Teo and Mia were travelling wizards — putting on shows to make ends meet — when one day the evil wizard Kardia showed up during one of their performances, and turned Mia into a statue! Now Teo has no choice but to chase after Kardia if he’s ever wants Mia back, yet the only offensive spell he knows is one that uses his kinetic energy — gathered whenever he falls down — to temporarily stun lesser opponents. Thus goes the premise to Drop Wizard (out now, $1.99), the latest release by Neutronized — an Italian game studio — that feels as though it was a spiritual successor to Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands.
Your goal for each of Drop Wizard’s sixty different stages is to eliminate all of the enemies present, which — although initially a simple enough task — will quickly become a fiendish challenge. As time goes on you’ll meet various enemies with a variety of behaviors: some can only be attacked from behind, some will leave a dangerous trail of fire behind them, some will spend time hiding underground, and so on and so forth. However — no matter how complicated a situation may seem — there is usually something you can do that’ll eliminate all of the enemies present with one brilliant combo-attack, earning a ton of bonus points in the process!
To complete this goal you have left and right movement buttons on the respective bottom corners of your iDevice, although they don’t work in Drop Wizard as you might first expect. Although you may freely change your direction whenever you wish — even while falling — the one thing you can never do is stop walking forward, although you can hold up against a wall if you’re positively determined to stay in just one place. Anyways, this represents the absolute entirety of the active controls afforded to anyone seeking to aid Teo in his perilous quest to rescue Mia from the dark spell cast upon her by Kardia.
However, there is — from a passive minded perspective — far more depth to winning Drop Wizard than the game’s two-button control scheme might otherwise initially suggest. Successfully stunning enemies will — as previously mentioned — require that you drop from a higher platform in order to blast them, which is quite often easier said than executed. Furthermore — once stunned — walking into an enemy will give them a nice proper kick, which will result in the foe rolling across the ground until they finally slam head first into a solid wall (at which point they’ll explode into valuable bonus fruit).
Although you could finish a stage by taking out enemies one at a time, Drop Wizard — keeping in line with the Risk-Vs-Reward mentality that used to drive classical arcade titles — has an incentive for players to execute things a bit more efficiently. Should a booted critter ever smack into another enemy then they’ll combine into a larger rolling mass of minions, and as a result won’t explode after running into just a single wall. Instead the massive rolling pile will only erupt after having collided with a number of walls equal to the amount of enemies collected, meaning an enterprising player’s first challenge is to figure out how to always kick minions away from the closest wall present.
Players are handsomely rewarded whenever they create these colossal enemy chains as they will begin knocking valuable diamonds from the ceiling whenever they bounce off a wall, and afterwards explode into a veritable shower of yummy bonus fruit! Another way players can get bonuses is by ensuring that their kicked enemies roll over special patches of dirt, which will result in coins — and sometimes even power-ups — being unearthed. Finally, successfully unearthing all of the current level’s dirt patches will cause huge diamonds — whom easily tower of over Teo with their massive stature — to begin raining down from the sky (thus leaving Teo to quickly gather them all up before they dissapear).
Needless to say, there’s quite the difference on Drop Wizard’s high score list between players barely surviving a level and those whom have otherwise utterly dominated the exact same stage. This leads to Drop Wizard featuring a great deal of replayability for veterans, as there’s much room for long-time players to go back and improve upon their previous performances. That said, I’d highly advise that starting players instead initially focus on merely getting through each level alive — in the process minimizing the damage they’re taking — as you’ll have to restart the entire six stage batch if you run out of lives.
At the end of each level set — which are individually selectable after they’ve been unlocked — Teo must do battle with a giant boss (some of whom even fill the entire screen), but these fearsome foes are far too hardy to be harmed by Teo’s meager spell. The road to besting these enormous opponents — as you may have already surmised — involves stunning and kicking nearby minions at them, but this too is a feat often easier said than done (especially when the boss insists on almost never standing still). Eventually, should a player manage to achieve Drop Wizard’s hidden good ending — as you’re not a proper homage to Bubble Bobble without containing a secret ending — you’ll even gain access to a Boss Rush mode where you can play a Mia herself.
The end result of all these various mechanics coming together is a game that feels very much as if you’ve somehow discovered a genuine hidden fourth sequel to Bubble Bobble, taking place sometime after the rarely seen Parasol Stars. Further cementing the legitimacy of Drop Wizard’s retro style is the game’s detailed – highly animated – and colorful art style, which genuinely feels as though Neutronized hired actual Taito alumni. In particular I especially enjoyed the limited dialogue cut scenes – filled with what I can only assume are Onigiri people – that take place between each level set, all of which successfully invoke the style of storytelling typical of Japanese games from the eighties.
About the only thing that might drive some away from Drop Wizard is – very much similar the classic games it homages – the later levels can often be quite maddening, taking the form of puzzles with solutions that aren’t always immediately obvious. Furthermore, actually reaching the secret good ending – which both frees Mia from her curse, and additionally unlocks the hidden Boss Rush mode – will require quite a bit of game mechanics mastery to achieve. If Taito’s various arcade classics regularly drove you towards utter fits of rage, then don’t come over to Drop Wizard expecting an easier time just because the game was designed for mobile devices instead of arcades.
Finally I would like to inform people that it’s perfectly natural to be met with a solid grey screen upon booting up Drop Wizard, the real game will begin eventually (although I really think that Neutronized should seriously consider having a loading message here).
iFanzine Verdict: Drop Wizard is an exceedingly well handled tribute to games such as Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars, and numerous other arcade games made in Japan during the mid-eighties. Although seemingly easy at first, the game’s unique drop-spell mechanic – coupled with the ability to kick enemies into other enemies – has a surprising amount of depth in it (leading to massive replayability). About the chief thing that will keep most people away from, Drop Wizard is that the later stages – much like the classical titles from which Neutronized drew inspiration – turn into full on diabolical puzzles, with solutions that can often be hard to suss out.