Very few items make it into public consciousness. No matter how hard you try, you cannot escape them. No, this isn’t about the fads of a decade. What I am writing about are the touchstones of humanity, things that you owe to yourself if you are a living, breathing person. One such example is The Wizard of Oz. It doesn’t matter if you read the book, saw the play or watched the movie; you know the basic gist of the plot and characters. (An old dog of mine was Toto in the play version several years ago.) The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is similar to the original story but has a few twists.
In The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, Dorothy grew up alone because her parents died years ago. Her constant companion is Toto, whom she adores. One day a tornado sweeps her up and lands her in the Land of Magic known as Oz. The “good” wizard makes her a proposition: Take care of the four witches conquering the land, and he’ll return Dorothy and Toto home. Or she can stay there. So now, the well-known cast goes on a journey to find witches and restore peace to Oz.
While Beyond the Yellow Brick Road doesn’t push the characters beyond their archetypes, it does have loads of character. Dorothy looks cute and peppy. Unlike her movie counterpart, she probably would knock a monster down faster than letting it kidnap her. Lion behaves more like a pacifist who reluctantly fights. Tinman is the silent strongman who literally cannot talk. And Scarecrow is friendly yet mischievous. Unfortunately, you’ll never see this play out in the game’s storybook look — which is a shame because it would have been downright cute.
This connects directly to the graphics. It’s like something out of a storybook. Dorothy runs around a 3-D world. Lush forests, swamps, jungles and beaches are there to explore. Monsters are cleanly seen wandering about the paths. Dorothy actually bends down to pet Toto, showing how much she cares for him. It’s a bit pixilated, but it looks good. Monsters have their own actions during combat, though you never see any of the characters run up and smack the enemy around.
Gameplay wise, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a variation on classic role-playing conventions. Each round of combat has four turns. Each character takes up so many of those turns and specializes in damaging a specific type of monster. For example, Dorothy and Scarecrow only need one turn to execute an action, while Lion needs two turns to attack. Finally, Tinman needs three turns to inflict massive damage on an opponent. Thankfully, the same is true for the monsters. Furthermore, skills are not learned by gaining levels. Instead, you have to find and defeat a Father Dragon to teach skills. It isn’t necessary, but it can make your life easier.
Movement around the map is rather intuitive. You spin the crystal ball on the touchscreen in the direction you want Dorothy and Toto to go. There are only two buttons to push: one for party needs and an all-purpose button. You can also rotate the camera slowly. It is important to know that you can set up guide posts to help you figure out where you have and have not explored. These are available at each intersection, and you have six symbols to choose from. There are no right or wrong answers as long as it makes sense to you. In all honesty, since there is so much ground to cover I would have preferred some sort of map system implemented into the game. It can be very easy to get lost. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember where to implement the proper elemental. (Elementals help unlock/unblock certain areas of the map.)
Plus, money is scarce. It is rare for an enemy to drop a coin or two after battle. The rest you either find floating around the various areas, or you can sell unneeded items. Thankfully, healing at the castle is free. Some treasure chests hold equipment while others hold medicinal items. It isn’t too big of a deal as items are reasonably priced and are often dropped after combat. Plus, levels are not too difficult to improve.
Sound wise, everything is solid. Things have a nice solid “bash” and “slash” sound to them. Footsteps are heard as Dorothy traverses the lands. Music is bright and cheery. It may not be something to write home about, but it gets the job done. It helps lend the game more character. The downside is that if you mute it, you’re not missing out on too much. Plus, there’s no voice acting. While I get the developers might not have wanted to mess up people’s fond memories of the movie version, they could have had voices to create new memories to go along with this new adventure.
Over all, the <The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a beach game. It is light, breezy, mellow, charming and, ultimately, just downright fun to play. It will not tax players’ abilities nor does it travel too far from the source material. But it is easy to tell that the developers are onto something. Keep the characters close to their inspiration, change the environment and one could have an intriguing game to play. Beyond the Yellow Brick Road isn’t something that one could play for hours on end, but no one will feel like their time with it was wasted. This is a perfect game for novices to learn the ropes of a RPG. If you can find it for $20, go grab it. Otherwise, feel free to rent it. Now, I wonder how older materials might be brought up into the 21st century. So, anyone up to creating a game about Sir Gawain or the Green Knight?