Does anyone remember that bloody awful film where the cartoonist bloke got sucked into his own creation and ended up desperately trying to shag Kim Basinger? No? It was pretty bad, and as a result I have clearly blocked out the awful memory by refusing to be able to remember the name. Oh well... Still, this is vaguely relevant because for I some reason Virgin's new in-house development team CBurst' has chosen to steal the idea for its first project. Doesn't bode well really, does it?
There's been a mumbling of hype burbling away about Toonstruck for nearly a year now, but for some reason no-one has really been jumping up and down and shouting about it. It looks nice and it's got some famous names associated with it, but it's got Cthat' storyline... so when the review copy of the game showed up no-one really seemed to care. Fools! Fools, I say. Er...
It's a bit like Sam & Max
Point-and-click adventures are enjoying a bit of a renaissance at the moment. We've had a second Discworld, Vic Tokai's Gene Machine, Virgin's rather po-faced (but still super) Broken Sword and now this. All of them have upped the stakes when it comes to presentation and all of them have excellent stories with almost cinematic production values. So why does this particular review have such a dirty great big number slapped on the end of it, then?'
To me, Sam & Max was one of the finest games ever produced. It was fab. It was funny. It looked good and it was just about the right level of difficulty. Nothing has even come close to it since in my book and I always thought that if anything did, the only thing that could would be a sequel. Wrong.
If anything, Toonstruck is something of a spiritual successor to Sam & Max. It takes the same cartoon-inspired ideas and characterisations and throws in a massive amount of visual humour. It also somehow manages to appeal to people on different levels in the same way that things like CThe Muppets' and CThe Simpsons' can (which is ironic because the bloke who Homer Simpson's voice is one of the voice actors used here). There's the basic, silly, slapstick stuff that kids will enjoy, but underneath there's some seriously rude adult references that are thrown in so subtly that some people just won't notice. Things like cows dressed in leather S&M gear with their udders pierced whilst being whipped by a sheep dressed in spandex with little propellers attached to its nipples. You know, subtle stuff like that.
So is it for kids or adults, then?
In the first five or ten minutes of playing the thing you'd be forgiven for thinking that Toonstruck was aimed squarely at the kids. The storyline is all fluffy and lovely and the early puzzles are nothing more than Ctalk to this person and then pick up the item that they give you' affairs. Later on, though, the game develops at an almost perfect pace - the puzzle structure becomes more complicated and the degree of lateral thinking that has to be applied increases. It's all, ooh I dunno, really Cclever'. It's just one of those games that sucks you in because of the subtlety of the whole thing. Before you know it, you've skipped past the simple kids stuff and you're engrossed in the middle of a multi-faceted puzzle that is actually pretty damn hard. The thing is, though, the game got you there by gently massaging your ego with the introduction of puzzles at a really steady rate and then rewarding you with short but poignant developments to the overall story.
Beyond the almost graceful structure of the game, I have to mention the control system at this point. Over the years, developers of point-and<lickers have been striving for the ultimate user interface. LucasArts pretty much had the whole thing licked with the proprietary scumm system, but I reckon that Toonstruclc's is near as dammit perfect. The ultimate interface has to be incredibly simple and what we have here is an intelligent icon system that simply allows for three different actions; look, pick up and then a generic Cuse' action. And what more could you want from a game? Using this, coupled with a Chot spot' system in each of the scenes where you can only manipulate certain objects, your interaction with the environment is both simple and effective.
Blimey... it's good, then
Christ. I've really got to get my Cpicky' hat out now, haven't I? So far I don't think I've found anything that particularly annoys me. Let me think... good story, check; good puzzles, check; good interface, oh, done that; skip cutscenes, yup; jump from screen to screen without walking, yussa; skip long, boring conversations, ya absolutely; knob jokes, well sort of...
On top of all this, it has to be said that this really is a beautiful looking game. The cartoon-style graphics are simply superb and the integration of the digitised Christopher Lloyd with the hand-drawn backdrops is second to none. Check out the screen shot of Jim's Gym and you'll see Christopher Lloyd working out on a cartoon exercise machine and the whole thing is pretty much seamless.
So, er... wow, it's pretty good, then? The only thing that will let it down is if you love point-and-clickers but you hate vaguely puerile, childish humour. Let's face it, though, there can't be many people like that, can there? You'd have to be the sort of person who hates CThe Simpsons' (I believe there are some) to be like that. Anyway, I love it - which must mean I'm vaguely childish and puerile too. C'est la vie.
Fluffy wuffy cutie story
Rather than boring you by droning on and on about the story in the main review I thought I'd quickly sum it up here. You play the part of Drew Blanc (acted out rather effectively by a Creal' Christopher Lloyd), an ailing cartoonist who has spent the past years drawing the CFluffy Fluffy Bun Bun' show - a truly revolting kids Ccute' cartoon. Whilst poring over a new project for his boss, Drew nods off and for some bizarre reason gets sucked into a cartoon land that's divided into three distinctly different areas; Cutopia (where all of the disgustingly cute stuff lives), Zanydu (where the really weird stuff happens... you know, CRen & Stimpy'-style freaky violence) and finally the Malevolands, where all of the screwed-up nastiness occurs.
It seems that within this weird world, the forces of the Malevolands are intent on taking over completely and are turning everything Cmalevolent' by zapping it with a contraption called the Cmalevolator'. You are still paying attention, aren't you? This Cmalevolator' basically turns things Cbad' and is an excellent vehicle for humour... er, if you'll pardon the pun. Anyway, Drew is convinced by King Hugh of Cutopia to stop this and has to go around collecting pieces for an Canti-malevolator' called a Ccutiefier'. Thus the adventure begins... Got that?
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode