Date: May 24, 2023
If you’re looking for a new indie game filled with crass, tongue-in-cheek humor, then Evil Wizard by Rubber Duck Games is probably a game you won’t want to miss. However, before we dive deep into the review and give you all our thoughts, let’s go over some nuances that make reviewing games difficult. In writing reviews, you have to decide how you can fairly critique a game. Should it be compared only to games in its same genre and style, or should it rather be stacked up against similarly priced games? My editor will probably read this first part and wonder what the hell I’m doing, but don’t worry; it’s all part of the plan.
If that fourth-wall-breaking first paragraph actually grabbed your attention, and you liked its meta nature, then I would say Evil Wizard is the type of game you would enjoy. That’s its whole shtick: you as the player are constantly spoken to and referred to by the characters. At the start, after the wizard is kicked out of his castle by a band of heroes, the variable that he is going to leverage in his quest for revenge is none other than… you, the player. After all, it makes sense that who ever has the player on their side will win eventually. I thought it was relevant to kick this review off in this manner because these types of games aren’t for everyone. Some of us prefer an immersive experience that we can get lost in, and that’s hard to do when you’re reminded that you’re “not special” in real life by the very game in which you’re trying to escape (they say this in the closing credits, I giggled).
This self-aware style is played out in almost all the game’s traits, exceptionally so in its characters and dialogue. The partially voice-acted protagonist is the obvious star, with his witty insults and malicious banter. However, the cast of supporting characters does a lot to give this game personality, and there’s a surprising amount of them for such a short game (it took me 8 hours to see the end credits). They all have referential names that inspire at least a smirk (my favorite was the minion’s name, D. Monique). However, some of their back and forth talking can drag on and not deliver on the anticipated punch lines. Even the basic enemies have small funny moments where their conversations are overheard, though only a couple are truly memorable.
On a positive note, the bosses play heavily on established hero tropes, and should elicit both laughs and nostalgia in longtime gamers. Some of them are copied and pasted generic versions of heroes from other games, while others are the developer’s own unique comedic takes on heroes. They each have their own little speeches that they recite before the fight, and while only a couple have jokes that landed, the designs themselves are pretty funny. I won’t go into details on these boss identities because stepping into the room and recognizing them is half the fun. While that aspect was a plus for me, those bosses and their references will be lost on newcomers to the gaming scene.
Like the jokes and speeches, fighting the bosses is hit-and-miss as well. While half the bosses have complicated, challenging fights, the other half are more straight forward with fewer surprises. That’s not to say that they aren’t fun, but you won’t get the same fuzzy feeling from murdering them. It’s a shame, too, because those tough fights feel extremely rewarding after you finally win. Alas, not all bosses can be created equally, as most of you probably know from playing FromSoftware games, but that doesn’t mean we should lower our expectations. That being said, the good boss fights alone make the game a satisfying experience.
The rest of the gameplay is standard for a game like this: you explore, kill basic enemies, solve simple puzzles, and use different elemental spells to gain advantages. Usually there is a small area that you need to explore, ridding it of mini-bosses and solving puzzles, before you arrive at and defeat the main boss, then you rinse and repeat. It’s a classic structure that’s been around forever, and I personally don’t have any problems with how Rubber Duck Games implements it here. There are enough unique enemy types and little hidden nooks that you should feel entertained while en route to the real treat, the bosses.
The design of the map and levels is easy to grasp, and the game gives enough hints that it’s unlikely anyone will get stuck for long. I had one instance where I didn’t know where to go, but that was from me just not seeing an entrance to a whole area. Except for one spot I ran into, the save points are situated in a way that you won’t have long treks back to the boss that keeps killing you. This is good for those gamers that become frustrated, less time to stew over their failures and more time fighting the boss.
The elemental spells you learn throughout the castle are not only devastating in combat (if used on the right type of enemy), but also tools to help you navigate and unlock different sections. It doesn’t feel like the devs gave each spell the same amount of love in this respect, though. I mostly found myself just freezing water over and over again, and not using the void magic for any of the puzzles.
The RPG elements are basic, but executed perfectly for a game of this size. There are five types of upgrades that improve your efficacy in dispatching enemies and staying alive; these can only be purchased with currency, which is mostly accumulated by finding collectibles. A real twist is that the collectibles are actually fun to find and deposit because they reveal themselves as rubber duck versions of popular characters and icons. Also, unlike some other games, the currency is not in abundance. It’s an effective way of making you really consider what to spend it on, and gives you a slight replay incentive to try out the other abilities you weren’t able to afford.
The unique gameplay system in Evil Wizard is the ability to absorb life from near-death enemies. This is interesting because of its high-risk high-reward dynamic, where if other enemies are still around then chancing an absorption could mean death. Honestly, there are only a few sections when fighting the basic enemies are difficult and this might make a difference. As for the boss fights, you can only use the mechanic in one or two of them. It is a cool idea, but it feels like more gameplay could’ve been developed around it.
Just to touch on the technical side of things; the game runs well and all the spells, attacks, and fights behave as you would expect. The only knock against it is that on rare occasions, inputs don’t seem to register (I played it on controller). I would try to cast a spell, or dodge, and my character would just sit there like a lame duck (get the reference?). This becomes more frustrating on those tough boss battles, where one wrong input is basically instant death. Another tiny problem I have is with the fast travel; the game wouldn’t let me select my destination, forcing me to leave and re-enter the fast travel menu. These are both minor issues, and ones that will likely be fixed in an early patch.
What really bolsters the game is the art. It’s a familiar pixelated style that also has some nice lighting effects to make certain things like spells and effects really pop. The artists do a phenomenal job in realizing death scenes, and playing off the evil humor; I just wish there were more of them, frankly. The easy to see animations that provide indicators for attacks elevate the gameplay, and the sound provides the perfect atmosphere for a villain’s castle.
It’s all really what you would expect in a game like this. The developers got the assignment, understood it, and checked all the boxes. This game will likely do very well with that target audience of people who laugh easy at crude jokes, prefer simple top-down controls, don’t mind an immersion breaking narrative, and take pleasure in challenging boss battles.
However, it can’t really be recommended beyond those circles because it doesn’t do enough to break the mould and become something unmissable. That’s something that great games have in common: they elevate themselves above their genre and manifest something new and special. The game itself does was it set out to do and does it well, but none of it is really novel, except for maybe the meta narrative and humor, which isn’t enough to rate it higher in my estimation. Evil Wizard is exactly what you think it is and what it tells you it is, and either you’ll like it or you won’t.