The Wizard of Oz isn't exactly the ideal franchise for an RPG setting, but this game, The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, does its best to prove me wrong. On the surface, it doesn't look like much. I had seen the character designs a few months ago and liked them, but those visuals are also misleading and make the game look as if it's intended for a younger, or possibly casual, group of players. Because of this, I didn't think there'd be enough in the gameplay to grab me, but I was pretty surprised with the finished product and found myself enjoying it. From the oddly engaging trackball-style controls to the simple Dragon Quest-like battle system, Beyond the Yellow Brick Road isn't the deepest RPG you'll play on the DS, but it's a lot more fun than you'd originally expect.
Beyond the Yellow Brick Road seems to revolve a little more around the book than the film, but you'll notice in the very beginning that one of the musical tracks makes a small reference to music in the film. The characters designs all display an anime/manga aesthetic, so they're a little on the cutesy side, or just plan weird, as is the case with the actual Wizard. The game begins with Dorothy and her dog Toto being swept up by a tornado and transported to Oz, and as you run through the beginning area, you'll meet each of her three traveling partners in quick succession.
The basics of RPG storytelling take place here, as each encounter requires you to defeat the Strawman (Scarecrow), the Lion and the Tin Man. Once you defeat them, they join up with you, and the game really kicks into high gear once you reach the Emerald Palace. In the game, the Wizard enlists Dorothy to fight the four witches of the seasons, who have taken control over various parts of Oz and sealed off these sections with magic. He directs Dorothy and her companions to find the weak entry points into these realms and fight against the witches, so that he can wrest control from them again. Obviously that's a departure from the regular story, as the film only required Dorothy to fight the Wicked Witch of the West, not multiple witches.
The Emerald Palace works like a hub world in the game; it's your all-purpose shop, save point and healing station. From there, you can enter previous or new locations, which are laid out as pretty linear 3-D settings that put you on a path toward a warp point or boss fight. The linearity of the game seems to work in tandem with the funky trackball controls of the touch-screen. In fact, the entire game uses the touch-screen, so there's no need to utilize the face buttons or d-pad. On the bottom of the screen, there's a big green ball that you'll push against with the stylus, much like an actual trackball, which controls Dorothy's movement along the path. Dorothy encounters sign posts whenever there's a fork in the road, and you're able to mark these posts to let you know which direction heads to a dead end or leads to your next warp point. You'll see actual monsters on the field, and if you run into them, you'll be taken to a battle scenario that looks like something straight out of Dragon Quest.
The battles are usually against three or four enemies at a time, and combat is laid out in both familiar and unfamiliar RPG stereotypes. The game makes use of ratio values for each character, with characters like Dorothy and the Strawman being assigned the value of 1, while the Lion is a 2 and the Tin Man is a 3. During each turn, you can use up to four points, so you can choose to have Strawman take four actions or attacks, the Lion could do two, or Dorothy and the Tin Man could do one apiece. As long as the value adds up to four, it doesn't matter who goes during each turn and how often.
Another gameplay aspect involves affinities to particular monster types, and you'll gain special attacks as you train with the Father Dragon character. Each monster has a particular type, whether it's plant, ghost, earth, etc. Likewise, there's a corresponding type for most within your group. Dorothy's attacks are more powerful against ghost types, the Tin Man against plants, and Strawman against water. Before you decide who will fight for you each round, it's worth it to take the time to pay attention to these weaknesses; it often makes the battle far easier and quicker if you do. It's not the most complex or original system in the game, but it adds a little more depth to what could have been some mundane battles.
Visually, the game looks really good on the DS, with some bright environments and enough differences between the various maps to make it worth checking out. Dorothy is the only in-game character model that you'll usually see; the rest of the group is relegated to cut scenes and battles, and within battles, you only get 2-D representations of the characters. The monster design is OK, but I thought it lacked the imagination that's demonstrated in the main character designs. For the most part, the enemy selection is pretty much throwaway content. It would have been nice to see some more Oz-specific creations other than something called a Gas Cloud, but that's a minor complaint.
I'm also not a big fan of the save system because there's no way to save on the map, so you're stuck going into most boss fights cold, which isn't really ideal for a portable title. You can easily put 30 to 45 minutes in the game before heading back to the Emerald Palace, which doesn't make this an ideal game to check out on a commute to work. There is a quick save feature in the game, but it's hidden behind the "Quit Game" menu, which people might not realize or wish to explore.
The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a solid attempt at transporting players to the world of Oz. The gameplay presents players with all the usual RPG trappings, and while it could have been a bit more imaginative or open world-like, I'm not at all disappointed with the game. The simple combat system is surprisingly engaging, and I'm really in love with the trackball controls in relation to the design of the 3-D world. It wouldn't work on every 3-D game on the DS, but it definitely fits the bill here. It's definitely worth checking out and picking up, especially if you're a fan of the RPG genre.
More articles about The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road