The Bottom Line: Overflowing with cheerful energy, this narrative platformer is a joy to play even when the humor isn’t quite hitting the mark.
What happens when you aim for the stars but stop at the moon? Sure, you didn’t hit your original target, but you still get to hang out in low-G space. That counts as a win, right?
The Wizard and The Slug is nothing if not ambitious. Just go read the description on its Steam page. It’s a platformer that features a huge cast of characters and boasts a three-act story with multiple endings. And while it doesn’t fulfill all of its ambitions – not without caveats, at least – it’s still a journey I can recommend taking.
The story revolves around a wizard/god/amateur comedian named Charm. At the game’s outset, Charm has just broken out of god jail and is embarking on a quest to help a few of his divine buddies do the same. Seeking a companion on his journey, he happens to bump into the toughest slug this side of the equator. The pair hit it off and a legendary friendship is born. (Or is it?)
Not So Sluggish
For most of the game you control the titular slug. Despite having no legs, the slug can move and jump with the best of them and toss slimy projectiles at enemies. There’s a clever twist on the usual platforming shenanigans, however, in the form of a unified stamina system, which is tied to the size of the slug. When the slug is at full size, it can jump, shoot, and take a couple hits without suffering damage. But when it performs actions or is attacked, it grows smaller and smaller. When it has shrunk to its smallest form, the slug is unable to jump or shoot, and will lose health when hit by baddies. Wait a moment or two, though, and the slug will grow back to its original size, allowing it to act freely again and offering a modicum of protection against harm.
This mechanism of combining stamina and health into one pool leads to an interesting risk-reward dynamic. Do you double jump and shoot once? Jump once and shoot twice? Refrain from shooting so that you won’t take damage if hit? The growing and shrinking of the slug is also incorporated into platforming puzzles. For instance, certain platforms can support a shrunken slug but not a full-size one, and you’ll need to properly manage your size to successfully navigate them.
For a game that’s a side-scrolling platformer through and through, The Wizard and The Slug does an impressive job of eluding categorization into any one subgenre. It has a few Metroidvania elements but is too linear to fit that label; it’s also much more forgiving than precision platformers like Super Meat Boy and Raven’s Hike. In fact, it’s often anything but precise – the slug’s projectiles often seem more like balls bouncing around a lotto machine than bullets. Fortunately, most fights take place at close range, rendering concerns about accuracy moot.
Given the game’s laid-back vibes I’m tempted to call it a “comfort food platformer,” but after thinking it over I feel that “narrative platformer” is a better fit. There’s no shortage of story beats and memorable characters, many of who make multiple appearances. My favorites were the rebel leader Nya-Cat, who commands an army of revolutionary dust mites, and Mr. Banana, who always pops up in the oddest of places. While the humor doesn’t always hit home, the zany, positive tone of the writing brought a smile to my face more often than not.
Later in the game, however, the jokes take a backseat, giving way to more serious story beats. Laden with themes of motherhood and mortality, the final act is at odds with the lighthearted tone of the first two. This change in tone didn’t fully rope me in, and as such the game’s conclusion didn’t resonate with me in the way the developer probably hoped. (The overly chatty, drawn-out nature the game’s ending and epilogue also didn’t help in this regard.)
Story beats aside, though, The Wizard and The Slug is a solid platformer that easily justifies the three to four hours you will spend to see all the endings. Jumping around and launching balls of slime is a joy, and just when you think you’ve seen it all, the game will surprise you with a spicy new wrinkle. What other game lets you play volleyball with dust mites AND interact with an unbearably narcissistic yet charming wizard AND barter at a traditional marketplace with eggs, rice, and preserved objects of questionable origin? As far as I know, this is the only one.