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Studio Feature - Bits Studios - Wizards & Jet Riders
(Added 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

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' and 'Wizards'.

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

'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.

Screen Shots

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 interface.

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!

Jet Riders

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!

Screen Shots

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 more.

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 nothing.

Conclusion

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!

Special thanks to Clive Gorman of Bastion and Bits Studios for their help in this feature..

@ EAGB Advance 2002. All rights reserved.