As a young child, I’d forever sneak into my older brother’s bedroom in the hope of playing on his Amiga.
Following its launch in the late eighties, the Amiga 500 was used by some as a home computer. But to my brother and I, in the dawn of the nineties, it was a gaming nirvana. We had boxes and boxes filled with floppy disks containing a myriad of pixelated marvel; from my brother’s (boring) favourite of Championship Manager to classics like Lemmings and The Secret of Monkey Island (a game which spread over 11 floppy disks, might I add). Me, being not much more than a tot, preferred to play the likes of Postman Pat; that was until I discovered a curious title going by the name of Wizkid.
Wizkid was developed by legendary British studio Sensible Software. Mainly known for their then-popular Sensible Soccer series, Wizkid was something totally different. Part puzzle, part adventure, it was like nothing I’d ever played before – and like nothing I’ve played since. It was an official sequel to Sensible’s 1987 game Wizball, a scrolling shooter where the aim was to collect droplets of paint to restore the colour to each level. Wizball received critical and commercial success, and still is lauded as one of the best games of the era. Its more comedic and obscure sequel, however, released in 1992 with the official title Wizkid: The Story of Wizball II, hasn’t quite held the same legacy. It’s a real shame.
The delightful obscurity of Wizkid
In the early 90s, videogames were only just starting to spread their wings and explore more complex formulas. The simplicity of Space Invaders was already a long-gone relic of the past, but it was still fairly unusual for games to be multifaceted or contain more than one key idea. Wizkid proved that wrong by containing a wide range of level types, all with varying designs and themes. On starting the game, you’d play as the titular Wizkid’s head; flying around the screen and knocking objects into enemies to kill them. This appeared to be all that the game offered on first glance, but after a bit of time in the company of Wizkid, he’d begin to reveal his extra layers to you.
Each of the basic levels had a series of music notes hidden in them. Upon finding them all, Wizkid’s head would be reunited with his body and an adventure-driven level would begin. These levels played out more like a classic point-and-click game, allowing you to interact with the environment around you in order to find useful objects. Humour was a big factor too; I distinctly remember riding a donkey who was chasing a carrot on a stick. Another level saw you giving a newspaper to a dog as a distraction, before being shown a cutscene of the dog sat on the toilet reading said newspaper. My childish sense of humour appreciated it very much at the time. It’d still raise a chuckle or two even now, some 20-odd years later.
The variety didn’t end there, either. Sometimes on a losing screen, you’d be given a “crossword” puzzle, where you’d have to rearrange a series of words into a grid. Even now, not many games offer such a cross-section of genres, and never so delightfully put together. The unique mixture of play styles on offer meant Wizkid was a game that could appeal to a vast audience, given a chance. No matter what kind of game you favoured, surely at least one element of Wizkid would make you look twice.
I have to admit that in my youthful state, I don’t think I ever completed Wizkid. But every time I got near that Amiga, it was the first disk I slotted into the machine. Even if most of my time playing was just repeating the first couple of levels over and over, I never got bored. It’s a shame that for most, Sensible’s Wizkid will forever remain an unknown obscurity. For me, playing Wizkid forms one of my earliest – and most cherished – gaming memories. No matter how much time passes, its colourful screens, funky music and creative humour always sticks with me.
This article was originally published in April 2016.