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.
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.
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.
Wait... I've just drawn the cute version of Max from Sam and Max haven't I? Crap, this is harder than I thought.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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--
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.
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.
"Remember: Open up. Don't shut down. Go right in. Don't be left out."Uh, what?
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...
I have no idea why I'd want to do this, but I must.
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.
Hey, wasn't there three barrels?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.|
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.
First though I have to figure out how that colour coded phone number works. And find a phone.
SEVERAL MISERABLE MINUTES LATER.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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