Yellow Brick Road

Developer/Publisher:  Synergy Interactive
Year Released:  1995

Review by Steve Ramsey (June, 2004)
This is a strange little offering from the same people who brought you L-Zone and Alice: An Interactive Museum.

The Gnome King's army, aided by the ruthless Grey Bear, is attacking the Emerald City and the beautiful Queen Glinda. The Lion has been captured and the Scarecrow has gone after him. The Tin Man saw it all and is collecting his axe in order to join the fray when you show up, slippers missing but otherwise unscathed. Of course, you can't wait to help.

The Lion proves easy to find but not quite as easy to retrieve. As with many fairy tale rescues, you must fight for him, your foes on this occassion being two gnome soldiers. Tin Man insists on going it alone, but you call the shots. Select your attacker (not much of a choice this time) choose your weapon (the magic spray gun, the magic buzz saw blade or the ordinary axe) and then turn him loose on your foe of choice. Turn about is fair play though, so the gnomes go next.

In fact, they just relentlessly advance as you try to drive them back. Use a magic weapon in your turn, and it will take longer to recover before you can attack again. Drive them back far enough and they run away. Fail to stop their advance and it's the scrap yard for the Tin Man. As there are two of them, and only one Tin Man, you will need to experiment with your weapons to see which works best, and target your foes accordingly.

It's a bit like turn based rpg combat, a bit like the combat in Largo Winch. Getting rid of one of them makes the rest of the fight so much easier.

There are 5 or 6 battle sequences in all, and they get a little harder, but the Tin Man is aided by his companions (once you rescue them) in the subsequent fights. Three on three is better odds. Plus you get some extra magic weapons, and Scarecrow has a wicked hat.

Scarecrow, in fact, is worth playing this game for all on his own. Looking more like a knitted doll than a scarecrow, his facial expressions have to be seen to be believed. Giggle city. His magic weapon of choice also has quite interesting results. Throw in his hat (and I mean that literally) and he is one of the more interesting game characters going around.

The little happy dance they all do after winning a battle is worth a watch too.

Follow, follow, follow
The characters on the whole are all rather good. They are a ragtag bunch, quirky and oddly appealing, even the "baddies". Which is how they should be in a whimsical fairy tale adventure. They are voiced to amuse.

It's a game of single screens with little QuickTime animations here and there. The combat scenes have a three quarter top down perspective. The cursor only shows directions but you won't miss anything you need to see or use, and your three companions will help you out. Their image appears below the game play window, which occupies about two thirds of the screen, and clicking on it will elicit a comment. They may also talk to you, except for Lion who just roars (well, he howls rather than roars) but for whom Scarecrow can translate, but you don't talk to them. Whilst occasional informative messages appear, there are no subtitles for the speech or the roars.

There are some items to find and they will leap into your inventory and out again when needed. You can access the inventory through a box icon at the top of the screen, but it will open automatically when it is needed.

You can't save, but the game will autosave after every battle, whatever the outcome. If you lose, it pops you back a short distance beforehand, if you win it just saves and you carry on. When you quit, you simply exit, and upon returning you can choose to "continue", in which case the last autosave is your starting point.

Because, because, because
The graphics are simple and colourful, a bit blocky but childlike in design and fanciful at times. The little animations show their age though (1995), being somewhat pixelly and fuzzy.

The battle scenes add the (small) challenge to the game, and how you go will determine its length. The whole thing took me not much more than an hour, and at least half of that was in battle. The rest of the time was spent exploring and looking for those things that moved me forward. I also spent a little time being teleported back and forth between several rooms before I worked out the correct sequences. I never did get to see the Queen, except as an afterthought as she beseeched me to return to Oz and help fight the Goblins.

The game then says it's "to be continued" but as far as I know it has only ever been so in Japanese.

Despite a rather lengthy printed sheet of troubleshooting tips, it installed and then played flawlessly in Win 98 on a middle of the road system without my having to do a thing. It was accompanied by a series of appropriate (if slightly irritating) little midi tracks.

It's a generally gentle affair, a family one at that. I played it again with my daughter when I had finished, just to see Scarecrow again. He adds an extra half star to the rating. It won't win prizes but I'm glad I have it in my collection. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2004. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
MS DOS 5 or Windows 3.1 or higher, 33 MHz i486 or higher, 8 MB memory, 2x CD-ROM, 3 MB disc space, 640x480/256 colours, Quicktime 2.0 for windows (included on disc)

Macintosh OS 7.0 or higher, 25 MHz 68030 or higher (33 MHz 68LC040 or higher recommended) 8 MB memory (5 MB in largest unused block) 2x CD-ROM, 3 MB disc space, 640x480/256 colours Quicktime 2.0 for windows (included on disc)