On the surface, Wizard Defenders seems like a promising blend of match-3 puzzling and tower defence; in its best moments it's a concept that works well. Unfortunately these moments are rare, and despite its budget price this title lacks the magic to make a gamer happy.
This is a good example of a reasonable idea being undone by poor execution, as on paper this seems like an enjoyable premise well worth the minimal investment. You hold the DSi sideways in its "book" position, with Teyon accommodating lefties with a screen-switch in the menu, and you simply use the stylus to play. The touch screen shows your army of colour coded wizards streaming in from one side to join the ranks, while enemies attack from the top screen. You simply match three or more wizards of one colour, horizontally or vertically, to fire deadly beams at the advancing blobs, mummies and assorted array of ghoulish creatures. With two well-placed buttons at the top to use a "hurry up" command for more wizards, or a powerful weapon gradually earned by completing combos, it's all intuitive and easy to access.
The concept is rock solid, then, but the problems begin once you start to play, with the mechanics to actually move your wizards to form combos most likely to frustrate. While it should be a simple case of tapping and dragging, there are some serious issues with lagged input and quirky 'tracks' that you seemingly need to follow when moving your magical troops. In the early stages, when the enemies are weak and few in number, it's possible to work around this unnecessary trickery and have a reasonably good time. Within a few minutes, however, the difficulty ramps up with faster, stronger monsters in greater numbers, and the inability to respond with sharp, responsive controls becomes a serious issue.
With each enemy that reaches the wizard's lines, a vertical row of obstacles emerge and push your ranks back, which can be gradually destroyed by beams or wiped out with one tap of the limited-use power weapon. Like many puzzle games of this genre, it's game over when you army of wizards is pushed back and off the screen by these barriers, with each new row making combos increasingly hard to pull together with less available wizards. When you combine this with the drastic increase in difficulty and awkward controls, you're left with a poorly balanced experience.
In terms of the modes on offer, it's a scenario that runs across the whole title — good idea, bad execution. A Tutorial mode introduces the basics and explains that some enemies are only vulnerable to specific types of beams, which theoretically adds a nice strategic element to the puzzle gameplay. The only problem is that the game is so difficult that we were only able to complete half of the exercises before it became impossible to go further. There will be puzzle game savants that have no such issues, but there'll also be plenty of less experienced gamers drawn in by the budget price who'll immediately become flustered and frustrated.
The main game, simply called New Game, allows you to choose from three difficulty settings — which adjusts the number of colour combos that are possible — and the "pace" of the game. As this game is hard enough already, we suggest going with the minimal pace, as selecting a higher setting will speed up not just your wizards but also your enemies; this makes it borderline impossible. There's a local leaderboard to show the top five scores in this mode, but not many will gain much pleasure from their minor efforts.
Aside from that, there's nothing else on offer. For a budget puzzle game that's not necessarily an issue, but the problems lie with the poor balancing and control responses. You're unlikely to get on a roll and last for longer than 10 minutes in a round, and if you're not on your game you'll lose within a few minutes. It's also worth noting the music that loops incessantly, which lets down otherwise reasonable presentation. It's some of the worst music we've heard in DSiWare, with a high-pitched, hyper-active riff that grinds away 90% of the time, only eased by loading screens and a brief change when a horde of enemies are about to appear and charge at speed; at that point you're probably close to game over, anyway.
If we were presented with the concept of this puzzle game and a plan to release for 200 Nintendo Points on DSiWare, we'd probably say that it's a good idea. The problem with Wizard Defenders is that it's executed so poorly, with harsh difficulty levels that make even the Tutorial unbeatable and sticky, temperamental controls that infuriate in the process. When you can see a combo that's part of a good puzzle concept, but the game won't allow you to put it together without a fight with the stylus, all the while bombarding your ears with awful music, you know something's gone wrong. We suggest a disappearing spell for this one.