There are game genres that lend themselves to portables quite well – RPGs, puzzlers, digital board games and platformers just to name a few. Another genre that fits like a glove are real time strategy games, but they are strangely few and far between. Enter Warlocked, a real-time strategy war game with most of the bells and whistles of PC RTS games…and it’s on the Gameboy Color.
Though there has been skirmishes near the southern border for nearly a century, Queen Azarel’s kingdom had remained relatively safe.
But with the recent rush of Beast raids in territories farther north, it had become obvious that Chief Zog was determined to destroy the humans once and for all. Left with no choice, the Queen sends a call throughout the land for the Wizards to come to her aid.
Now, from high atop the walls of Konjo Castle, Azarel gazed down upon her troops, Loyal and brave to the last man, the soldiers awaited her orders…
Reducing an RTS to the resolution of the GBC was no easy feat. How can you work on such a small scale that allows sprites to be large enough to be visible, clear enough to be instantly distinguishable, yet small enough to be able to populate the screen at numbers of upwards of a dozen at any one time? Amazingly, the team at Bits did an outstanding job at accomplishing exactly this.
Warlocked is a GBC-only game that pushes the hardware like no other game tried on the hardware. There can be be a half dozen things going on at once from workers cutting trees, a worker building a guard tower, an invasion squad attacking the enemy and another attacking an invading squad.
As the Gameboy Color could only display 52 colors at once, color limitations change the colors used for sprites, making them somewhat hard to see on the old non-backlit LCD screen of the GBC. Of course, with things like the Gameboy Player, GBA SP or dare I say emulation, this is not longer an issue, but something to keep in mind if you plan on popping this one into the ol’ GBC.
Warlocked is roughly tile based, allowing all that occurs on screen to be clear and destinctive. Units, buildings, backgrounds and objects are instantly reconizable with good use of color throughout. Warlocked really does look quite good. Granted, when a lot is happening onscreen, the tiny GBC 8Mhz Z-80 simply can’t keep up and Warlocked can experience some slowdown, but not enough to become a nuisance.
Although the instrumentation of the GBC is less than ideal, Warlocked is full of many memorable tracks that will linger in your memory after you finish playing. Warlocked was composed by Jeroen Tel, probably best known for his contribution to many Commodore 64 titles and the rather outstanding music featured in the 8-bit versions of Robocop 3. Utilizing his experience with chiptune technology to the fullest extent, Tel composed a great, memorable soundtrack for Warlocked that endures the test of time and still sounds great today. Here’s an example of the soundtrack using the opening sequence music.
It should also be noted that Warlocked used voice clips when commanding selected units. The voice samples are remarkably crisp and clear for the Gameboy Color, possibly the best done on the hardware. Sound effects are cartoony and work given the limitations of the hardware mixed with the style of the game.
Warlocked is a real time strategy game in the vein of the original Warcraft series. There are five main types of units:
Workers can gather gold from mines, cut down trees for fuel, construct additional
pylons buildings or attack enemy buildings. They cannot attack other units and have the lowest HP of all units aside from baby dragons. They cost $50 gold to produce.
Knights are your typical melee attackers. They are a bit slow but wear heavy armor making them the strongest units in the game. Their sword swings are powerful and a small squad of them can wreak havoc on just about anything other than Dragons. They cost $100 gold to produce.
Archers are the exact opposite of Knights. They attack at range and have low defenses, nearly that of Workers. Arrows do less direct damage than Knight swords, but attacking from a distance gives them the advantage of staying out of immediate range of counterattacks. They cost $100 gold and 10 fuel to produce.
Wizards are what Warlocked is all about. You cannot produce Wizards; only find them. Are are around thirty wizards total, each with different abilities, some offensive and others passive. For instance, there’s Quakewiz and Stormwiz who can summon earthquakes and lightening storms respectively to kill enemy units or damage property. Likewise, there’s Chickenwiz and Sleepwiz who can cast spells to turn enemies into extremely weak chickens or cast them asleep.
On the other hand, there are more passive Wizards like Brickwiz, who strengthens guard tower defenses, Sweatwiz who doubles worker movement speeds, and Queen Azarel and Chief Zog who reduce training times of new units by half.
