Thursday, 20 November 2014

Toonstruck (MS-DOS)

Toonstruck title screen
Today on Super Adventures I'll be giving an hour or so to Toonstruck, a game that has surprisingly little to do with that clown up there. Sure he's in it, eventually, but I almost guarantee you won't be seeing him again here.

I feel like I should seen this game mentioned more often, considering it stars Christopher Lloyd, Homer Simpson and half the cast of half the cartoons from the 90s, but it seems almost forgotten these days. I've no idea how well known it actually is, but I do know that it didn't sell enough to get a sequel... which in this case would've actually been the second half of the game, seeing as it wasn't exactly finished when they put it out on shelves.

I'm sure I've reached the semi-cliffhanger ending before, or at least watched someone else complete it, but my only strong memory of this game is that clown up there yelling "BALLOOOOOOON?" I've got absolutely zero recollection of the story or any of the puzzles, so I get to work them all out again from scratch.

See, I told you it stars Christopher Lloyd! Though maybe I should've made it clearer that he actually shows up on screen in live action video.

Lloyd plays animator Drew Blanc (or Mal Block if you're playing the German version... either way you get a Mel Blanc reference), who we first see suffering through yet another drawing of a cute rabbit. Then he suffers through a call from his dentist about a filling, and then he suffers through the news that he's late for a meeting with the head of the company.

Meanwhile I'm suffering through these black lines put in to stretch the video up to 400 pixels tall at the cost of half the brightness. I don't see why they should ruin my pretty screenshots though, so I'll edit them out from now on.

Hey it's... that guy! You know, the one from... stuff. Good work brain, you've embarrassed me on the internet once again.

Drew's boss doesn't seem like the nicest guy to work for, but today he's got an opportunity for the frustrated animator. The kind of opportunity that involves creating a new batch of bunny characters for the company's smash hit series 'The Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show" to rekindle its popularity.

Unfortunately Drew Blanc... is drawing a blank, and spends the evening spinning around on his office chair and freaking out rather than getting anything done. They're just rabbits Drew, draw up a few cartoon bunnies, give them a different hairstyle each and you're done!

There you go mate, it took me two seconds to sketch that up. Generic rabbit, prop in her hand for character, sorted.

Wait... I've just drawn the cute version of Max from Sam and Max haven't I? Crap, this is harder than I thought.

Part of the problem here is that Drew's heart isn't in it. He didn't get into this business to sketch sickly sweet tales of friendship, he got into it to draw a purple lunatic with a pair of glasses for eyes. Drew's more of an Animaniacs kind of guy than a Care Bears fan, and though he's long since come to terms with the fact he'll never get a chance to bring Flux to life, it doesn't mean he's happy about it.

Fortunately even with the deadline hanging over him, he's still eventually able to get some sleep... on his drawing table. I can't tell if it's the sinister storm or the TV switching on by itself that wakes him up at 4 am, but it's pretty obvious he's not impressed that the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show is on. He grabs the remote, hits a button, and suddenly things go a little bit 'Captain N' for him.

Wow Drew, that's all you were struggling with? You could've just photocopied the one rabbit a bunch of times and coloured them differently, and your boss would've loved it.

Yep, for reasons unknown Drew has pulled a 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' and ended up in his very own Toontown, apparently populated entirely by his own creations (so there's no danger of Bugs Bunny or Donald Duck showing up). This is a happy place of friendship and naked frolicking, but it's not without its problems. For instance a tiny UFO is flying around and blasting the meadow with energy beams. Is that you ROBOTNIK???

Actually, now that I think about it, Christopher Lloyd was actually in Who Framed Roger Rabbit as the villain. The guy has cartoon world problems.

Fortunately for Drew, this little purple guy shows up to shove him out of the way of the corrupting energy ray at the last second. He's Flux Wildly (not to be confused with a flux capacitor), Drew's favourite character, and he comes across like a cross between Bugs Bunny and Jar Jar Binks. It's too early to tell if that's a good thing or not, but being voiced by (an unrecognisable) Dan Castellaneta is definitely a mark in the plus column.

Drew assumes that he must be dreaming, and he's probably right, but oversleeping when he has a deadline isn't the best way to avoid being fired so he needs a way back to reality. Fortunately Flux knows how to get him home... actually he hasn't got a clue (he struggles to remember how to get back to his own house most days), but he knows a guy who can help at least.

