- Bits Studios - Wizards
& Jet Riders
24th October 2002 - By Andrew Blanchard)
"This Bits Studios feature is the second of a series of
articles we're compiling at EAGB--regarding studios
that have created what can only be regarded as a 'cutting
edge' title, yet unfortunately are still without a publishing
and distribution deal. This is mainly due to some publishers'
unwillingness to release any title for the GBA market
without a license or movie tie-in theme that automatically
push unit sales.
Since some publishers are reluctant or unable to
back anything that's not going to offer guaranteed sales,
the GBA market is often flooded with many similar and
arguably mundane titles. Obviously this means that you,
the consumer, could be missing out on some extraordinary
games, ones that you might never be aware of."
Bits Studios are widely considered as industry veterans
and have been pumping out quality titles on all major
gaming platforms for some time now. On the GameBoy front,
they've produced over a dozen well received titles,
and have won critical acclaim for both 'R-TYPE DX' and
'Warlocked' for the GameBoy Color. Now, after nearly a year of quiet development,
they have announced not one but two new projects for
the GBA. The games in question is 'Jet Riders'
Like everyone else, I've only seen screen shots of these titles
but thanks to the Bits Studios PR department, I was
sent Beta copies of both games. Although the titles
were only about 90% complete, they contained most, if not all of
the gameplay features that would be available in the
finished products. I didn't have the manuals (they hadn't
been printed yet) but I've always believed that most
quality titles should be reasonably intuitive. Fortunately
for me, they were...
'Wizards' is the follow on to Bits Studios award
winning GBC title 'Warlocked' and is an ingenious mix
of RTS and RPG with action and arcade elements. It's
an ambitious project and although I'm not much of an
RTS or RPG fan, I did find myself enjoying the game
and being inexorably drawn to the story line and into
the mythical Kingdom of Talismania.
I must say that Wizards has a wonderful non-linear
feel about it from the start. You begin your battle
against the evil sorceress Kun Mara with a small but
dedicated army. It's then entirely up to you to decide
exactly which route you'll take across a varied terrain
consisting of mountains, forests and various castles.
On this journey, you'll also be able to recruit soldiers
and the more of them you amass, the better and more
sophisticated are your combat options.
You can do battle in a number of different ways and
while some may choose to attack enemies en masse, others
may opt for a more strategic approach which could involve
splitting up the army and allocating different tasks
to individuals and groups.
Exploration is always an important factor in this
type of game and you'll discover two very valuable items
on your adventures. This first of these is Gold, which
can be used to purchase new and more powerful spells
and the other is Karma.
Unlike Gold though, you won't find Karma simply lying
around the landscape. The only way to amass this most
important of energies is to literally suck it from your
conquered foes. Once collected you become stronger and
more respected as a leader and a full Karma meter means
that you can perform one of your purchased spells.
Although Wizards might initially appear complicated,
it's actually extremely easy to get into, thanks to
the incredibly user-friendly Tutorial section which
takes you by the hand and explains in detail the various
gaming elements. Every facet of the game is covered
- from basic movement and combat to advanced spells
and soldier organization - all via the cursor-driven
Graphically the game is very close to the GBC's 'Warlocked'
and bears some shades of 'Zelda', although the spot
special effects and moving backgrounds gives the whole
thing a much more visual sophistication.
You'll be pleased to know that 'Wizards' is a huge
game with 30 massive levels and multiple routes and endings.
Even after you've completed the single player adventure,
there's still the extensive multi-player options to
contend with. Some of the modes even allow for a multi-player
experience from a single copy of the game, which is
always a bonus and shows great care, not to mention
development time in the delivery of the final product.
On the technical side, 'Wizards' boasts of some pretty
clever programming, the most effective of which is the
use of ARM assembler code - as a result, regardless
of how much is going on in the game (and there's occasionally
a lot) there's absolutely no visual slow down. Overall,
'Wizards' mix of RPG, RTS, arcade and puzzle action
offers a challenging and satisfying gaming experience
not just for those who like this type of games but for
just about anyone!