Like Wizards, Dragons cannot be produced. In some stages, when one of your units approchs a Dragon nest, the egg will hatch and a defenseless baby dragon will be at the player’s disposal. The player must then safely lead the dragon back to their HQ for safe keeping. Once the baby dragon arrives, it will quickly mature into a full sized Dragon, a powerful flying unit that can attack anything. Dragons move a bit slowly and are subject to arrow fire from archers, towers and the enemy HQ. Unlike Wizards, Dragons cannot be healed if injured by returning them to the main hall.
Warlcoked’s single player consists of 26 levels – 13 for each faction. That might now sound like a lot, but there’s probably six to eight hours of gameplay in Warlocked; not bad for any 8-bit game.
There is also a multiplayer component where you can trade Wizards and even go head-to-head battling another human opponent, bringing with an army constructed from surviving units from the single player campaign. This idea sounds awesome, but even though I had friends at the time who owned the game, I never got a chance to experience the multiplayer aspects of Warlocked.
Warlocked manages to make excellent use of every button the GBC, making it one of the few games that puts the Select button to good use throughout.
D-pad: Move cursor, choose menu options
A: Confirm, Select units, attack. Hold to select multiple units
B: Cancel, attack an area of ground
Select: Deselect/Reselect A selected unit (try saying that three times fast!)
Start: Opens the menu
Select + A: Assign a squad of units to “Team A”
Select + B: Assign a squad of units to “Team B”
A+ B: Demolish a constructed building and salvage 50% of the resources it cost to build
Warlocked is only frustrating until you get the hang of how the game is played and how to exploit the almost brain-dead AI. If you build a series of guard towers then send a worker in sight of an enemy, that enemy will always attack the worker. If you then tell the worker to retreat back to the guard towers, the enemy will attempt to follow, taking damage from the guard towers. You can literally tell the worker to circle strafe around the guard towers and then enemy will never attack either the worker or the guard towers!
Wizards can only be found one at a time in stages. If a wizard dies, you permanently lose them. To avoid this annoyance, make sure to return a wizard to the temple when injured. You can them summon them right away at full health.
The game allows for real time saves as well, making it a perfect portable game that you can play and suspend any time you wish.
Availability & Price
Despite a fairly low production run, Warlocked seems to be in low demand and can be found for as low as $2, even on ebay. It isn’t as extremely common as other GBC titles, but finding a copy of Warlocked shouldn’t be a problem. Remember that like all old Nintendo games, Warlocked has a 2025 cell battery that has an estimated shelf life of 5-10 years. Depending on how much use the battery saw, you might have to replace it, so it’s a good idea to invest a dollar or so more on a new 2032 for your new Warlocked cartridge.
Warlocked was developed by Bits Studios, a British developer responsible for dozens of titles, most notably Alien 3, Castelian, The Itchy & Scatchy Game, and R-Type DX. Warlocked was the first real time strategy title the developer produced, and its success lead them to planning a sequel to start a series.
The sequel, called simply Wizards, was in development for the Gameboy Advance but was eventually canceled for unknown reasons, making Warlocked the only game in a planned series. In 2008 Bits Studios was closed down due to lagging sales.
Youtube has managed to preserve a press release beta video showing what Wizards might have looked like. Watching it brings a tear to my eye.
• Clear, colorful graphics
• A decent challenge, especially the later Beast Campaign levels.
• Braindead AI can be exploited for easy victories
• When given a distant destination, the braindead AI will “guess” at how best to move units around obstiles, often moving them unnessesarily into enemey fire or otherwise has no human player would move. Still, gotta remember it’s a GBC game.
Warlocked is an impressive effort on the Gameboy Color, perhaps making it the best 8-bit strategy game ever made, bumping M.U.L.E out of that spot. It looks good, sounds good, plays good and has enough complexity that you will want to come back for more, and replay levels even after you beat them for faster times and higher scores. The game is extremely affordable today, so if you’re looking for a great GBC gem, look no further.
Platform: Game B0y Color
Genre: Real Time Strategy
Release Date: July 24, 2000
Developer: Bits Studios
Also from the developer: Alien 3, Castelian, The Itchy & Scatchy Game, and R-Type DX
Also try: Warcraft, Warcraft II
Game Length: ~6-10 hours
ESRB: T (cartoony death, but still death)
Buy/Skip: Buy it you cheapskate!