In a world of elves, orcs, and high magic humanity is on its last legs as they face off against the hordes of th Orc Chief Zog. You play as either Chief Zog’s forces, ready to wipe the humans out or as Queen Azarel, desperately taking the fight to Zog’s fortress — It’s just about as Warcraftian as you can get — or is that Tolkienian. Gather resources, build buildings, train units, summon mighty wizards, and train a dragon or two in Warlocked.
Warlocked was created by Bits Studio, a development group I was surprised to find had a pretty big catalog of games. Games including the INFAMOUSLY bad Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves for the Nintendo, Last Action Hero (SNES), and Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The Last Action Hero has level timers so short that unless you played as clean as possible you time out and have to restart the level. That’s how bad it is.. I guess a broken clock is still right twice a day.
Warlocked was released on July 24th, 2000. It’s competition was Diablo II (PC), Strider 2 (PS1), and Chrono Cross (PS1).
A handheld RTS game might be the craziest idea that ever popped into a designer’s head. Battery life demands that missions be short and memory limitations must have been a nightmare. Not to mention the Game Boy only had two buttons, A and B. It creates a binary system, you can choose yes or no. And it makes any attempt at finer controls difficult. But on long trips the adventure was actually well appreciated and the before-mission briefings did a good job of presenting an overall story to the game. I can’t believe I’m saying this but when I played through the intro a few days ago I got actual chills.
Warlocked is basically the simplest version of Warcraft 2 you’ve ever played. Your stronghold trains peasants who chop trees to get fuel, and mine gold mines to get gold. Then they spend those resources on barracks to train elven archers and knights or Orcish grunts and skeleton archers. You move units around and they explore the map through the fog of war in a series of missions, each of which with unique objectives.
Things begin to differ on the magical side of things. Some wizards are shared between the factions while others are faction exclusive. Each wizard is vulnerable to physical attack but can cast valuable and deadly spells with the proper support to keep them alive. Wizards such as Stealthwiz, who can render any unit invisible until they attack a unit — great for resource gathering peasants who never attack. A player can only have two wizards active at a time so they need to choose them wisely.
The game also has a multiplayer mode which requires a link cable between two Gameboys. It seems like Bit Games put a lot of effort into the maps and multiplayer systems. Which is a shame because I sincerely doubt two human beings ever actually played this game against each other.
DRAGONS! If you find a dragon egg in your travels then it will be taken back to your stronghold for safe keeping. In a few minutes it will hatch into a majestic dragon-thing which will utterly destroy your enemies. It can fly over most obstacles and, though vulnerable to arrow fire, can take a lot of punishment.
The music is actually shockingly good, especially for the Gameboy’s limited sound card. Some songs aren’t great but the main theme was pretty striking.
When you’ve finished both campaigns there’s still a lot of game left to play… well sort of. There’s a video poker mode to the game where you can bet your gold and try to win big. You can then use this gold in the multiplayer in some way I never figured out because I never met another human being with this game. Oh yeah, and slider puzzles.
RTS games were made for the keyboard and mouse. Starcraft 64 taught us that messing with this established control scheme is tricky business. Selecting units, ordering units, and choosing which building to construct becomes this sort of cumbersome mess. Worse yet, melee units become nearly useless because it’s so difficult to maneuver them in combat.
Like most RTS games the units have barks when selected and dispatched but the Gameboy’s hardware can’t really support that. Instead what we get is a bit-crushed mess that’s nearly impossible to understand. It serves more as hindrance and noise rather than interesting flavor.
Like Netstorm’s The Noose, I got totally stuck in the middle of Zog’s campaign — strangely enough, I was able to play through Azarel’s campaign without much issue. The mission is a pitched battle in which you’re given control of the mighty Plaguewiz who can infect enemies with Blobby Pox which causes them to explode and infect nearby units… not enemies, any unit. The clunky controls make it nearly impossible to keep your men out of the blast radius. And because Plaguewiz is quite fragile — he’s wracked with pneumonia and basically everything after all — he needs a constant escort. This all wouldn’t be so bad but the mission stipulations means there’s no base or reinforcements.
If you ever wanted to play Warcraft II on the go and live in the year 2000 then this game is a great deal. If not then… I don’t really know why someone would play it. This was sort of supposed to be a trip down memory lane for me and the more I played it the more I felt like it was just sort of obsolete. It used to be a gem, but it’s such a product of its time that it’s sort of a relic now. Make no mistake, if you happen to have this game or find it in the five dollar bin of your local game shop it’s definitely worth a purchase. But in terms of Gameboy games it’s almost as fun as Tetris. And as we all know Tetris was the best thing that happened to the Gameboy since… well… Tetris.
Next Week: Unholy Heights