There is no shortage of puzzle games in the Android Market, including a whole bunch of Bejeweled wannabes. The tried and tested gameplay of matching colored objects towards a variety of objectives can be pretty addictive if done well. Unfortunately, it’s a tired formula now, and finding good games that bring a fresh perspective to the sub-genre are rare to come by.
Wiz Kid Jr is a fairly new game that tries to do exatly that: take the tried and tested formula and add some interesting twists to it. I have no clue why they decided to call it that, but it doesn’t really matter I guess. The real question is, does it succeed at maintaining the balance between complexity and accessibility well enough?
Lets start with what the game is all about. You play a wizard, trying to defend your mana from hungry spirits who appear along the way and try to absorb the mana. You do this by eliminating the spirits. Apart from the power to eliminate spirits by matching colored blocks, you also get up to four powers at your disposal that help you as things get more and more difficult along the way.
Wiz Kid Jr
Like with Bejeweled (or any other game of this type), you remove elements – colored totems in this case – by matching similar colored ones together. You do that by swiping your finger over them. This is unlike any other game I’ve played before, and brings a level of strategic thinking to the game. It is not always possible to cover all linked colors in a single swipe, so there is some thinking required in deciding which ones to remove for the most impact. Every time you eliminate a spirit, you earn more mana. Swipe through more than four totems at once, and you fill up on more mana.
How to Play
The game ends when you run out of your mana. Things tend to get really hectic as you move through wave after wave of spirits appearing on your board, but the waves are pretty frequent, and a small pause between them allows for some consolidation and strategizing while you wait to start swiping through the colors again.
A couple of clever gameplay elements that provide a twist in the gameplay and help keep things engaging, are the spirits that appear with each wave, and a set of powers that you earn as you beat the high score in each difficulty level. There are six different types of spirits that eat away at your mana. Although they are supposed to be different in some way, it is really hard to figure out how exactly, with the exception of one, which requires two swipes to get rid of. For the rest, it’s a matter of making sure you get rid of them as quickly as you can.
There are occasions in the game when you are left without any set of three totems of the same color linked together. That’s where the powers come to your rescue. You start with a hammer that lets you clear any one totem on the board, and earn three more as you beat high scores. These include a bomb that blows off a bunch of totems at once, one that removes all totems of a color from the board and one that freezes the spirits so they don’t eat away at your mana. Of course, using these powers costs you mana, so they need to be used only when appropriate.
Although you will be spending a bulk of your time playing the Classic Arcade mode, there is also a continuous free play mode if you like things that way.
The one department where Wiz Kid Jr shines over and above its competition is in its graphics and sound. The game feels extremely well put together and polished, which unfortunately cannot be said about too many Android games these days. The visuals are smooth and have a nice earthy feel to them, with sharp and detailed graphic elements.
The music can get repetitive pretty quickly and you will probably turn it off after the first couple of play-throughs, but the sounds do a good job of setting the ambiance and letting you know when the next wave it coming. With the pace at which the game rolls, these audio clues make a lot of difference in the gameplay.
Smoth, Detailed Graphics
What I did miss though, is a decent tutorial that clearly explains the concepts in the game and what exactly the different spirits do. Things are explained at a very basic level and you are expected to figure out the details from there on, but in a game that depends so heavily on your ability to keep eliminating the totems at breakneck speed, its not exactly easy to focus on anything else. It took me a while to figure out something as simple as the fact that the mana does not deplete unless there are spirits on the board – something that impacted my strategy quite a bit once I finally knew it.
Although Wiz Kid Jr doesn’t bring anything ground-breakingly unique from other puzzle games of its kind, it does manage to keep things fresh and engaging gamers for a pretty long time. I’ve found myself spending a half hour with this game every now and then, which is a lot to say based on how much I play the other games on my phone. Overall, it does a very good job of justifying its $0.99 price tag.