The Wizard’s Lair – Review

The Wizard’s Lair

developed by Magicbane

Judging by recent and upcoming releases, I have a feeling that 2013 might turn out to be the year of the Roguelike, for indie games at least.  Most gamers should be familiar with the genre by now, but for those uninitiated few: “The roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by level randomization, permanent death, and turn-based movement.” –   (taken from Wikipedia).  I couldn’t have said it better myself.

There are a plethora of roguelikes to choose from, and these days you can have your fill of classically inspired role-playing, featuring original ASCII graphics, a deep story, and a variety of races, classes, weapons, spells, and monsters.  If you prefer games with hand drawn sprites, tile-based level design, epic musical scores, and half-hearted stories that focus more on a sense of humor than anything else well, you can have that too.

The Wizard’s Lair is one of those roguelikes that fits between these categories.  It takes a simple approach to gameplay and the story isn’t exactly deep or unique.  There is very little in terms of character selection and customization save choosing your avatar’s appearance from a number of preset character sprites.  It looks rather bland at first, and the sound or rather lack thereof, does leave something to be desired.  But, underneath it’s crude exterior, The Wizard’s Lair does provide a fast paced, user-friendly, and easy to get into experience for that allows the player to jump head first into the action and gameplay.  It’s the type of game that will appeal to those looking for a coffee break distraction or something more fast-paced and less involving than the full featured classically styled D&D roguelikes of yesteryear.

Story & Gameplay
The story is simple, enter the Wizard’s Lair and slay the Wizard of Anarkhis.  Nothing to it, except that this is a roguelike and that means challenging difficulty accompanied by permadeath.  In other words, once you die that’s it, you must restart from the very beginning.  The controls are very simple as well.  Players can use the keyboard or a gamepad if they prefer.  Most roguelikes normally utilize a number of hotkeys, The Wizard’s Lair uses five or six keys or buttons making it one of the easiest and most approachable roguelikes available.  The gameplay is still turn-based and so is the combat.  Movement is handled with the arrow keys and combat initiates simply by bumping into enemies and monsters.  There are a number of weapons, items and spells that players will find during each playthru.  However, during the time I’ve spent playing I haven’t once received loot by killing an enemy, so there’s a bit of luck involved when locating items considering every level is randomly generated.

Understanding the basic principles of The Wizard’s Lair is more important than memorizing the keyboard layout and learning which spells do what.  This bare-bones approach allows the player to start the game in little time and with little effort.  The GUI (graphical user interface) is also kept clean and simple.  As simple as the design is, players must still watch their health or HP (hit points).  It’s also important to keep an eye on the map and minimap since it shows any traps you’ve discovered, though it obviously won’t show the traps you haven’t discovered.  The amount of food you have is shown as a percentage in the top right corner of the screen, so finding consumables is another important aspect of exploration especially as you get further into the game.  Lastly, your character stats are affected by leveling up, finding better loot, and by enchanting your weapons and armor.

Graphics & Sound:
The Wizard’s Lair is a graphical roguelike meaning it comes with sprite and tile based graphics.  The graphics are a little on the light sight but they definitely do the trick.  At first the character and monster sprites seem a little mundane, but the further you get into The Wizard’s Lair and the deeper you go, the more varied (and difficult) these monsters become.  Even though there are a handful of character sprites to choose from when beginning the game, to my knowledge they are purely cosmetic and have no affect on character class or starting statistics.  The monsters do become more flavorful as you get deeper into the dungeon as do the tile-based backgrounds.

The sounds are probably a little too simple.  The sound fx themselves are fine, but there’s absolutely no musical score to be found in The Wizard’s Lair.  This is a little disappointing because I believe a little bit of atmosphere can go a long way.  I realize that most original roguelikes made during the 80’s didn’t come with music either, but considering the developer decided to include sprite based graphics and tiles, I think that even with it’s rudimentary gameplay a soundtrack could only help to improve the atmosphere ever so slightly.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced roguelike that’s more likely to eat up minutes rather than hours, then you can’t go wrong with The Wizard’s Lair.  Casual gamers will really appreciate the pick-up and play user friendly interface, but the difficulty level is still enough to please veteran gamers and roguelike fans.  The question is whether or not you like your roguelikes deep and engaging, the kind that you can spend days planning out your moves and carefully planning your adventure, or whether you like the type of game where you can jump right in and have fun without having to read numerous fact sheets and memorize a couple of dozen hotkeys.  If you prefer the latter or don’t mind either way and you’re looking for another good coffee break game, then you should definitely check out The Wizard’s Lair.  You can buy the game directly from The Wizard’s Lair official website or purchase it through Desura.

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