Wizard of Legend Review
Around the third time that I beat Flame Empress Zeal, I realized what Wizard of Legend had made me. I’d dodge her combustible kick only to pelt her with small blasts of water. After launching a volley of dragon-shaped fireballs my way, she was just vulnerable enough for me to launch myself into the air via a rock pillar I erected and come crashing down on her with my fist. After her next cycle, I’d rain down ice on her, a trophy from my conquest over Frost Queen Freiya. When she was just barely hanging on, I thought I’d add insult to injury and wield her own power against her. Armed with a flaming whip, I spun and spun until she was done in.
Before I knew it, I’d become unstoppable. I’d become an all purpose warrior of nature. Yep, I’d become the Avatar.
Wizard of Legend might finally be the rogue-like to convince me to see it through to its completion. It’s a genre of games I’m notoriously terrible at, but whose gameplay never enticed me enough to try either. Wizard of Legend not only provides the tactile, heavy combat I adore from games that are as punishing as its ilk but also introduces the suite of gameplay opportunities other rogue-like games would typically relegate to systemic “surprises.” It’s just as reflective of typical rogue-like behavior as it is willing to imbue the player with the ability to directly make awesome shit happen.
It rather openly adopts, for example, the item system of Binding of Isaac, where pickups during the dungeon crawling portion of the game can amplify your abilities or apply supplementary benefits to your character. Where that game purposefully withholds information though, Wizard of Legend is more than willing to chime in and direct you in regard to what everything does. As a matter of fact, at your base where you equip your techniques and equipment, the menus there will happily divide your items into three categories: offense, defense, and miscellaneous. Within them, every item has a brief explanation of its purpose without reducing everything to pure metrics, which is what these games ultimately boil down to. Another menu, held within a speaking book, divides your abilities into their components (basic, dash, standard and signature) and elements (fire, water/frost, earth, lightning and air). There you will find a metric shit ton of abilities to pick from.
While other rogue-likes give you a pretty standard set of abilities to use, Wizard of Legend gives you a smattering of them across multiple elements to tailor your play. These abilities can be upgraded at shopkeepers in the dungeon, exchanged for random ones or purchased in the hub area with a currency you carry outside of dungeons à la Rogue Legacy. As you roll from one elemental dungeon into another, you might think it smart to equip yourself with abilities of varying elements. A basic water attack may not work well in an ice dungeon, but with the knowledge that fire comes after it, it may be worth equipping. On the complete other end, if you want to go full throttle on one, the game won’t stop you. As I write this, I’m currently fulfilling my dream of being an earth bender, complete with an ability that allows me to send forth bits of earth with my fists and kicks. Of course, I’m purely offensive right now, but I have a suite of abilities that promote defense too. It encourages you to play only as you see fit, and while elements definitely counter one another, the game is not nearly grueling enough to punish you for following your own directive.
Where this game differentiates itself from a lot of its inspiration is in its approach to combat. Whereas most popular rogue-likes put an emphasis on maneuverability over combat, action takes center stage in Wizard of Legend. As you run through dungeons at a breakneck pace, you’ll commonly find bigger rooms. These bigger rooms will typically sprout cage walls once you’re within them and encourage gladiatorial combat. These encounters will repeat themselves quite often, with slightly different geometry as you progress through the game. Due to the constraints even within these bigger rooms like pits, spike traps or fire walls that reduce your play space, you’ll be hammering away at buttons trying to frantically dodge between foes that bum rush you, the opulent master casting fireballs at you from a distance and ducking these traps. It doesn’t quite devolve into the frenetic mess that is the bullet hell game but it certainly isn’t avoiding those comparisons.
Due to the active nature of constantly dishing out spells and dashing from place to place, it can be hard to parse that there is a light combo system fueling your play behind the scenes. Chain simple moves together with your abilities relatively minuscule refresh rate in mind and you’ll build a meter that allows for a supercharged ability. Unleashing these at the right time could be the key moment in a boss fight where you quell the horde that can absolutely be sent your way or could be the thing that bursts the shield that you’d normally have to wait out. From there you can chain abilities that could prompt a stun lock, wail away and build another super meter. The games action is cyclical, that cycle is short, and it is very rewarding to execute. As your arsenal of powers grow(nearly doubling from the initial four), it’s very easy to feel incredibly powerful the further you get.
Maybe the factor that is most disappointing outside of anything mechanical is the games lack of writing or story. A whimsical opening that places you in a museum dedicated to wizardry lore is the most exposition and world building done in the game. Beyond that, you get the same rehashed lines from the bosses and that’s about it. It’s not that I was expecting the next great American novel, but to see that setup and get no payoff is a tad underwhelming. Similarly to rehashed lines, some abilities feel like reskins across different elements, environments don’t feel nearly as different as they could be, and the variety of enemies doesn’t grow a lot outside of the few surprises you may come across in the game. In the grand scheme of things these are the same knocks against so many games in this genre and which given my adoration for this game, I’d wish they’d fix, but ultimately still plague it despite its sound foundation and execution.
Wizard of Legend is ultimately a comfortable game and a fantastic distillation of the power fantasy of a child who grew up loving magic or Avatar: The Last Airbender, for that matter. It’s comfortable riffing off of tried and true formulas and simultaneously making those formulas and their resultant systems accessible and approachable. A fun art style, a simple control scheme and a rewarding, active combat system help bolster this game to the heights it reaches and it should proudly stand as one of the better rogue-likes of the generation and the genre.
OK Beast was provided with a press code by the game’s developer for this Wizard of Legend review on the Nintendo Switch.