[Acorn Gaming]


Wizard Apprentice

[ 3/5 *** 3/5 ]

[Animated mushroom][Animated flower]Set over five worlds, Wizard Apprentice is an attractively presented, but fundamentally simple, puzzle game. You take control of a little wizard who you must guide around the screen collecting all the collectables, which vary from flowers to mushrooms. On some levels you also get a second character to control, a beautifully animated little blob-like creature which looks like this:

[Wizard's Helper]

Initial impressions are good, with a great deal of care having been taken over the principal animations - the items you must collect jiggle around amusingly whilst awaiting collection, and when you climb ladders your feet are perfectly aligned with the rungs. The game runs in a 256-colour 640x512 resolution mode so the graphics are detailed, but this in turn means you do require a Risc PC to play this game. A lower resolution version for older computers is intended to be released at a later date.

[Wizard being rendered]

This is not a fast action game. Moving is rather pedestrian in order to allow for the detailed animation, but this soon becomes tedious as you continually repeat the same moves over and over again whilst attempting different solutions to a level. The limited size of each level ensures this never becomes too much of a problem, however, although it is certainly annoying. The screen scrolls vertically on some levels, but never by very much.

[Screenshot 1]
Screenshot shown 2/3 of actual size

Every 15 levels or so the background changes, and whilst most of them are reasonably colourful and attractice, they are all crying out for a bit of animation. Similarly the accompanying peaceful music varies every so often, which is fortunate because it starts to get annoying after a bit! The game itself does not change, however, and there is even less variety in the fundamental sprites - you simply move around the level pushing blocks and letting them fall, whilst collecting objects. The puzzles are made more involved by allowing objects to be walked on (they are only collectable from the sides), and with the addition of the helper who can move and push blocks just like the wizard. Both characters can also support each other. Furthermore, some collectables fall when their support is removed, whilst others have flapping wings attached and remain in their place, and some blocks break on contact. So there are just seven features - yourself, the other character you can control, solid blocks, dissolvable blocks, falling blocks, falling collectables and flying collectables. Certainly a simple game, then, although whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on what you want. It has a certain simple charm about it, and some of the levels are complicated enough as it is without introducing any more features!

[Animated helper]Many puzzle games tend to have levels which are either easy or hard, with little in-between. However, due to their carefully moderated size the levels in Wizard Apprentice do not suffer from this problem. Apart from some easier introductory levels I found that the levels were nicely tuned - they reach the point where you have to think about each level for a bit, but you never feel completely overwhelmed or 100% stuck. And even if you do become absolutely stuck you are not forced to complete a level to progress onto the next one, although the program does keep a record of which levels you have finished, and gives you your percentage completion of the entire game. You must complete all the levels on each stage before you can progress to the next stage, however (with 20 levels on each of the 5 stages).

[Screenshot 2]

A great deal of attention to detail seems to have been taken over some aspects of this game, and yet there are odd anomalies. For example, there are annoying animation artifacts in the initial dissolvable bricks, and the animated contents page has horrible fragments of black outlines on the text where it has obviously been created on a black background and then displayed on a light one. And the introduction is pathetic, with a couple of screens and some badly written text that is not spaced properly and wanders off the edge of the screen. It also has the worst text fade-in/out code I have ever seen in my entire life, which is so slow you can virtually see it draw each letter! Annoying in the extreme, although admittedly noone is forcing you to watch the introduction and it doesn't matter at all if you don't.

Adding to the longevity of the game for those who are so inclined is a level editor, although it is far too slow to move between editing and play-testing, so you'd have to be pretty dedicated to persist for long.

Despite being such a remarkably simple game, it still manages to run very slowly at times - design a level with more than several animated items and the movement becomes very sluggish on anything slower than a StrongARM, which I don't think is good enough. The level preview jerks horrendously, and the grey screens that flash up between the level preview and the level start are ugly and seemingly accidental, whilst the way pushing ESCAPE quits back to the desktop at any point is annoying - the use of 'G' to restart a level is hardly standard, and the level continue/reset/exit menu ignores key presses unless you hold the key down for ages (or are lucky). Sloppy programming lasts from the introduction right through to the exit, when returning to the desktop demonstrates that the game always goes back to an 800x600 256 colour mode, irrespective of what mode you were in before. I'd be annoyed if a magazine or free game did this, but for a £35 one? And why on Earth does it insist on using its own dedicated 640x512 64Hz and 74Hz modes? The strange frequencies can't gain it much, but they mean the screen jumps all over monitors, requiring constant readjustment. And why when you choose to copy (save) your game to a file does the yes/no prompt appear in white mostly on white and require a keyboard press on an otherwise mouse-controlled menu system?

[Main menu screenshot]The whole game is rather sedate, but this is probably how puzzle games should be - time limits tend to make such games extremely tedious, and luckily Wizard Apprentice has no such annoyances. Fortunately the game saves your position automatically after each level, so long as you have saved once before, and it automatically loads in the last position again when you start it up. I say "fortunately" because it has a nasty habit on some systems - including mine - of dying randomly between levels. I also found that when I tried to playtest a level without selecting edit first that the game gave an "Oops! Where is Wizard Apprentice?" error, and left the hourglass permanently on. The game runs from CD but it stores your saved files inside !Boot on your harddisc.

Overall, therefore, what little animation there is is excellent, but it does seem very odd that when you are not moving your character stays absolutely still, especially given the dancing objects. The graphics are crisp and well-drawn, although the breakable rocks are rather poor. The game consists of 100 levels, which is probably just about the right number - too many more and you'd never finish it, but too many less and you might finish it too soon.

So should you buy it? Well, if you like puzzle games then Wizard Apprentice is probably as good as any - it's better than any free ("PD") efforts I've seen, but not by as much as I'd like, although as far as the fundamental puzzle game is concerned there's plenty to keep you going if that's what you enjoy. The design and presentation range are pleasant enough, but then at a cost of £35 it is blatantly overpriced - The Datafile justify this price on production cost grounds. £25 would have been a much better price, although frankly it's the sort of game I'd expect to pay maybe £10 or £15 for. And what if you're not really desperate for a puzzle game like this? Well, it really is just a pure puzzle game, so you'd have to judge it on its merits, but the fact that you can pick it up and play it for as long or as short a time as you like is rather appealing.

Review by Gareth Moore, © 1997 and 1998
2nd March 1997 (preview copy), updated 5th January 1998 (final version)

[ 3/5 *** 3/5 ]

Contact Details

Fantasia can be contacted by email to fantasia@hol.gr. Wizard Apprentice is available from:
The Datafile
PO Box 175
BS23 4PU
Tel/Fax (01934) 644046
Costs £34.95 and comes on CD

...this page last updated: 5/1/98...
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