Genre: Platformer Developer: Psygnosis Publisher: Bizarre Creations Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
It is natural to expect striking similarities between Wiz ‘n’ Liz and Lemmings, as both titles were developed by Psygnosis and have small animals for the player to save. They still are very different games. As low-profile as a Genesis cart can possibly get, Wiz ‘n’ Liz is a unique action/adventure game that begs to be rediscovered.
The game itself is difficult to describe because the player’s tasks are multileveled and impact each other. As the game starts, your wizard is near his home and a massive pot; this is where you’ll go after each stage, so let’s call it the “main screen.” Fruits are hanging from trees. If you take two of them to the pot, they will be mixed and a spell will be cast. The first spell in the game creates a door – entering it gives you access to each level in the game, all represented by doors (let’s call it the “levels screen”).
Once you enter a level, you’ll have to do several things in limited time. The main goal during a round (the early levels have two rounds each, but the later ones feature more) is to save as many wabbits (i.e. bunnies) as you can by simply running on them. When you touch a wabbit, an object will appear. It can be a letter, a fruit, a star, a time power-up, etc. These objects serve different purposes. The letters must be first collected to complete the word that you’ll notice at the top of the screen. Once this spell is cast, you have to save a set number of wabbits, picking up fruits, time, and stars in the process; the exit will be opened only after you saved them all.
While this is not obligatory, you should get as much fruit as you can, because if you get enough, you’ll bring one or more back to the main screen and can then use them to concoct more spells. These spells have different consequences. While a few do nothing at all, most give you great advantages: some add time; some give you access to a slew of secret doors, wherein you can play bonus games, try a sound test, buy and sell objects, skip a level, etc. Some spells are amusing. One leads to a false “game over” message… which is quickly followed by “Only joking!” another fills the following level with harmless lemmings. There are dozens and dozens of possible spells because a total of fourteen fruits that can be combined in pairs.
In addition to all this, you can also spell BONUS by collecting special letters as you save wabbits; you can then play a bonus round in which you have thirty seconds to get as many power-ups as you can. Meanwhile, if less than ten seconds remain in a given round, you must find a special icon that gives you an extra thirty seconds; if time runs out, you lose a life (you initially have three). The game also has a two player option, which lets you race against a friend to see who can save the most wabbits and find the exit first.
Wiz ‘n’ Liz might seem somewhat complicated, but it is a fairly simple game when you actually play it. It is anything but a deliberate strategy game: it is dominated by frantic run-and-jump action, with some RPG elements thrown in for good measure. The replay value is bolstered by several aspects: there are two sets of difficulty settings, one for your character’s rank (Apprentice, Wizard, Sorcerer), the other for the skill involved (training, tame, taxing). As you complete a level or a world, a screen details the various items you have collected, so you can keep track of your performance; with this detailed scoring, you can try to top your high score; as I wrote earlier, there are so many spells that no two game is alike (as an example, access to a shop is not freely awarded but must be earned with a specific spell).
Passwords are given out after each level and save your number of lives. Once you have completed a batch of levels, you get to fight massive bosses, such as a flower, a snake, a clock, and a pumpkin – they are sole enemies in the whole game (the true enemy in Wiz ‘n’ Liz is time)! You can either use the passwords to progress further in the game, or rather start from scratch and try to get as far as you can. Wiz ‘n’ Liz is thus a pleasant experience whether one approaches it as a simple, arcade-style game are as an in-depth cart which needs time to reveal all of its wonders. Personally, I only use passwords when I choose the Sorcerer rank, which has twice as many levels as the Wizard setting.
The game has a simple, schematized look that perfectly suits the arcade-style action. The title characters (Liz is Wiz’ female counterpart) and the wabbits are both very small (think of a pre-powered up Mario), but the animation is extremely fluid. This fluidity enhances the play control, which is just as precise as one could wish for. The levels are all themed (temple, snow, mine, desert, lunar, etc.) and have a strong visual identity; moreover, they become more elaborate if you select a higher degree of difficulty. In the regular game, the controls are limited to two moves: jump (button B or C) and dropping down a platform (A). During boss battles, you attack with button A. In some of the bonus games, you get to do your own visual effects, or play homages to such classic games as Pong and Breakout, among others – the controls change accordingly.
The sound effects are a key component of Wiz ‘n’ Liz: each item collected produces a distinct sound effect. This is useful because as the game goes on you don’t have the time to double-check what you just found. Wiz has a strange voice and occasionally comments on the action. The music is also impressive, and nicely complements the overall atmosphere of the game: it is at once bouncy and nostalgic, melancholic, and wistful. Among the many great themes, I’d single out those that play during the introduction, the high score list and the Grass Land stage.
While Wiz ‘n’ Liz appears to be an unassuming game, it delivers in a big way. Once you start to tap into its intricacies, this cart becomes very involving and difficult to put down. It is not that hard to beat after some practice, but it offers too many challenges to mention, and the higher difficulty settings are quite tough. Retro gamers with a taste for strange and little-known games can’t go wrong with this fantastic cart.
SCORE: 9 out of 10