Review: The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

WizardOfOz.jpg Everyone knows the tale of Dorothy and Toto, set against a sweet balled seemingly ripped from the credits of a Myazaki film, the two intrepid souls ripped from their home by a terrific tornado and landed in a very strange place indeed, the land of Oz. There, armed only with a cane for a weapon and a simple dress for armor, Dorothy makes her way to the Emerald Castle, on the way joining up with the Scarecrow, Lion and Tin Man, who are strong against water, shell and plant type monsters respectively. And then… huh, WHA?

Obviously if you were here expecting a faithful representation of the Frank Baum classic you’ll realize that you aren’t in Kansas anymore! OK, already … no need to be such wicked witches, I’ll stop before someone drops a house on me!

The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road does begin as I say, with a nice cutscene set against a ballad sung in Japanese, ending with Dorothy standing on the Yellow Brick Road ready to make her journey to Oz. Because this is an RPG, you can make the easy assumption that getting to Oz is only a small part of the task of completing the game. In fact, getting to meet with the Wizard serves as more of a tutorial than anything else: you can’t save until that point, and you get to gather up your companions and learn how to do stuff. Once at the castle, Oz sends you off to defeat the four evil magic witches so that the land of magic can be reunited again and everyone can live in peace.

Two interesting things you’ll discover immediately — there is no map and the movement control is an emerald ball that you ‘spin’ with the stylus reminiscent of playing early arcade games like Centipede. The lack of a map is my single biggest criticism of the game, and even then it isn’t such a big deal. As you explore areas you encounter paths, not labyrinthine dungeons. There are signposts that you can mark to help yourself, but it is too easy to forget whether or not you have been somewhere if you leave the game for any period of time.

As for the controls, some folks complain about them but personally I adore the concept! Maybe it is my age that makes me nostalgic for the arcade days of the late 70’s, but in a game that features a lot of wandering around in relatively tight areas, it is a nice alternative to using the d-pad or constantly tapping on the screen. The roll-ball technique works well because you actually feel like you have that sort of control: roll fast and Dorothy moves fast, roll slow and she moves slowly. Forward means forward, and you can move around corners very quickly and smoothly. I know it is silly, but I had a blast wheeling Dorothy around quickly with this control.

I was surprised at how well produced the game was technically. The 3D graphics are some of the best I’ve seen in a DS game, and the music is clear and detailed. I have noticed that the game seems to drain the battery on my DSi faster than usual, but for such great production values I don’t mind. Speaking of the production, there is a clear anime feel to things, as Oz reminded me of the ‘King of All Cosmos’ from the Katamari games, and I thought that the Tin Man was some sort of steampunk robot when I first encountered him! Even Dorothy has a relatively short skirt that swooshes around when she runs and reminds me of something from Power Rangers or any of a number of Japanese anime shows my younger son loves.

The combat system is simple, yet interesting enough to keep you engaged. You have four party members, two ‘front line’ (Dorothy and the Strawman) and two ‘back line’ (Lion and Tin Man). The combat allows your party four turns per round, but that is where the concept of ‘ratio’ comes in. Dorothy and the Strawman take one turn per attack, whereas the Lion takes two turns, and the Tin Man takes three turns. That means that using Dorothy and the Strawman allows you four attacks per round, whereas using the Lion will let you get two Lion attacks, or one Lion and two attacks from either Dorothy or the Strawman (or one each), and using the Tin Man means only one attack from either Dorothy or the Strawman is available.

Deciding who to use in combat is important because of the ‘affinity’ system. By this system, certain members of your party are stronger against certain types of monsters. So if you run into two things that look like crabs, have the Lion take both attacks and he will cut down the monsters easily. But be careful. As is typical in these games, the front line takes more damage than the rear line, so if you are pairing Dorothy and the Tin Man and their enemies aren’t defeated in the first round Dorothy might be in for a beating! Fortunately the ally AI will gulp potions when needed (but not just for fun!).

The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is clearly designed as an RPG for kids, and as such it is not brutally challenging. Yet it offers plenty of fun and enough of a challenge to keep gamers of all ages engaged for the several hours it takes to wade through the campaign. There are no real surprises here, but the high production values, nice twists to the familiar story and real sense of joy come through in everything you experience in this wonderful game.

BuyIt.jpg

Pros:
+ Nice combat system
+ Effective storytelling

Cons:
– No map
– All that coolness will cost you in terms of battery life!

Game Info:
Platform: DS
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Media.Vision
Release Date: 9/29/09
Genre: RPG
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!