Tag Archives: Virgin Interactive

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!

28: Blade Runner

Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Developer: Westwood Studios
Year: 1997
Platform: Windows

Review: Based on the cult-classic movie of the same name–starring Harrison Ford–this cyberpunk adventure is one licensed title that doesn’t disappoint.  I unabashedly feel this is better than the source material. Being as that the movie is currently ranked #123 at IMDb, I am sure to be in the minority.  Good news is if you liked the movie it is doubtful you’d be disappointed by the game.

In the future, where buildings rise above the city, crime is rampant, and man has colonized the moon, a mega corporation has developed replicants, super-humans with a predetermined lifespan. Naturally, some of the more advanced replicants have begun to become self-aware and are pissed that they have been essentially subjected to slavery for moon colonists. And some of them have come back to Earth in order to meet their maker with the intention of reversing their fate. Blade runners have been employed by the city to terminate all replicants before the bloodshed spreads. However, it’s not so simple, as determining who is and who isn’t a replicant is not a foolproof process and there is considerable sympathy for the replicants. It’s even possible some of the blade runners are replicants and don’t know it!

This premise is the same for the movie and the game. The designers of the game were smart in creating a new storyline, sharing only a few characters from the movie made fifteen years earlier (of which Sean Young and William Sanderson reprise their roles!). Not only does this keep the game from becoming stale, but I felt the movie’s story was plodding with poor dialogue. To be fair, the plot of the game is no Oscar-winner, but I actually did enjoy the script significantly more, feeling the characters on my desktop were more sympathetic than the wooden personae on the silver screen.  They did, however, keep the Voight-Kampff testing, and you can whip that out whenever you feel it’s appropriate.

I keep discussing this game as if it’s a movie, which is only because that’s what it feels like. There are very few puzzles and it is incredibly difficult to become stuck. Atmosphere and exploration rule the game, with gorgeous sights and beautiful sounds lifted straight from the movie. There is certainly detective work to be done, but a significant portion is optional, shedding a light on the finer points of your case. What gives Blade Runner the feel of a game (and not just an interactive movie) is that there are multiple paths, stories, and endings dependent on several factors.  Every time you start a new game, character motivations change, which in turn changes some puzzles, dialogues, and eventually plot branches. In addition, whether or not you decide to terminate or sympathize with the replicants will also change the story.  If you like this sort of thing, you’re in for a treat. Personally, I did not have a desire to replay the game multiple times, but I did reach a few endings on my own before downloading some save files to see the others. Blade Runner has incredible production values and it is worth trying to find everything there is to see.

Oh, and you can use your gun. Good times.

Contemporary RatingMedium. Some modern timing issues in action-scenes.

Cruelty Rating:  Polite.  You can die, so saving is necessary.  If you “screw up” the worst that happens if you take an alternate path through the game.