Whatever Happened to the Wiz Arcade Game?

Wiz Arcade Game

I’ve met folks who scoff at the notion of playing arcade classics on anything else besides the original hardware. I agree that these games are best experienced when accompanied by the chunky clickity-clacks of the joystick and the smooth feel your index finger against a 30mm button. However, I am also thankful for modern ports of old arcade games that I can enjoy in the comfort of my own home.

Despite the popularity of Dave & Buster’s (as well local hotspots like Up-Down in Minneapolis), arcades have been dying a slow and painful death for decades now. People who remember feverishly plunking quarters into arcade machines in the 80s and early 90s have inevitably lost some of their favorite video games as time wore on.

Yet thanks to modern technology and services like the Internet Arcade and the arcade-to-console emulation of the Arcade Archives, we can refresh our memories, or even introduce ourselves to games we’d missed. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me.

Anyway, if you’ve browsed the Arcade Archives selection on PS4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch (as I have many times), it’s possible that you’ve discovered a magical little game called Wiz, by Seibu Kaihatsu, Inc.

The game is extremely simple — there are two buttons and a joystick. One button casts spells, while the other swaps your active spell (there are eight spells in all). As you’ve probably guessed, the joystick moves the character (and up on the joystick makes him jump).

Wiz Arcade Game

The Wiz cabinet’s joystick was 8-directional, so it includes diagonal inputs as well. If that sounds complicated, it’s really not; it just means that you can jump forward or backward in addition to straight upward. This is about as basic as it gets for a side-scrolling platformer.

Your basic magic is called Shooting, and it causes the character (who is named Wiz according to the manual) to chuck little balls at enemies (not unlike Mega Man’s “lemons”). The other types of magic are limited use, and you’ll pick them up via power-ups as you traverse the game’s colorful 8-bit world.

Wiz Arcade Game

There’s a timer, represented by an hourglass icon, but honestly I mostly ignored it. I never once found myself running out of time, though I did notice that your time remaining is converted to points when you hit a checkpoint.

The general controls feel responsive enough, with one glaring exception: Spell selection is terribly clunky. The menu features eight slots for magic types, but you can’t skip over empty slots when swapping spells on the fly. This means you spend a lot of time manually scrolling through empty magic slots. This slows you down enough that it’s almost not even worth switching magic unless you absolutely need to. (For example, there is a lizard-like enemy type that clings to Wiz relentlessly, preventing you from jumping high enough to reach the upper platform. It’s also resistant to Shooting, so you will need to switch your active magic type to remove it.)

The goal of Wiz is to make it up to the Sky Realm to kill a dragon. You start out on the Land Realm, a lush, green landscape that brings to mind Super Mario Bros. Stage 1-3.

Wiz Arcade Game

There is a third Realm, called the Depths, but you will only ever see it if you mess up. Instead of instant death, falling into a pit while in the Land Realm will bring you down into the Depths. Fighting your way out of the Depths will bring you back to the Land Realm, and fighting your way to the end of the Land Realm will bring you to the Sky Realm.

If you can beat the dragon (a flawless run will only take maybe ten minutes), you’ll start back at the beginning, only the colors will have changed. I’m not sure how many color variations of the world there are, but I’ve seen at least four.

One of the most striking features of the game’s character design is Wiz’s. uncanny resemblance to the Black Mage of Final Fantasy fame. The thing is, Wiz came out in April of 1985, and the first Final Fantasy game wasn’t out until December of 1987. So Wiz predates Final Fantasy by more than two and a half years. I’m not sure if the Black Mage’s design was inspired by Wiz (perhaps even subconsciously) or if there was sort of a ubiquitous general concept of what a wizard was supposed to look like in 1980s Japanese culture. Either seems plausible.

Wiz Arcade Game

What’s really strange is that I can’t seem to find any information about Wiz. At the time of this writing, the game has no Wikipedia entry. The information I’ve provided thus far comes from my time spent playing the game and reading the virtual manual that you can access from the game’s start screen. The manual isn’t a scan of old material either; it looks like it was probably written for the Arcade Archives version of the game. It’s possible the character’s name isn’t even actually Wiz; maybe this was just a whim of whoever was given the thankless job of writing a game manual for a decades-old arcade game that the world has long forgotten.

The game was published in Japan by Seibu Kaihatsu, Inc., as I mentioned earlier, but Taito was the publisher in the States. I’d like to think that I could at least dig up some obscure scrap of information about the Taito version, but thus far I’ve come up empty.

There was also an arcade game that was never released called Wiz Warz, but it doesn’t seem like it’s related to Wiz at all. Wiz Warz is interesting, because allegedly it was close to completion before it was scrapped, and only one Wiz Warz machine is known to have existed. The thing that really blows my mind, though, is that it’s easier to find information about Wiz Warz than it is to find information about Wiz.

Wiz Arcade Game

The lack of information is even stranger when you consider that the game is really easy to find and play right now. There’s a version provided by Arcade Archives that can be purchased for home consoles. The Internet Arcade also has a version that can be played in a browser window, and it’s not difficult to find emulated versions when searching the seedier corners of the Internet.

Speaking of the Internet Arcade, they did provide one important clue to finding out more about Wiz. There’s a promotional flyer for an arcade conversion cabinet, and Wiz seems like it was intended as the main selling point of the flyer. “When it comes to making money,” the flyer boasts, “this game’s …. the WIZ.”

Wiz Arcade Flyer

The flavor text is perhaps a bit hard to read in the posted image, so I’ve transcribed it below:

If you’re looking for “ghosts and goblins” and other weird characters, you won’t find a hotter, more exciting game than the Wiz. With hundreds of surprises, twists and turns, this game has the staying power of Mr. Do, the excitement of Pacman, the speed of Pole Position and player appeal of Galaga.

A fascinating, multi-faceted game, the Wiz offers unlimited levels of action that will intrigue players of all ages for hours.

It’s the nearest thing to a cult game you can get.

So for this year’s hottest new game, call today. After all, the way the game makes money is sheer magic. Call your Magic distributor today.

This is the first page of a four-page flyer, but it’s the only page dedicated exclusively to Wiz. Inside, Wiz is listed among a whole group of games beneath text that reads: “Fantastic! All these games in one system!”

Wiz Arcade Flyer

Here’s a complete list of games mentioned:

  • Samurai
  • Wiz
  • Special Forces II
  • Grobda
  • Poseidon Sea Fighter
  • Nun Chakun
  • Hex Pool
  • Bullseye

The flyer comes courtesy of Magic Electronics, Inc., of Cranston, Rhode Island. This led me down a rabbit hole that runs quite deep, but you can read more about all that in a lengthy post on The Golden Age Arcade Historian blog. What’s important to know for the sake of this current article is that Magic Electronics had a history of building game cabinets that allowed the memory board to be swapped out, thus changing the game without having to buy or rent an entirely new machine — that’s the conversion kit concept mentioned in the flyer. So this flyer is advertising games that could be installed in Magic’s machines.

While it seems like Magic Electronics had a good go for a couple years, it didn’t last long. Magic was liquidated in June of 1986, and all of the company’s assets were sold for a thousand bucks.

Wiz Arcade Game

Of course, that doesn’t really tell me all that much about Wiz.

Perhaps someday I’ll know more about this strange little game. But for now, I’m just glad that I got to try it out. It’s not amazing. It has issues. Having played it for a good couple hours, I can see how it would have been forgotten amidst much better games. But there’s also some charm to it. I can’t put my finger on what it is — perhaps I’m just intrigued by the mystery surrounding it — but Wiz feels kind of special to me. And that counts for something, I think.

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