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

Where the Dogs of Society Howl
by Mike Moehnke

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Very Easy
20-40 Hours
+ Varied and fascinating visuals
+ Story is enjoyable
- Money collection and management is aggravating
- Magic cannot be used outside of battle
- Combat is easy, but very repetitive
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   Media Vision had a bright idea when The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road came to be. Except for a reputedly terrible Super Nintendo game, the Oz series has not been tapped much by the video game industry despite being ripe with possibilities. Turning Oz into an RPG could have made for an excellent game — but it didn't. Beyond the Yellow Brick Road manages to aggravate intermittently throughout the time spent playing it, and while it does have a few good points, the overall experience is one of persistent irritation, something like putting honey onto a steak while the bees that made the honey dispute its ownership.

   The basic scenario of The Wizard of Oz is retained in this rendition. Dorothy is a little older than in other versions of the story, but she is picked up by a tornado and transported to the magical land of Oz with her little dog Toto. In Oz she meets with a living Strawman and Tin Man, plus a cowardly Lion that speaks. This unusual group seeks the counsel of the great Oz, ruler of the land, in order to obtain what they seek using his power. Oz's aid can only be obtained if a quartet of witches who seek his ouster is defeated, and thus Dorothy and her friends need to traipse around Oz and hone their combat skills.

   The story relies a lot on familiarity with the Oz world, so anyone who has managed to miss the books and the movie will not derive nearly as much enjoyment from the minimal plot development, though the witches in their brief appearances have distinct personalities. XSEED did a good job with the translation, but after the introductory portion, The Wizard of Oz's story doesn't appear much. Exploration and combat will take up the vast majority of play time in Oz, not the fascinating text or compelling character interaction that one might expect based on the source material.

   All player input in Oz comes through the touch screen. Dorothy is guided around all the environments via a trackball on the screen that the player moves using the stylus, though she must be stationary to interact with objects onscreen. Some puzzles and treasure chests, along with a few feline servants of the witches who are chatty, are to be found around the environments. Dorothy's inability to interact with features unless she is not moving quickly can be moderately annoying, but navigation through the dungeons is by and large intuitive.

Slimer couldn Slimer couldn't take all the pressure when he got top billing on the Real Ghostbusters, poor guy.

   Visible enemies also move around the environments, and they will seek out Dorothy if she is seen. Combat is broadly ripped from Dragon Quest, with a turn-based battle system that will be instantly recognizable to any veteran of other turn-based battle systems. The Wizard of Oz does throw a couple of new twists into the usual formula, such as each character being strong against a specific type of enemy. Magic acquisition is done not by gaining levels, but by seeking out several sage dragons that will teach every character a spell if defeated in combat. The ratio system is also distinct, with a total of four actions being possible per turn on both the player's and the enemy's side. Dorothy and the Strawman take one action, Lion takes two, and Tin Man takes three of the four possible actions per turn. What tends to make the combat dull is the AI automatically deciding on the actions taken, with the player simply hitting OK to then watch the round play itself out. The combat is fast-paced, but more often than not the player will need to do nothing more than confirm what the AI wants to do. It takes much longer to manually change the artificial intelligence's unintelligent decisions instead of going along with its preferred course, even though any magic that affects the enemy will never be used without player input.

   Outside of battle, Media Vision made the incredibly irritating decision to forbid magic use. Healing is thus made into an unpleasant ordeal of using items outside of battle or wasting time that could be spent killing enemies, changing the AI's fixation on all-out attack to use magic during an encounter.

   Item acquisition is also annoying. Aside from objects found during exploration, items must be bought, and the inexplicable decisions of Media Vision come to the fore again. Not only is money physically dropped by enemies onto the screen, where it must be walked over by Dorothy quickly before it vanishes, but there is a limit of ninety-nine coins that can be held at one time. Early in the game this is not a big problem, but as equipment prices rise, it becomes impossible to buy many items at once. The player must constantly sell things in order to generate enough money for the next purchase, but not too many items or else the revenue will be wasted if it creeps above ninety-nine.

It It's just a fire blazing forever in a floating torch, hardly !-worthy.

   Adding insult to insult, it is only possible to lose in The Wizard of Oz if the player desires it. Being defeated lets the player return to Oz's palace, with all progress retained and no penalty except having to physically move back to wherever the last battle took place. Some boss battles are tricky, but the age-old stratagem of gaining levels is always available, along with no fear of losing anything if defeated.

   The Wizard of Oz does look and sound good. Its soundtrack is not particularly memorable, but is very pleasant to hear and does a good job of accompanying the action. Its visuals are impressive, with every area (and sometimes smaller sections within an area) having a distinct and interesting look. In keeping with the tradition of older Dragon Quest games, the player's actions are not animated in battle, but the enemies move fluidly and well.

   Oz will probably require twenty hours or so to complete. Learning all the spells taught by the dragons and trying to get the best equipment in the game by fighting optional, very powerful enemies that lurk around certain points can drag out the time spent with the game, but there are no extra areas to explore off the beaten path.

   The Wizard of Oz world could be used to make an excellent RPG, one full of inventive locales and colorful characters. Media Vision can still do this with a sequel that realizes the potential of Oz but has failed to accomplish it with the game it actually made. The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road can't plant me in its penthouse, I'm going back to my plow.

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