Author: John Legendoffzelda
By the time of Whizz, Titus and Flair Software’s isometric puzzle-platformer about a rabbit in a magician’s dapper tux, the gaming community had already entered the dregs of the Super Nintendo days. The Nintendo 64 and its intense three-dimensional capabilities had been on the market for a couple of months now, and in at least the US, its predecessor was content with letting its old audience voraciously move on to the new scene. So while sprawling RPGs as large as 48 megabytes were made exclusive to other countries, stateside the console released a surprising concentration of games high on simplicity and short on conceptual “pow”.
There were home versions and compilations of arcade oldies (Ms. Pac-Man ranking above all and Frogger outright concluding the SNES library), and at least one original effort which tried replicating that modest core of design. But what this game overlooks is that this retro trend was comprised of so many arcade classics because they were sure bets. They had rock-solid structures and a flashy accessibility which inspired the mainstream of the Carter-Reagan years to induct them. This vanilla kid’s romp displays modesty without any solidness, and speaks to two different mainstreams that have both left it behind.
Like Aesop’s Hare, or like Bugs Bunny in those cartoons with Cecil Turtle, Whizz is partaking in a race with some unnamed opponent. Whizz has a hot air balloon, while the opponent has a dirigible and as part of an apparent self-imposed challenge, he lands the balloon every so often to traverse an abstract obstacle course. The rules are simple: the Whizz starts at one end, the hot air balloon is at the other end. The player has to make it to the balloon before the timer runs out. When he clears three courses, he starts a new round of three more courses, and so forth.
Standing in his way is a collection of square hills and enemies that march in patterns, with an isometric camera angle to provide novelty and to more efficiently see what’s ahead. Sometimes there are barriers that block a necessary section of the level, and they’ll require searching for a special item that removes their impassibility. But at the same time there are white arrow-shaped signposts to guide Whizz in the right direction and a nice checkered pattern to indicate the start and finish of each level. This Super Mario variation on Crystal Castles is straightforward and plain, and its controls are appropriately reduced: one button jumps and the other button makes Whizz do his attack, a fast spinning move that turns him into a motion blur. Spinning is how Whizz makes it through the obstacles in his path, knocking away enemies and obliterating barriers after he gets the power to obliterate them. It can’t be relied on all the time, though, as it takes away from his health and there are specific enemies in every level that are immune to it regardless.
There’s no real spin to this game, meanwhile; it’s not as exciting as a series of missions about getting from point A to point B should ideally be, even with the three-quarter perspective skewing the platforming. The camera view helps sort of; it makes players focus more on their relative position to a ledge or a stairway. Except it isn’t as effective as it could be, since the trickiness of jumping around these hills gets negated by the levels’ general pace – a common trope with rabbits, Whizz moves around quickly, too quickly to let the dangers of his situation take root. His inability to fall off of the board further softens the challenge, but at least with that mechanic in place it can draw attention to how the time limit is the biggest concern. Then again, several more things take the sting out of the time limits, too: Whizz’s sprinting, a decent understanding of the level layout (those signposts are too effective for their own good), and the slowness with which those seconds tick away.
About the best thing this game does, in light of its low requirements for progress, is that it gives the player a lot to do. Each level is lined with items to collect and switches to activate. There are blue flags; red toadstools that restore health; blue toadstools that deplete health; diamonds, and even hourglasses that add seconds back to the time restraint. There’s also buttons on the ground that create staircases, elevators, and crystal-blue bridges, and some of them even cause nearby rocket ships to fly into the sky.
Maybe those rocket ships have a purpose later on, and maybe they don’t. The one thing for certain is how they represent this game’s high amount of whimsy. This game may occupy its own small world of pleasantness; and along with the simplistic flow of the action, the main hook to Whizz is that it’s whimsical and bright and ideal for young kids. The aesthetic gives the sense that nothing conceptually holds together because this game isn’t much more than a fun amusement park ride; if it’s a feature of the game and it’s appropriately cartoony, it will slide into place like everything else. Everything only slightly does slide into place, including the harmless music and the odd mix of penguins and walking planks of wood with more abstract enemy designs. The subdued colors of each board that highlight the contrasting hues of the items and characters don’t captivate – not like the neon tones that characterize the early-1980s titans this game only wishes it could stand in the company of.
Whizz has a dim arcade soul, and it just isn’t of the same caliber as other titles of its type. It feels most like a hand-me-down game, geared directly at little kids who would inherit their older sibling’s Super Nintendo. It’ll keep them occupied, but as with those who ran to the N64, those kids will also soon move on to something more engrossing.
Three out of five stars.
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