The Sun! Or maybe he's just an anthropomorphic tennis ball, I don't know. He's king of Cutopia though, so if anyone has the resources to get someone back to reality, it's him.
The thing is, Cutopia isn't the only country in this world. It shares this region with Looney Tunes island up there at the top (called Zanydu), and the sinister Malevolands on the left, ruled by Tim Curry.
All was well until the Malevolands began a series of attacks against Cutopia with their Malevolator, turning innocent Cutopians malevolent. So the king won't help me until I help him save Cutopia first, by helping them create a Cutifier to reverse the malevolation effect.

Why he needs a cartoonist for this job is a mystery though, we're hardly the prophesied Warriors of Light and you would never mistake Drew for Keanu Reeves. He may have imagined this world, but he doesn't have any reality bending super powers here.

Okay then... I suppose we'd better just get on with it.

Hey look at that, I'm still playing as a digitised Christopher Lloyd in game! It's like the Mortal Kombat of adventure games... kind of.

Aside from his live action nature, Drew is basically just your typical mouse controlled adventure game protagonist: I just click where I want him to be, and he finds his way over there with Flux tagging along behind him. Though I can't help but notice I haven't got any of the usual verbs that adventure games of the era tended to provide to let players interact with their environment. The interface has been streamlined to the point where I can click right mouse do look at something, left mouse to do something with it, and that's pretty much it.

Right, the throne room is closed off, the door on the bottom left is locked, and I can't get the cupboard open, so I suppose I'll check what that foot butler's up to over on the left.

Damn, look at that background... I think I've wandered into Day of the Tentacle by mistake. Though those icons down there are reminding me more of Sam and Max: Hit the Road.

The dialogue interface is all about the icons. First I have to click the ice cube to break the ice, and then I can start chatting about subjects I'm interested in. Uh, I mean they start chatting about them, as I have absolutely zero influence on the discussion.

Still, the dialogue isn't bad, and the actors deliver it well.

What kind of butler are you, anyway?

Flux! Look at him. I think he's a footman.

What? So you're telling me a butler would be a great, big--

Right.

Chatting with the Footman got me nowhere, he mostly just wanted rid of me so he could get back to dusting trophies, so I went downstairs instead and found this absent-minded professor. But he won't talk to me until he finds his glasses! I'm already stuck and I haven't even found a puzzle yet.

I couldn't find the glasses myself, but I did eventually find myself back upstairs chatting to the Footman again, where I discovered that the guy really does not like me much. He's not very cute at all in my opinion. But he did know where the glasses were, so now I can finally get the bird-brained scientist to explain what the king's plan is here.

The professor reveals that Cutopian spies have gotten their hands on the blueprints to the Malevolator, and he's close to constructing is own version. The trouble is that if you put the same items into the thing you just get another Malevolator, so I need to put their opposites into it instead to create a Cutifier.

Ah, I think I've figured out where they're going with here: it's a cartoon world, so I'm not literally looking for opposites, I'm looking for counterparts. So I need to find sugar to go with spice, not sure about dagger, stars in place of stripes, a soul, bells, spit, pins, nuts, can't think of what goes with ball, arrow for bow, pepper and... a bread roll maybe to go with rock? I thought this was meant to be a challenge, not a a shopping list! One trip to the supermarket and I'll have this all sorted out.

Oh hang on, maybe I'm not leaving the castle just yet. Seems that the palace guards are so preoccupied with cheering visitors up, that they've given me an opportunity to pocket their key. But do I have the moral right to steal a royal key in order to save a kingdom? Maybe, I dunno, I'm gonna do it either way.

The key got me inside the king's bedchamber (though I was hoping it'd open the cupboard up to be honest), so now I've got more stuff to click on. Not much more though, as the rooms in this game generally seem pretty empty. I found a note though at least!
"Remember: Open up. Don't shut down. Go right in. Don't be left out."
Uh, what?

Oh hang on, I think I get what it's referring to now. The king has a faulty dresser, with certain drawers opening up other drawers when I pull them out, and I've got to make the arrangement match the description on the note. I've no idea why I'm doing this, the game hasn't given me a goal in this room to work towards, it's just a puzzle to be solved.