Possibly the easiest way to describe 'Jet Riders'
would be to imagine a top down 'Wave Race'. At least
that's what most people will think when viewing the
various screen shots. In truth, however, this aqua-based
racer is a great deal more!
The first thing you'll notice about the game is the
gorgeous visuals, and although you may be initially
disappointed that the developers appear to have taken
the easy 'top down' route, you'll soon realize that
this perspective has allowed them to exploit the full
potential of the GBA's graphical capabilities. The sea
lapping up against the shore and the various wave effects
as your Jet Ski ploughs its way through the waters are
truly outstanding. Trust me, the static screen shots
you're looking at now doesn't even come close to showing
how fluid and realistic the visual really are.
As in any racing game, responsive controls are the
most important element, and I'm happy to say that 'Jet
Riders' shines in this regard. Kudos to the programmers
for giving the control system exceptional response and
also for imparting a sense of weight and mass to the
Jet Skis. I can't begin to describe how satisfying this
is, because it really does add a sense of realism to
the whole game. Like full featured racing Sims that
don't allow you to take hairpin bends at 100 mph, 'Jet
Riders' demands similar respect for your mode of transport.
As such, don't even consider performing full speed
mad cap turns with your Jet Ski, since the game engine
does adhere to some of the rules of physics, you'll
probably come to an almost dead stop and completely
lose control. No doubt, it will take you some time to
fully harness both the power and finer details of your
Jet Ski, but once you do, you will enjoy the game even
Aside from racing, 'Jet Rider' also contains some
strategic elements. For example, you can exchange your
Jet Ski for a better and more powerful craft by trading
gold stars. Gold stars are awarded when you complete
a course within the allotted time or by gaining points
from stunts. It's also the only way you can access other
racing areas and everyone must complete the basic tutorial
before entering the various stunt tracks and races.
Outside of the single player game you'll be pleased
to know that 'Jet Riders' supports up to four players
from only a single copy of the game and as we've seen
with Super Mario Kart, this is where racing games are
usually at their most entertaining.
Overall, 'Jet Riders' succeeds as both a full featured
racer and freestyle stunts game all rolled into one
and without actually compromising gameplay in either
area. Arguably, the GBA racing scene is already saturated
but few of the existing titles come close to the quality
demonstrated here and I've no doubts that 'Jet Riders'
can easily lay claim to being one of the top few.
Secret Project In Development
Every studio seems to have one and most are incredibly
careful on the amount of information they're prepared
to release to the press. Even after a lot of digging,
begging and praying, I wasn't able to secure a playable
version of their secret project, although Bits Studios
were kind enough to feed me a few 'teaser' details.
Basically, their next GBA title will be a high profile,
arcade-based game and is targeted at those who frequented
the arcades during the 80's or indeed any GBA gamer
who, more than anything, is interested in playability.
Now I know that's all pretty vague but it's better than
So, there you have it - another respected developer
producing quality GameBoy Advance titles with no options
left but to sit tight and hope for the right publishing
deal. As with the last studio feature on Paragon 5's
'Karnaaj Rally', both 'Wizards' and 'Jet Riders' are
in my opinion, deserving of a commercial release, even
at the Beta stage where I encountered them.
Judging from their history and from what I've experienced
from these two games, I can honestly believe that the
staff at Bits Studios are undeniably enthusiastic and
committed to these projects. Thus, the lack of a secure
publishing deal must be incredibly frustrating for everyone
involved. If these two games ever do manage to secure
a release (and I'm sure they will) I'll have no qualms
recommending them to anyone who enjoys a well made and
thoughtfully produced game. Indeed, I'll be first in-line
at the game shop!
thanks to Clive Gorman of Bastion and Bits Studios for
their help in this feature..