Toonstruck is a fun, cartoon-style graphic adventure that is similar in some respects to Sam & Max from LucasArts, but this one has a live actor, Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, etc.) interacting with the cartoon environment. As it is a third person perspective adventure it is Lloyd's character, Drew Blanc, that you manipulate on screen.
The video introduction quickly sets the scene. Animator, Drew Blanc, as the name suggests, does exactly that when he is asked by his boss to come up with lots more cute bunnies to build on the success of the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show. With an overnight deadline Drew is uninspired and he falls asleep at his desk only to be rudely awakened at four o'clock in the morning by Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun on the television and a storm raging outside. In the next instant Drew is mysteriously transported to the cartoon world of Cutopia where all is not well.
The evil Count Nefarious (with the voice of Tim Curry in another suitably menacing role) of the Malevolands has invented a flying machine called the malevofier and is spreading his vileness throughout Cutopia, creating a wasteland and turning the normally cute and happy characters BAD. Before he can return to his own world Drew must help the Cutopians reverse the effects of the malevofier by finding the necessary items to create a cutifier.
In this first, and major, part of the game Drew is accompanied, and sometimes aided, by Flux Wildly, Drew's favourite cartoon creation. Flux is a delightfully sarcastic purple thingy with glasses -- at least, I assumed they were glasses, though whenever he removed them his eyebrows went as well. As with Max, from Sam & Max, Flux can also be 'used' to do things in the game. In the second part, though, Drew is pretty much on his own.
If you have ever watched the Saturday morning cartoon shows -- not the 'serious' and, dare I say it, dreary mechanical action ones that seem to prevail nowadays, but the fun ones like Bugs Bunny and The Road Runner -- then you will enjoy the way this game captures and sends up many elements of those shows. The scene-setting classical music pieces will be instantly familiar even if you don't know what they are, as will the slightly warped style of backgrounds. With zany characters, much of the humour also captures the essence of those cartoons which always seemed to me to operate on two levels: slapstick comedy for the younger kids and witty dialogue and anarchic humour for us older ones. So it is with this game, though I should give fair warning to parents who may be contemplating buying Toonstruck for their children that the humour is a little dark at times. One scene features familiar and cute farm animals who are malevofied into a parody of a sado-masochistic bondage ritual -- complete with whip, leathers and chains.
Having said that, this is an entertaining game to play, though not an overly difficult one for experienced adventurers, especially if you are in tune with the wacky cartoon logic of the story. Which means you will still need to be fairly imaginative in overcoming the obstacles that are set before you. All of the first part involves collecting items for the cutifier, usually by separating them from their owners by fair means or foul. Sometimes a simple trade will work, but mostly you will need to be more devious than that. There are a couple of cleverly disguised logic puzzles, though these are fairly easy to work out, plus a short quiz that will test your memory as well as your powers of observation ... though if you are colour blind you may have some problems here. Even identifying the eleven items you need for the cutifier requires you to practice a little word association.
Toonstruck is a game to enjoy for itself, not to walk through in the minimum number of moves. I had so much fun that often I didn't notice I was solving puzzles. This is a game where you can try different and loony things just to see what response you get. If you always do the 'correct/obvious/sensible' thing you may miss out on some humorous sequences such as Drew being hypnotised or having a large weight dropped on him from a great height in the best cartoon tradition. You don't die, but you can have lots of fun trying.
Once again there is a lot of conversation to get through, but the dialogue is generally quite entertaining so I didn't mind. The game offers an on-screen text option and the choice of a smaller or larger font. You can also select the text speed to adjust how long it stays on the screen. Unfortunately, there is no text available during the video sequences. When you click on a character to talk to them Drew will initiate a conversation then, depending on what you have discovered so far, a couple more icons will appear at the bottom of the screen for you to click on to ask about them. For each conversation a melting ice block icon lets you know if there is more you need to say. At times the dialogue can become quite extended as Flux is, by no means, your silent partner.
The game is mouse controlled with your cursor changing shape whenever it passes over a character or thing with which you can interact. For example, it becomes chattering teeth if you can talk, or a hand if you can pick an item up, or a magnifying glass if something is worth a closer inspection. (And this magnifying glass really does magnify). You can also click the right mouse button whilst the cursor is over an object to get a more detailed description. Your inventory, once you have been given it, is a bottomless bag that sits in the bottom left corner of the screen, once again, similar to that used in Sam & Max.
The Toonstruck gameworld is not overly large consisting of Cutopia, The Malevolands and Zanydu and the second part of the game takes place wholly within Nefarious' Castle. So getting around is fairly easy and is made even easier if you click the right mouse button when the cursor is indicating an exit to a location. This allows for an immediate transition to the next screen rather than waiting for Drew to make his own way there. On top of this, a particular item, once you find it, will enable you to quickly travel between the Town centers in each of the three lands.
There is a lot to like in Toonstruck, it's a fun place to visit and you may not want to leave. The graphics and sound effects are very good. Christopher Lloyd is perfect as Drew Blanc and is ably supported by a host of other quality voice characters. The name, Drew Blanc, as well as being a truly dreadful pun (my favourite kind) also seems to pay homage to one of the great stalwarts of the Saturday morning cartoon shows -- the late Mel Blanc who was responsible for many of the most memorable cartoon voices. And that's not all, folks. The game is delightfully set up for a sequel.
Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1997.
All rights reserved.
Recommended: IBM PC Pentium or 100% compatible, 16Mb RAM, 1Mb SVGA Video Card, 4x CD-ROM Drive, 16bit Stereo Sound Card. Minimum: IBM PC 486/66 or 100% compatible, MS-DOS 5.0 or higher, 30Mb free hard disk space, Mouse installed, 8Mb RAM, 256k SVGA Video Card ( VLB / PCI ), 2x CD-ROM Drive, 8bit Sound Card