Aha, it opened up a secret passage behind the smiley face on the king's bed, so now I'm in the basement directly below his bedroom. Look at all those bottles lying around for me to grab, and I can't take any of them. The only thing I can interact with here in fact is this loose floorboard; reminds me a little of that famous loose floorboard puzzle back in Monkey Island 1...

Anyway, there's a trap door in the ceiling which opens up under the rug upstairs, but I've no idea what unlocking it is going to get me. Wait... I remember that asshole Footman mentioned that he's the one who looks after the king whenever he needs anything, and I saw a bell pull rope in his bedroom earlier.

I'm formulating a dark and devious scheme...


SOON.


Well now I'm feeling a little guilty for opening a trapdoor in the bedroom, pulling the rug back over it, and ringing the bell. Still, if I can trap this haughty heel down here for a bit, I'll be able to head back upstairs and steal his trophies unhindered!

I have no idea why I'd want to do this, but I must.

Uh... this doesn't look good.

The footman slams into another loose floorboard, catapulting a stack of barrels up through the hatch into the bedroom where Drew and Flux are watching. Gravity soon kicks in though and demands them back, sending them straight for the Footman's head.

Oh it was only tar and feathers, that's not so bad I suppose. I mean the guy's an asshole sure, but I didn't want to actually injure him.

Hey, wasn't there three barrels?

Shiiit! R.I.P. Footman.

Hey, that was a pretty cool cartoon interlude. I hope that's something they're going to keep doing throughout the game, because it really was animated like something straight out of a Looney Tunes short. Quality cartoonmanship.

And now I'm free to help myself to this giant red herring! Wait... fuck!

There's also a golden watering can in here, but if I lift that from the trophy stand the security door comes slamming down to trap me in here until I put it back. Cutopians are surprisingly serious about security.

Okay I'm done with the palace, let's see what's down the road.

Damn, now I'm spoiled for choice. There's a pub, a bakery, a clothes shop, and an arcade here, with a path leading out of the town center below. Thankfully you can right click on a destination to jump there instantly, as the walking speed is a bit on the slow side.

I have to admit that can't really remember what the music in Ren and Stimpy sounded like, but if I had to guess, I'd say it sounded almost exactly like this game does. Toonstruck's soundtrack is a mixture of classical themes and stock music, all in glorious low quality PCM audio. There's not a hint of midi here, but there sure is a noticeable hiss, with my DOSbox set up anyway.

Here's where Toonstruck sits in the grand scheme of point and click adventures by the way:

There is is, between Full Thottle and Curse of Monkey Island, which puts it near the tail end of the golden age of the graphical adventure game.

The game really reminds of classic LucasArts adventures too, especially Day of the Tentacle and Sam and Max. It seems to share the same philosophy when it comes to the idea of killing the player off or making it possible for them to get themselves hopelessly stuck: don't.

These buildings are all pretty tiny, and what you see is what you get as the screen doesn't scroll. They have allowed me two things to do in this room though: I can humiliate myself on the 'test your strength' machine, or I can humiliate myself on an arcade game. I like how they're all 80's cabinets like Space Invaders and Pac-Man that a guy of Drew's age would've likely been more familiar with; I'm gonna choose to believe that's deliberate.

The owner of this fine establishment is apparently from the Malevolands though, so he's a no good cheating swindling asshole, and all the games are probably rigged. I likely don't stand a chance here without a bit of adventure game prep work (ie. cheating).

Oh damn, I'm actually winning this minigame! I'm honestly surprised, as I have to click the on-screen controls to use them... in a real time arcade game. Not a great bit of design, that.

But I got a fake gold chain out of it in the end! No idea what I'd do with it, I haven't come across anything that'd need anything gold or chainy....

BALL AND CHAIN! It's a Cutifier component! Well I guess I'm making progress.


A BIT LATER.


I'm getting nowhere in that town now; everyone wants butter, or books, or vouchers, and I've got nothing to give them. So I'm taking a walk out in the countryside instead, getting myself some fresh air. Well, partially-malevolent air anyway.

Look who I found by the way, it's Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun herself! I don't know if the recent attacks have sent her off the deep end, but she comes across like a spoiled rich brat with a laugh like a pneumatic drill (which Flux eventually starts imitating). She's all sweetness and happiness one moment, but then she'll suddenly go into a rant about someone giving her candy-floss when she wanted popcorn. She's the type who would throw a fit if you got her the wrong Ferrari for her birthday.

So I guess I'm adding popcorn to the list of things I'm looking out for. Moving on then.

Aha, there's a butter churning device in here, and I need butter to give to the frogs to get the bread dough! I honestly have no idea why I want the bread dough, but I'm sure something will eventually come up.

This nice cow lady is a little bit too into the milking process, and she's very distraught that her milking device is currently broken after a piece broke and flew off somewhere. I can already tell that I just need a magnet to get the missing component out of the haystack, so that's another thing I'll have to look out for.

But hey at least I've finally found a puzzle I understand, with a reward I have a use for!

Well there's those nuts I need for the Cutifier, but I won't be getting them any time soon. Drew, just throw something up there and knock some of them off! Oh and look there's the pepper in the background too. Can't get that either yet.

You know, Flux really isn't all that annoying. I figured he'd be more of a Roger Rabbit type, driving Drew up the wall with his irrepressible antics, but he's more like a Max to his Sam. Drew isn't the freaked out fish out of water you might expect either, more of a dolphin architect given legs to finally explore the cities he once dreamed up... he's comfortable with the cartoon world is what I'm trying to say, and likes to joke around.

I seem to be pretty much out of things to do in Cutopia now, so I need to find a way over to either the Malevolands or Zanydu.

Toonstruck Zanydu shuttle elephant
Well the Malevolands are blocked off by the Big Bad Wolf, so I'm not going that way, but this shuttle to Zanydu looks more promising. There's a peanut in the left hand, but it's missing one in the right for the return trip.

Whenever I hit the button the elephant looks expectantly for his treat, and is disappointed when the hand turns out to be empty. So I need either a peanut or some other food that elephants like.

Toonstruck inventory
Sadly my magic bottomless bag of swag is completely empty of food. I've got piano keys, a fake gold chain, a music box, a dazed mouse and a gold plated watering can full of fertilizer, but nothing I've any use for.

Alright I give in, I've been trying this for ages now and I have absolutely no idea what I need to do to get this elephant to move, so I'm going to check... the walkthrough. Skip ahead if you don't want me to reveal the solution!



Oh c'mon, seriously? It turns out that the thing that gets the elephant moving is in fact the UNCONSCIOUS MOUSE. Though I have to use the fertilizer to wake him up first of course. Elephants are scared of mice, I get it, and there have been many hints that the mouse I caught came from Zanydu, but they were totally leading me to believe that the hand was supposed to contain a carrot, not a stick... motivationally speaking.

I mean look at the elephant's face up there! Elephants don't forget which hand the mouse is in.

Toonstruck Zanydu sign
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF! That's where I remember Drew's boss from. He was one of the teachers. Also Zanydu is a play on 'Xanadu' isn't it? Man, I think staring at this sign is expanding my mind and giving me mental superpowers. That would explain the headache at least.

You can listen to the some of the music from Zanydu by clicking this youtube video if you're curious (told you it sounded like Ren and Stimpy).

AHA, there's that magnet I need to get the missing milk machine component, stick inside a gift dispenser. But first I have to prove to the staff that I'm an actual loyal paying customer, not a grubby freeloader. Man, my task would've been made so much easier if the King of All Cutopia had given me a little cash for expenses.

I love these two at the desk though: they're a comedy cartoon violence duo who decided to go into business with each other to share the pain with the world. Basically they're what you'd get if Wile E. Coyote suddenly started selling anti-Road Runner equipment instead of ordering it by the boxload.

Sorry this is so low res and jerky, I didn't want it to have a bigger filesize than every other image on the page combined.
There doesn't seem to be any point in asking the pair to demonstrate their gear, but the developers went and animated it all anyway. Because they are heroes.

If there's one thing I can say for sure about the game, is that the people who made it have a real love and understanding of cartoons. Either that or they're really good at faking it.

Aha, this poster on the wall says that I just have to answer a few questions right on a simple phone quiz and I'll get a free Wacme product! Then I can prove I really am a paying customer and get my magnet!

First though I have to figure out how that colour coded phone number works. And find a phone.


SEVERAL MISERABLE MINUTES LATER.


Toonstruck phone
The game made me go all the way back to the pub in Cutopia to find a phone, but that's not the worst bit. The Wacme contest questions are all about the colours of certain things in Zanydu, like a character's fur or the fish tails on a building's roof, and if you get a single one wrong you lose. Also the questions are randomised so even if you go all the way back and check to see what the colours are, you just end up with a different set of questions when you get back.

