Review: Evil Wizard
In most games with characters of any sort, typically the one (or ones) you play as is the good guy, who must triumph over evil, or conquer some insurmountable object, or get points by bopping bad guys, or what-have-you. It isn’t too often a game comes around where you get to play the bad guy, so when you do get to, it’s often an interesting and refreshing experience – it’s sometimes good to be bad! Most famous among these might be the Dungeon Keeper series, which is a real-time strategy title where you try to build the perfect underworld dungeon to keep those pesky heroes at bay.
Today we have a rather cute-looking title that wants to bring that feeling to a top-down adventure game with maybe a dash of Metroidvania thrown in with Evil Wizard, in which the eponymous character gets beaten by a bunch of “heroes” who kick him out of his castle.
Let’s give this game, released on May 25, 2023 by Rubber Duck Games on PC (played for this review) and XBox platforms (Switch and PlayStation versions are coming) a go and see if it really is good to be bad!
The description I already gave you above is basically the entire story for the game. It’s an incredibly simple excuse plot. All you know is there is this group of heroes known as the Heroes Alliance who defeat the Evil Wizard in battle, destroying his magic staff and kicking him out of his own castle/dungeon. It’s your job as the Player to guide Evil Wizard back through his castle and defeat the goodly heroes.
Despite the lack of story, there’s a remarkable amount of dialogue, and the game really wants to sell itself to you with it. The problem is the game can’t quite decide if it simply wants to parody typical fantasy game tropes, or if it just wants to be humorous, or something else entirely.
The game starts up with a warning about the use of crude humor and how you shouldn’t take it too seriously. Unfortunately, with the constant fourth-wall breaking and the wide range of internet meme jokes and such, the problem isn’t really that the jokes are offensive. They’re just, honestly, not all that funny. That’s being a little harsh perhaps; I certainly wasn’t above laughing at a few, but I think the game tries a little too hard to be funny.
Without a coherent story, it’s almost as if the developers just had a long list of dad jokes and internet silliness they wanted to share with someone, and decided to inject it into this game because they couldn’t think up a more detailed plot. Visually, most of the game takes place in a fantasy environment, but some tech is mixed in and the Wizard goes on about how many followers he has on social media. For some reason you collect themed rubber ducks and the Wizard constantly talks to the player. Everything is just so random. The game not really knowing what it truly wants to be really takes away from the experience.
Mastering the Elements
On the gameplay side of things, the game definitely fares better. Evil Wizard uses a top-down perspective reminiscent of the early Zelda games. You have a sword you can swing in a basic fashion and you find and unlock magic spells you can use both to kill enemies, and to make progress.
The combat controls aren’t bad but do take a bit of getting used to. Attacking uses mechanics similar to a twin-stick shooter, where you move with one stick (or WASD keys), and aim attacks with the other stick (or mouse cursor). After you get the hang of it, it works well.
The enemies you fight are tuned a bit towards the challenging side, which is fine, and each is aligned with a particular element. Using the game’s elemental wheel, the enemy’s element determines which other element it’s weak to, and other elements may be less effective or do nothing. As the game progresses, you gain access to several different types of magic. Initially you can only use one at a time and need to use objects which possess that element in order to change which magic you’re using. Later you can use two at a time and you can can use them together for different results.
Overall the combat system isn’t super elaborate but it is reasonably intuitive and satisfying. I also appreciate the fact the game does offer difficulty adjustment options. Evil Wizard positions itself as being difficult, but I didn’t find it extreme; it leans towards being difficult, but it’s not an unreasonable kind of difficulty. Good understanding of the magics and a good sense of timing will overcome most challenges, as well as upgrading your items, which you get resources for by executing dying enemies.
There is one aspect that isn’t really good or bad but rather just plain weird. I guess I should have sort of expected it given the name of the studio, but you can find these odd “wrapped ducks” all around the castle, some hidden and some not as much. When turned in to an appropriate NPC, they are revealed to be duck-ified parodies of various characters from gaming and television media (“Duckwing Duck,” did they really do that?). It’s an odd and interesting sidequest, though I couldn’t find any status screen or anything where you could view the collection of ducks you’ve found. Seems like that would be important for such a feature…
Fixing That Projector
So let’s talk about the visuals. Despite the artfully done hand-drawn cover art, the game goes for a hybrid retro-modern pixel art look. It is pretty well executed, though there are some VFX here and there that don’t seem to quite mesh with it perfectly. If I’m being honest with you, I think this game would look better if it was all done in the hand drawn style of the cover art.
And bizarrely enough, the arcade minigame you encounter early on, which in fact has the Evil Wizard (and parodied versions of Bub and Bob from Bubble Bobble), uses this drawn art style. In fact, I really liked the look of the art in the minigame, and it really had me questioning why the whole game wasn’t done in that style. The Evil Wizard was practically made for it, if you ask me. Shouldn’t the arcade machine have had the pixel art graphics and not the other way around?
The sound experience is quite good, with somewhat muted but enjoyable music tracks that fit in very well with the environments. For me, that’s a key consideration for game music. Aside from the obvious quality and originality points, I always ask, “Does this music belong in this environment?” There are quite a few games out there that don’t seem to get this quite right. The good news for Evil Wizard is it does pass this test. Enjoyable background tracks, they fit the area themes, and don’t sound too generic.
As tiresome as the jokes and the fourth-wall breaking get, the game offers pretty good quality voice acting. I only wish there was more of it. The opening scenes with the Evil Wizard are fully voiced, but a short while later the voice lines become very short and get recycled a lot. A bit unfortunate, as I think a lot of the dialogue would have gone over a bit better with more of the fun voice acting.
Good to be Evil
I’m pretty torn with this game. My main issue is the game tries too hard to sell itself with jokes and silliness, and it comes across as covering for the game’s flaws. While they aren’t serious, I feel like the game, decent as is, could have been pushed to good or even great with more focus on the gameplay and less on trying to be edgy with crude humor.
The game is fun, but I just feel like it could be so much better if it got its priorities in order. The evilest thing about the Evil Wizard might just be all the pop culture references and internet meme jokes he inflicts on you.
Now, I don’t want to sell it too short here. The right kind of person can certainly appreciate this sort of thing and those people might enjoy this a lot more and make it worth buying. But for the rest of us, the gameplay just isn’t remarkable enough, and I don’t think a bucket of humor dumped over the player’s head is what the doctor ordered. This earns it a score that reflects the niche audience that can appreciate the game for what it is.
Review Copy provided by Rubber Duck Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Rubber Duck Games.