27: Toonstruck

Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Burst
Year: 1996
Platform: DOS

Review: Just a few years after Who Framed Roger Rabbit garnered huge acclaim for its masterful joining of human actors with the cartoon world, Virgin Interactive began its own similar project of magnificent proportions, only this time for the computer. Toonstruck was three years in the making, costing Virgin over eight million dollars, most of it on some ridiculously good animation and top voice talents. Despite this effort the game was a commercial flop. But was it a lackluster game or did it simply have unrealistic expectations?

Christopher Lloyd, one of the stars of the aforementioned movie, is the live actor in this game and plays Drew Blanc. A cartoonist, he is given an order by his boss (Ben Stein, in a brief cameo) to create a new cartoon for the struggling network, but with one condition: it must contain bunnies. Bunnies are what made Drew Blanc famous, but he loathes them now. Pulling an all-nighter, he tries in vain to scrape an idea together but ultimately fails. Just as he’s about to give up and pack his bags, he gets transported to Cutopia, one of his cartoon worlds. Shortly thereafter, he runs into Flux Wildly (voiced by Dan Castellaneta), who agrees to tag along with him until he can get back to his own world. Unfortunately, only King Hugh (David Ogden Stiers) can send him back, and he needs Drew’s help first. King Nefarious (Tim Curry) has begun creating devastation in Cutopia and Drew must help return it back to its original cuteness. Thankfully, the plot doesn’t end there, as it develops along the way.

Gameplay is standard adventure fare, with oodles of lock-and-key inventory puzzles. Some of them are difficult in that you must understand the twisted logic of Cutopia and Flux’s homeland Zanydu. However, there are several puzzles that require some creative problem solving. Some even require using Flux as an object. While there may be a few too many puzzles, and they generally must be followed in strict order, they are usually fun to solve. Also, the game will often give you appropriate responses to solutions that seem logical but don’t work.

What makes or breaks this game for most people is how well you enjoy the humour and the characters. I found the cynical, over the top Flux Wildly to be charming and enjoyable; however, if you find him irritating, the game will be a chore for most of the ride. Lloyd is at his best, doing a very believable job in front of the blue screen. Most of the characters are performed by professional voice actors and they give fine performances. The humour draws from everything with puns, stereotypes, groaners, wit, and sexual innuendo. The effeminate scarecrow–no wait, carecrow–is a riot, and the S&M cows are both shocking and amusing. Despite the game’s appearance, it is definitely not for children.  Not only will they misunderstand most of the jokes, you probably wouldn’t want them repeating them either.

Many have said this game simply tries too hard to be all things to all things. I would agree with that assessment. Yet, there are so many wonderful things packed into this game that the sum of its parts are still pretty high even if it doesn’t result in a satisfying whole. Virgin’s eyes were too large for their stomachs, as after Lloyd, the rest of the cast could have been replaced with cheaper talent. The animation didn’t have to be quite so perfect, either. But the profit margin shouldn’t be the measuring stick Toonstruck has to measure up to. Anyone who enjoys animation should give this one a shot. As long as you don’t expect perfection, it is doubtful you will be disappointed.

Contemporary RatingHigh. The strict order of some puzzles can be annoying, but if you like the game, playing with a walkthrough is still enjoyable.

Cruelty Rating:  Merciful.  No real danger in Cutopia!

2 thoughts on “27: Toonstruck”

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