Fortunately I have screenshots of it all, so I'm fine, but this is a seriously bullshit puzzle for the 99.9% of players who aren't writing up an article about the game. Even I gave up and looked up the answers after my first two attempts because I didn't realise the question above meant HIS right, not mine.


SOME PUZZLE SOLVING LATER.


Oh shit, after all that work trying to get a magnet, Tim Curry just flew by in his Malevolator and turned the barn evil! Those poor ladies, they didn't even have a chance to escape. Actually to be honest I've skipped ahead a bit here. I actually used the magnet to get the butter a while back so it's all good. I even traded the butter for some bread dough back in town!

I still have no idea why I want dough.

By the way, Tim Curry is great in this as Count Nefarious, evil ruler of the Malevolands, but then that was never really in doubt. He may have been a little miscast as the lead in Gabriel Knight, but here he shines.

Holy shit, the Malevolator ray turned the sheep into a dominatrix and the cow into Axe Cop! Okay I'm thinking now that maybe the game isn't really for younger children, because this is kinda messed up. What's worse, there used to be a horse in here too when the place was still cute, and now there is glue. Doesn't take much work to connect the dots there.

So now I have to do something else for them to get the glue. Why do I need the glue? I have no idea! I think I'd better turn this game off now because something worse happens.


CONCLUSION

Toonstruck is an awkward game to judge, because it's so likeable that it feels wrong to say anything bad about it. I want to be on the game's side, even when it's asking me to name the colour of a fish strapped to someone's shoulder standing in another country, but it clearly isn't perfect.

One of the biggest issues I personally had with it, is that I rarely knew why I was doing something. I found myself going through a whole chains of puzzles just to get my hands on items I didn't even want and had no immediate use for, and that drains a lot of the satisfaction out of it. Also a great deal of the game is spent listening to Drew and Flux talk with people. Sure they're more hit than miss with their jokes and most characters are very well performed, but the player's only involvement in conversation is to click the next icon occasionally. It's not a game about choices.

Here's another issue with the game that I learned way back during my first playthrough: the story kinds of leaves things unfinished. I mean it does have a proper live action FMV ending, there is closure to be found here, but for whatever reason (possibly disc space) the game was released with the second half missing, and as you can imagine that kind of hurts the storyline. The missing content was possibly planned to be packaged up as a sequel at one point, but those dreams died when the game bombed. Sadly Toonstruck was not a financial success story, though the fact that it was insanely expensive for the time might have something to do with its lack of profitability. The game spent three years in development and apparently cost $8 million to produce; to put that into perspective the most expensive video game ever made by anyone anywhere at the time of release was Wing Commander IV with a budget of $12 million.

But on the plus side, it turns out that $8 million in the early 90s was enough to get you top quality animation, a Hollywood actor, the lead from The Simpsons as his sidekick, and a supporting cast featuring half the voice talent working in cartoons at the time. All this would've been wasted without a good script and direction, but fortunately it's actually a very funny game at times, and Lloyd comes at the role with enthusiasm, despite acting alone on a blue screen set for most of it. See, look, I'm doing it again... I'm liking the damn thing! Oh whatever, it can have a star:


If you want to complain about my writing, share your opinions on the game, tell me what you think of my site, guess what game's coming up next, or anything else along those lines, then you are most fortunate my friend, as a box with the capability to convey your messages to the world sits below this text.

Also if you feel like to telling other people about my site, linking to an article on your favourite forum, tweeting about it, or even dropping a few pennies into the donation box up there, then I would be both grateful and happy. Not literally pennies mind you, PayPal would eat them up whole, but you know what I mean.

4 comments:

  1. It seems pretty awesome :o I guess I'm going to downl......buy it

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  2. Hey, that drawing is awesome! Is it free to use? I'd love to have that in my logo (but I totally understand if you refuse, although credit will be given).

    And I'm in the lookout for this game. It looks like a buried gem!

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    Replies
    1. You can do whatever you like with the drawing, though the hand holding the gun was basically copied from an image of Max from Sam & Max I found online, so I'm not sure you'd want to.

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    2. I'll see how I deal with it. Thanks a lot Mr Hardgrit :)

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