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Retro Game Review: Wizard of Oz- Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
Not in Kansas Anymore
I'm not even sure that we're in OZ anymore. Whatever you thought you were getting into with this game, you were wrong. This game is Oz in name only. It's a complete re-imagining of the Oz mythos that bears very little resemblance to the books or any of the numerous film, musical, or TV franchises. Gone are the Oz races we're expecting like munchkins and winkies, to be replaced by RPG monsters like evil gorillas and cats in red hoods. The four directional witches are COMPLETELY different from their book counterparts. Don't watch WICKED again because you're not gonna find Nessa, Elphaba or Galinda here. Instead the witches are a family consisting of a mother and her three daughters. All in all, this was a wild ride from start to finish.
Having said that, the game does follow the basic formula of the Wizard of Oz book, inasmuch as a young girl, Dorothy, is transported via a magical tornado from her greyscale home in Kansas to the bright and sparkling land of Oz with nothing but her tiny dog and a pair of magical shoes to help her. Along the way she makes three dear friends in the form of a straw man, a lion, and a tin lumberjack. They find themselves sent out on a mission to destroy the power of witches by the powerful wizard of Oz. That formula remains in-tack. But EVERYTHING else is completely different. It's just similar enough to cement you, the player, firmly in Oz, before challenging EVERYTHING you thought you knew. Not just about the Oz franchise, but about video games in general.
We all know how to play videogames. On the DS, you either use the directional pad or the touchscreen. The directional buttons are simple, push the direction you want to go and watch your character go. If you move with the touchscreen, generally you touch the place you want to move and watch your character hurry to the spot. Now take that knowledge and throw it all out. That's not how we roll in Oz.
In Oz we literally roll. On the touchscreen there is a ball, similar to that found on the bottom of old computer mice (if you're old enough to remember that). And it works similarly. You have to roll the ball in the direction and at the speed that you want Dorothy to run. This /sounds/ needlessly complex, but it actually becomes rather intuitive once you get used to it. However, if you get real excited, like I do, when you play video games, make SURE you have a screen protector on, because you will scratch the shit out of your screen. I had to stop playing and put a screen protector on. It's harsh, because it's just a bunch of short, brusque strokes.
All the controls take place with the stylus on the touchscreen, while the action takes place above on the gameplay screen. Touch-screen menus are, at least, familiar to rpg junkies. They're the same 'equip armor and weapons/use items/check stats' that you're used to. So at least there's nothing new to get used to there. There's an action icon in the lower right that can be used to interact with objects like signs, people, and treasure chests, though it's default action is to pet the dog. This is adorable, but doesn't actually do anything? It leads you to believe that it does do stuff, but it totally doesn't. Every so often an achievement will pop up that says, "New trick learned" but I couldn't figure out how to get Toto to do ANYTHING, so I looked it up, and all it is is if you stand still he'll roll over or do a back flip or something. It's purely aestetic and adds no practical value. It's cute though.
Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
Finally, this question becomes applicable. Dorothy, in this game, can learn magic. Unlike most rpgs, you learn skills not by leveling up, but by a convaluded system involving dragons disguised as elderly humans. There are three RIDICULOUSLY strong draconic wizards scattered throughout Oz, one in each direction/season except winter. You have to FIND them, which is, in itself, an ordeal. Just make sure that you label your sign posts well, because if you don't you'll never find them, and if you do manage to find them once, you'll never find your way back. But if you label your sign posts well, you can generally go right back. Because let's be real, you're probably not going to win the first time you try.
These wizards are significantly stronger than any of the enemies on the level that they're found on. In the spring, for example, I blew through the level's normal enemies at level 8. But I didn't find the wizard until I was around level 30. I went off and beat a few more levels and completely forgot about him. And I /still/ couldn't beat his final form. And I'm not stupid. It's not like this is my first rodeo. Be prepared for those dragons to blow you away.
But it is very worth it to beat them. Your reward is a series of magic spells that make the game much easier. Dorothy's healing spells are particularly useful, though the Tin Man's multi attacks are great for boss battles. The point is, this is technically an optional side quest, but it's the ONLY way to get magic spells or to use your mp at all. And I find myself robbing enemies blind after the scarecrow learns how to do that.
Dragon Wizards of Oz
I HEARTILY endorse this game, not just for Oz fans, but for anyone who likes a good-old fashioned rpg. The gameplay is strange, but solid. The enemies remind me of the snes era, where many of them are the same basic species, with different attributes based on their environments (fire, frost, and flower ghosts, stuff like that). And if you go into it AS an Oz fan, the differences between what you were expecting and what you actually get will be a real culture shock.
It's almost an 'on the rails' rpg. The environments are gorgeous, but you're contained. This game does that thing that old games do where you can't get off the path because there's an invisible wall or a two foot fence that you can't step over. But that is genuinely my ONLY complaint, and it is hardly a problem with this game, it's more a limitation of the industry in general at the time. Remember that this game is over a decade old and I picked it up last week and enjoyed it. It holds up. I think I would call this a "hidden gem". It's a game that didn't get the publicity or the popularity that it deserved.