The Right Honorable Professor Fizzwizzle

I’m strongly in favor of so-called “casual games,” but I am violently opposed to the moniker.

I understand the need for something that quickly and concisely expresses to a publisher what you think the market for your game is. So I understand why “casual” is the word of choice. The simple fact is that “Games that are designed for people that aren’t total and complete dorks” is just too long to fit on a business card. But “casual” implies that the game isn’t serious, or isn’t seriously fun. Which, as the game I’ll be reviewing tonight demonstrates, often isn’t true.

So here, we prefer the name “wage slave games.” There are two essential attributes that I assert make a game a “wage slave game”: appearance and accessibility.

“Appearance” is the less important of the two. Since only women play games that are fun, casual games must have a bright yet girlish color scheme, big friendly buttons, a cartoonish yet world-weary art style, and a jazzy yet unthreateningly non-ethnic soundtrack. If the game has a theme dealing with an ancient culture (for example, if you are helping to build statues of the Pharoah by playing Solitaire), then the sound of drums is permitted.

More seriously, and with less snark this time, casual games are about accessibility. First and foremost, the games must be downloadable. They should run and perform well on a wide array of systems, to maximize the potential customer base. Ideally, they should be implementable in Flash, so that you can offer customers a non-time-limited free demo while minimizing the risk of piracy. Because they’re going to run in Flash, the controls must be simple. No function keys. No right-clicking, if you can help it. Four arrow keys and the spacebar, or just mouse controls. The games must start quickly and stop quickly – the market you’re selling to works for a living, and may have to go change a diaper. There should be no penalty for quitting in the middle. The idea of a “save game” shouldn’t even exist. When you quit, the program should remember where you were, and when you come back, it should pick up where you left off.

In other words, casual games are exactly like the “hardcore” game experience, except that they are better in every possible way.

Both the casual and non-casual game markets are filled with games that are boring and utterly derivative. So it’s always nice to find a game that brings something new to the table. Today’s game in that category is Professor Fizzwizzle.

Professor Fizzwizzle

Professor Fizzwizzle

The plot of Professor Fizzwizzle somehow involves RageBots that look like they came straight out of Bob the Angry Flower, so I’m already inclined to like it. But the real meat on the bones here is the game itself. You can view it as a combination of Mario vs. Donkey Kong and Sokoban, if you like, but really it’s its own thing.

The object of the game is to win. You win by travelling through a certain number of levels. You win each level by reaching a certain location. The mechanics of the game center around how you reach that location.

Between you and the goal will be various hindrances, such as closed gates, air gaps, or angry RageBots, and varying terrains, such as grass, sand, and ice. There are also objects placed carefully around each level. Fizzwizzle can push (and walk on) crates, barrels, and magnets, and in some cases he can place new objects. Everything in the world obeys consistent physical laws, and there is generally only one way to win each level.

In other words, it’s a puzzle game. The levels range from trivial (there’s even a section of the game just for children) to diabolical. At any time, you can ask the game to show you the solution to a level. Far from ruining the game, this serves as a safety valve. Just knowing that I have the option to see how it’s done makes me much less likely to give up.

The appearance of the game isn’t my cup of tea. In terms of graphic design, I’m much more of a Strange Adventures in Infinite Space sort of guy. But behind the obligatorily jaunty graphics and music is a game with thoughtfully designed puzzles and a pleasantly simple user interface that will give you hours of entertainment.

There’s also a level editor shipped with the game, which is brilliant in its simplicity. So once you’ve conquered the game, you can make your friends hate you by designing puzzles of your own.

Professor Fizzwizzle runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux, and is a paltry $19.95. A free demo is downloadable from the Grubby Games website.

Disclosure statement: the publisher graciously provided a copy of the game for review.