Roguelike is a genre that seems to have crept out of the shadows over the years with titles like Spelunky, Enter the Gungeon and FTL: Faster than Light all garnering solid sales. Once the kingdom of only the most hardcore of players, it is a genre that requires patience as you die over and over, all while grinding away to progress a little further. Some roguelikes have now been dubbed roguelites because they cushion the player with engaging progression systems or gameplay mechanics making the frustration a little more bearable. Others will crush you until you sit in a corner blubbering to yourself.
Wizard of Legend tries to straddle the fine line between the two and almost successfully manages to do just that.
The game has a simple yet effective plot from the outset. You begin as a powerful wizard invited to take part in the annual trials set up by the Council of Magic; the aim is to beat the trials and the four leaders of the council to become the next Wizard of Legend.
The first thing you will notice is that the plot is laid out rather wonderfully within what should be a tutorial section. Based within a charming museum that comes complete with interactive displays and plenty of plaques to read if you so choose, it is in fact entirely possible to skip the intro and the plot completely if you wish to get straight in to the gritty grinding. It is also here that I encountered my first issue, as it gives you very little training in the mechanics and systems involved and although they are simple it can be confusing when there are multiple layers of mechanics to learn. A little tutorial on how to play would have helped here.
Once through the initial section you are deposited in the hub area. Consisting of your own room, shops to buy relics and arcana, a practice area and the teleport pad for the dungeons, again it is all very charming and this area is one you will be seeing the most often. Then it’s off to the first dungeon – these are procedurally generated and use a set theme based around which council leader you’re heading for (fire, ice or ground).
Graphically it’s a pretty game, the animation is really good and the pixel based sprites really pop on-screen, especially when playing the game on the One X. Once the action starts it all feels really intuitive and the combat is surprisingly addictive because of this. However there are times when the amount going on can make it hard to tell where your character is placed. This is really detrimental because Wizard of Legend is all about placing yourself against enemy attacks. A little less of the flashy effects would have helped here. This effect also comes in to play when playing in co-op as quite often all the effects on-screen mean you can lose track of your character or move focus to the other players character.
On the subject of co-op, the game plays really well with two characters on-screen and I had a blast running through dungeons with a buddy. This is however local co-op only, which is a shame as it is a title that could really benefit from having online options.
Gameplay is a pretty simple affair with each of the face buttons assigned a move known as an “Arcana”, with them all based around the elements; fire, ice, water, wind, ground and electric. There are over 100 arcana cards to collect and moves have a really satisfying and sizeable variety of effects. These range from simple melee hits to homing ice projectiles that can freeze enemies, and one that surrounds you with a magnetic field catching any projectiles hurled at you and spinning them into the nearest unsuspecting foe that ventures into it’s path.
Two of your moves are always assigned as a dash and a signature move – the dash is used mainly for quick escapes or to close the gap on enemies, while the signature is a move that can be powered up by killing multiple foes in a row, allowing you to unleash a powerful three chain combo. It is entirely up to you how to manage the loadout of moves in your arsenal and it can change-up the game significantly. Do you go for a variety of elemental effects to tackle each of the dungeons with or do you focus on the most powerful moves you have to deal as much damage as quickly as possible?
You will often need to consider the loadout you have because the game throws you into all sorts of combat situations. Sometimes you can be found in tight corridors, while others will see you locked into a large room full of traps or holes. It can become incredibly tense when your health begins to run low and you are so close to completing the dungeon.
Enemies again offer up a nice variety from mages to archers and spearmen. Each come with their own unique moves that upgrade with each dungeon you complete, so you will never be too powerful and it is always a challenge to get through each room successfully. Even in co-op enemies are levelled to offer up a decent challenge. Occasionally though things can seem a little unfair here with enemies pinning you to a wall giving you no escape or pushing you into traps or holes with very little effort. I have also come across the occasional glitch that leaves me trapped in a wall with no option but to quit out and start again.
If you can manage to beat the first two dungeons you will face off against the first of the four council members. Played out in enclosed arenas, these encounters don’t pull any punches and will require you to time dodges and attacks to take advantage of the tiny gaps these guys give you. If you can manage to stagger them, you will find small openings to let loose and combo up as much as you can before they return to the routine of punishing you. Other than their elemental attacks the bosses and dungeons all follow the same pattern of two levels followed by a council member encounter that consists of them attacking a few times before giving you an opening. It has to be said that I feel more could have been done here to offer up different scenarios for each boss, but as the fights only last a couple of minutes it isn’t something you will think about too often.
Whilst combing through dungeons you will also encounter NPCs and these guys are (mostly) here to help offering you a variety of resources. Their resources are usually purchased with gold and will only be with you for as long as you survive in the dungeon.
Artisan Andres offers you relics in exchange for gold offering buffs to moves or your character, while Virtuoso Iris meanwhile runs the arcana shop and so with some gold in your pocket you can boost up your number of moves here by getting two extra slots, in turn making you more powerful as the dungeons progress. Occasionally you can also pick up an enhanced version of your current moves which increase the effects in various ways. Saville is the clothing guy and will take a portion of your health as well as gold to buff up your outfit with various effects from extra max health to faster movement. Personally I think this guy is never worth losing the health over as it is the single most important commodity you have.
And then we have Nox the Unfortunate offering up relics. These cost absolutely nothing but they do come with caveats, most often gaining some substantial buff but at the cost of something else so, in effect, you could significantly increase your armour at the cost of half your health. There is also Doctor Song who studies the long-term effects of arcana usage and asks you to give up one of your moves in exchange for a unique relic from a small selection.
There is also Taffy the piñata to deliver prizes, Cremire who will buy relics off you for a fraction of their value and can come in handy when you don’t have quite enough for that potion you need, and finally Nocturne will swap one of your arcana cards (chosen at random) for one of his own.
Honestly though, Wizard of Legend could probably do without these NPCs as some enemies drop arcana and relics anyway. In fact, they just seem a little tacked on, coming across as filler, to dampen the blows you might take.
In all though I must admit that despite the problems I’ve mentioned I have really enjoyed Wizard of Legend. There is something about the snappy satisfying combat that allows the game to be elevated above the niggling issues that it does have, and will have you wanting to keep going back for more.