Review: Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord (Switch) – A grand remake of an iconic game

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

In Wizardry you don’t have ‘luck’, as is the case in other games. You may occasionally encounter an easy enemy, but if during an expedition you decide to take a chance and go down a floor ‘just to see’ how things go, it won’t go well. “Your entire party has been slaughtered.” Again. This remake of Sir-Tech’s formative 1981 dungeon crawler may have had a few rough edges sanded away by Digital Eclipse, but underneath the trappings, this is the same game that’s been sweeping away your parties for more than four decades. There is no such thing as ‘playing it out’ in sorcery.

The remake opens with a letter from the ‘Project Murphy’ team explaining its objectives. “Our primary goal is to make the original game accessible to modern players, while staying true to the original feel and gameplay.” For better or worse, what we have here is a very faithful adaptation that retains the spirit of the Apple II original. And it’s a beautiful (and heavy) piece of work that could benefit from a few more optional improvements.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Let’s focus first on the dedication to the groundbreaking original. Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord spawned many ports and sequels and laid the foundation for party systems and dungeon-based combat in the RPG genre. As described in the opening letter (and evidenced by the version visibly running in an overlay on the screen, if you wish) this remake is built “right on top” of the Apple II code. In addition to some beautiful new visuals and audio, a host of optional quality-of-life adjustments are present, but the core gameplay here is first-person dungeon-crawling 101.

You are tasked with retrieving an amulet from the wizard Werdna located on the tenth floor of a maze beneath Overlord Trebor’s castle. Each level consists of a 20×20 grid and your job is to assemble a varied D&D-style party, explore each floor while battling monsters in turn-based dice battles, gaining enough experience to completely survive all the way to the bottom, and eventually rip the MacGuffin from Werdna’s cold, dead hands. By leveling up, acquiring better equipment, and learning new spells along the way, you will revisit the castle above many times if you wish to avoid a very quick death at the hands of the many and varied beasts you encounter.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

And you will die. The tooltips speak clearly. “Explore carefully and don’t overdo it.” “Don’t fall in love with your characters.” You really get the sense that Digital Eclipse, while targeting core fans who want the purest possible update, is doing its level best to set expectations and context for newcomers as well – something it achieves so elegantly in its interactive documentary series, but limits is to loading screens and optional conversation tips here. These warnings must be heeded if you don’t want your entire party to be slaughtered again and again. Luck can be a character trait you can pump points into, but a great Luck stat won’t get you through dozens of invisible dice rolls. you shall die without adequate preparation and equipment.

Wizardry’s pacing is a bit lopsided. Perhaps a result of removing pen and paper from the equation, but it took us a long time to get into the mindset, build our party, and hit our heads on the first few floors as we hunted for specific , progress-determining items. You’ll revisit the same old haunts – including an infamous grind-friendly ghost (hmm, that came out wrong) – to farm XP. Taking your party to a level where they can traverse an entire floor And it is difficult to get back above ground to recover.

And then, at some point, after maybe 15 hours, access to more than half the floors unceremoniously opened, and nothing stopped us from going to floor 10. So you explore the remaining floors just to earn XP. Mapping out the levels and filling out your Bestiary is all well and good, but knowing that the final gauntlet is only over there which makes the second half feel a bit perfunctory.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

The setup is not that different from, for example, Ganondorf who is there from the very beginning, accessible and waiting for you, in Hyrule Castle. On the other hand, five floors of identical-looking walls are a different prospect than a vast open world full of activity and wonder. Taking the risk and proceeding to floor 10 obviously results in merciless punishment. “Magic is a game of patience”, to remind?

Fortunately, this remake retains the comedy of the original almost to the letter. The ‘OOF!’ And ‘HUMPH!’The messages that appear on the wall with each bump show how the creators – both the original developers and Digital Eclipse – realize the need for levity. The deadly seriousness of Trebor’s mission is underscored by an infectious silliness, the kind that had original developers Robert Woodhead and Andrew Greenberg spelling their names backwards for the game’s main characters. Dopey spell titles keep things light in a game that could so easily become a dark, depressing trudge.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

As for the puzzle, there isn’t much more to the first few floors than finding keys and locks. The pen and paper cards that were essential in 1981 are less important here thanks to your latest DUMAPIC card available on the ‘Y’ button. The option to mark that map with hazards and points of interest would have been very welcome, especially in handheld mode, where the touchscreen goes unused. So there’s still value in sitting down with some graph paper and drawing maps yourself, if you have the courage to do so.

And that’s exactly the kind of attitude you’ll adopt must adopt to get the most out of wizardry. There is little room for shortcuts. Before we found and sold an incredibly valuable item, the only way to game the system (that we discovered) was to farm resurrection funds by selling the equipment of freshly created characters. We got it down to an art, quickly scaring off six Good Elf Priests (each with 80G worth of gear) and heading to Boltac’s shop to sell their stuff before removing the lot and producing the next batch. Needs have to when you’re in trouble and ‘Chops’ was done by a boring bug.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

When it comes to modern conveniences, you can configure Digital Eclipse’s new additions through the Old-School Options menu. If you want the original level layouts from ’81 or the trickier maps from the console adaptations, you can choose from them from the start. Quality of life adjustments include a small environmental map, contextual cues from group members, and how certain mechanisms are implemented. If you want to manually set the base attribute points for each character created, you can do that. If you want the Temple to function exactly as it did in the original and ignore the modern rebalancing, then go for it. The remake also adds character recruitment options, with rental weapons similar to your top-level character, if you have the money.

It’s a strong set of options, but again, there’s that tension between sanding off rough edges while staying true to the original spirit. Honestly, we would have liked a few more options. Pressing ‘Y’ in combat automatically selects the first action for all six party members (attack on the front row, parry on the back row), which is fine, but you have to go through the animations. If you’re deeply involved in each round, as with mid-to-high level monsters, that’s no problem – and the animations are great. But if you go through the motions that edit XP, the ability to speed things up would have been appreciated. We love you, Murphy, but come on.

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

Visually this is a lavish update and we never got tired of seeing the bricks peeled back to reveal secret doors. The performance is stable, there are no complaints at all, although the appearance of 15 Creeping Coins puts a bit of a load on the system. The controls are well thought out and the UI is clean – we had no problems reading things on an OLED, where we played almost exclusively in handheld mode.

If you step back for a moment, it’s Wizardry’s impressive depth, born from simplicity, that stays with you, and the game’s genius is on full display here. It took us a good twelve hours to conquer the first four floors, and at least another dozen before we were strong enough to take on Werdna, and we resorted to a few online maps to help us along the way. Needs, musts, etc. You could sink hundreds You can spend hours in this, depending on how old-fashioned you want to be, and it will be like a warm blanket for veterans.

However, if you are new to the game or genre, you need to understand what you are signing up for. Identifying the countless veins of influence is incredibly satisfying and the maze will take over your mind if you let it. You go to sleep formulating strategies and working on plans to rescue fallen heroes who, despite the tooltip’s advice, you became too attached to, while the excellent music plays in your head. (The grind makes it a great “podcast game,” but don’t miss the audio here.)

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Captured on Nintendo Switch (Handheld/Undocked)

If you not with that mentality, sorcery is probably not for you; wing-and-a-prayer gamers do not need to sign up. There is no such thing as a ‘happiness run’; the grind – but also the deep satisfaction of achieving every inch of progress – is real.

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