just by pressing fire as you headbut it. Once you've picked something up, you can move around the screen with it in your grasp until you are in the best position, then let go of the fire button and bomb the baddies.
Both of the extra powers take a little getting used to, but soon you'll have developed a preference for one or the other. After that, playing the game without the power-up will seem like a real chore. To help you get the hang of using the power-ups, the first level of the game is a training school, where a character called B.D. Snail teaches you the basics of the game's control method - do pay attention, you'll need the skills soon enough.
Life's great adventure
It gets even more complicated when you discover that this isn't just a simple platform romp. There are huge great gobbets of adventure/role-playing game lurking in there too. When you have completed several screens of a level you will have created and burst enough bubbles to play a tune, at which point the notes will fall from the stave at the top of the screen and rain down as money. Collect the money as it falls - if you let a coin bounce more than a few times on the bottom of the screen it disappears.
Once all the money has gone, you will be presented with the shop screen. Make sure to buy items with care: some are useless and if you fill your pockets with them you'll have no room left for the more useful trinkets.
After you've bought everything, or spent all your money, you can choose to exit to either the head or the body. Exiting to the head will take you back into the game - fine if you need to earn more money, but exiting to the body is what it's really about. The arcade platform bit just allows you to make the moolah, but to have any chance of completing the game you have to spend it wisely and then use your powers of reason and logic so you can use the things you've bought in the best possible way.
Now hold on a second, we're not talking a Secret of Monkey Island-level adventure here! If you don't have a particular object, Wizkid will give you some pretty big clues. So big, in fact, that they include showing you a picture of the object you need - you don't require an 'A' level in role-playing games to stand a chance in this outing.
The secret screens and little scenarios you can get into by exiting to head are often hilarious and, although you could feasibly finish the game without going via these routes, it is well worth it just for the extra fun you'll have. Almost every level has a secret screen to access and most have more than one. The only exception seems to be the 'Ghost of Wizkid Past' level, but you never know, it might just be that we haven't found it yet.
The secret screens aren't the only subgame elements. Every so often, apparently at random, you will be given an option to do a crossword for points. Give it a whirl, you don't lose anything if you fail. Each crossword is themed to the level you are on at the time, but be warned! They are very difficult ant the time limits are short.
The action and adventure continues through nine (increasingly difficult) levels until you have finished the main part of the game.
Now you have to rely on how well you have done so far to help you with the final showdown: a boat race to Zark's island. Your crew is made up of the kittens you have released throughout the game, and not enough kittens means not enough speed. Zark will be able to beat you to his castle and pull up the drawbridge - at this point it's 'game over' time and back to the beginning.
If you have a powerful enough team to make it to the castle before Zark then you must battle him at a game of his choice. I can't really see why Wizkid doesn't do the decent thing and run through him with a sword so the Wizard and Wizball can be liberated, but that's not the way it goes. I'm not going to say too much about the final encounter, except that you will need as much money as you can get. Oh, and a great love of classic arcade games wouldn't go amiss either.
With Wizkid (and Parasol Stars) Ocean have released two great arcade games in as many months. It makes you wonder why they keep putting out lame film licences when they can produce software of this quality. But they only produce what they think they will sell, and it's you and I who do the buying.
So rather than gnashing and grinding on about how crap Terminator 2 was why not go out and buy some quality software like this instead? You know it makes sense.