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Wonderland Dizzy: Better Left Undiscovered?

Twenty-two years after the development of this NES adaptation of Magicland Dizzy, the code was rediscovered by Philip Oliver. A successful Kickstarter campaign later, it got its own physical NES cartridge release. As a non-UK resident, I’ve never seen any egg-tastic Dizzy-like adventures before, so naturally I had to try them out. Devoid of a ZX Spectrum or Amiga, I opted for The Oliver Twins Collection Evercade cartridge instead. It contains 11 games, of which the majority featuring the lovely Yolkfolk. However, for some reason, most of the Evercade games are not the ZX Spectrum’s originals but NES ports. Why that choice was made is beyond me. It is clear the the Evercade is more than capable of emulating the Spectrum’s Z80.

The (beautiful) Amiga port and Spectrum original can be marveled at on YouTube, and do show similarities in gameplay and story. Since the Evercade instruction manual hinted at Wonderland being the most accessible one for unexperienced egg-players, I started with this one. Let’s find out if this 22 year old Dizzy conversion was a great find, or if it was better left undiscovered.

A pool of water: normally deadly, except this one's needed for the plot. What?
A pool of water: normally deadly, except this one's needed for the plot. What?

The Dizzy principle

A quick recap for the uninitiated—myself included. In Dizzy games, you play as a lovely walking egg, who has to solve a certain amount of puzzles in order to rescue his friends or get something done. This involves picking up items and knowing where to match them to objects or the inhabitants of the world. An obvious one in Wonderland Dizzy would be giving a pocket watch to a bunny complaining about the time and running around like a lunatic. A less obvious one involves giving a potion called “Drink Me” to someone to fix something else—I’ll try to keep it spoiler free.

The catch is: Dizzy’s pockets can only store three items at any time. So you have to (1) remember where you put your junk, (2) remember where everyone is or your encountered roadblock is, and (3) run back and forth a lot. That might sound like a lot of fun in the eighties, but it wasn’t in 2022. The process is hampered by a few annoying shortcomings:

  • Some objects are hard to discern (large stick VS pointy dagger). If they’re not picked up, there’s no way to tell what is what. A label would be a godsend.
  • You can’t pick up your fourth object, to be automatically taken to the inventory screen to choose something else to drop. There’s always the “Oh Dear!” message box.
  • The people that want something only explain their needs once. That’s right. Loading up a save state the day after without writing down who wants what usually equals starting all over again.

In the original ZX Spectrum games, the inventory screen (“You are carrying”, not “You are holding”—strange!) is an overlay: the rest of the world and Dizzy is still visible. In this game, it’s a different screen, artificially breaking up the gameplay to fiddle with the inventory. Calling it a technical shortcoming because of the NES would be strange, why would an even older machine (the Speccy) be able to pull it of, but not Nintendo’s machine?

You can only hold three items at a time.
You can only hold three items at a time.

Of course, these gripes have to be seen in perspective. For one, it’s essentially an eighties game. Second, I’m a Dizzy newbie, and although I’ve tried out a few others on the Evercade cart, I still have to finish those. But this again puzzles me: for instance, in The Fantastic Adventures of Dizzy, falling from a great height, such as from clouds, does nothing. But in Wonderland, Dizzy is stunned and essentially loses a life. Why would you change these mechanics, on the same platform, for the same kind of game, from the same devs?

I did misuse Dizzy’s dizziness (ha!). If you decide to play with 2 characters, Dizzy and Daisy, you can quickly traverse the whole map by “killing off” one character. Your items automatically get transferred to the other one. So, if you need that dagger in place X, but it’s too far, let Daisy pick it up, fall into a pond (whoopsie-daisy—ha!), and have Dizzy use the dagger. Did I break the game? I’m note sure. It still took me about 1.5 hours to complete.

Speaking of inconsistencies. In one particular puzzle, you have to do something with a pond of water. But everywhere in the game, you quickly learn that a slight misstep off a water lily leaf results in death: water—just like any other moving pixel—is to be avoided at all costs. Some puzzles can be solved by selecting the appropriate item in front of the receiver. But I can’t fill a bucket in front of the pond: I have to get IN the pond. Which I didn’t dare, until a walkthrough told me to do so.

Next up: attending an un-birthday.
Next up: attending an un-birthday.

By Jove!

Once you managed to put all the items in their respective place, you should have rescued all the Yolkfolk and can head back home via a mystical monolith. Except that the doors don’t open unless you’ve collected a hundred of stars scattered around the world. Why a hundred? Again, I had no clue. Entering the portal results in “I first have to collect all the stars” or something similar. What is “all the stars”? The aforementioned walkthrough told me it was a hundred. Of course I was missing exactly one, and after scouring every nook and cranny, I still had no clue. Turns out you have to let yourself fall through certain clouds—which is, again, very counterintuitive, since falling through clouds usually results in death.

Those stars looked like a modern and optional collect-a-thon, something I usually skip, but in Dizzy games, they’re required to finish the game, even though it’s clear as daylight that the gameplay is centered around the mini puzzles and the interaction with the Yolkfolk.

In the Spectrum original, you collect diamonds. Here, it’s stars. My analysis of a runthrough of the original game (see below) tells me Dizzy can take a hit and fall from skies. A lot of strange choices. Want to hear another one? The music. It’s not bad—far from it: it’s catchy and a typical NES-like tune. But certain parts get on your nerves very quickly: it’s one soundtrack, and a very hyper one, while the game is supposed to radiate joy and loveliness (I guess)—which the Spectrum music successfully pulls off:

YouTube video Lc5Ivdiy5cw

Compare that with a Wonderland Dizzy longplay video and you’ll see what I mean. The ZX Spectrum’s resolution is also a much better fit for the Evercade’s widescreen—yet another unsolved puzzle!

I’m sure I’m doing the series a disservice. In the end, I found myself somehow enjoying Wonderland Dizzy, even with all its shortcomings. A lot of them could be alleviated if the ZX Spectrum version would have been ported to Evercade’s platform. I’m keen on trying to rescue more Yolkfolk in the other NES conversions, although Dizzy will likely never capture my heart as the pure blood DOS eighties and nineties adventure games did.

Wonderland Dizzy, with its recent release date, seems hard to go back to in 2022—especially considering that even the Amiga port looks, sounds, and plays better.

Verdict: 2/5 —Mediocre.

Categorized under: adventure


I'm Jefklak, a high-level Retro Gamer, and I love the sight of experience points on old and forgotten hardware. I sometimes convince others to join in on the nostalgic grind. Read more about The Codex here.

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