With big-name titles like Halo 3: ODST dropping this week and the PSP Go hitting stores next week, it's easy to overlook some of the lower-profile games that are also debuting on shelves at the end of the month. One such title is Media Vision's The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road for the NDS.
When it comes to video game licenses, The Wizard of Oz usually isn't at the top of most publishers' lists, but it's also an indelible part of the American consciousness. No matter who you are, the story of Dorothy, Toto, Scarecrow, Tin Man and the Lion is undoubtedly familiar. In that regard, it's somewhat surprising that it took a Japanese developer to take the property into the interactive realm, but then again, someone had to step up and take the risk.
Relying on its experience in the RPG realm (Media Vision is responsible for the Wild Arms series of games), the developer took the basic story, mixed in a bit of J-RPG styling and gave Dorothy a bit of Lolita fashion sense. The net result is a game that maintains a sense of familiarity while still being a fresh take on a classic story.
We only had the chance to play through the beginning of the game, so our foray into Oz wasn't very in-depth, but it did give us a chance to see how the basic mechanics work. As in the film, Dorothy is whisked away to the land of Oz and has to follow the Yellow Brick Road if she is to have any hope of making it home. Movement is controlled via a virtual trackball on the bottom DS screen, while the action happens up top. It's an intriguing setup that sounds counterintuitive at first but appears to work well. There's certainly the potential for fatigue over extended play sessions, however.
Combat is relatively straightforward, with the game using a turn-based system. When you encounter an enemy, you just walk up to it to start the battle. Members of your party are listed on the screen, and you can choose to have any or all of them engage in the battle. Selections are made on a point system, so while you might be able to have Dorothy make four quick hits in a turn, the Lion can only execute two attacks since his moves burn double the points. It appears as if a big part of combat is going to be properly planning your attack strategy because the game makes it a point to highlight the different characters' strengths early on.
Speaking of the characters, you do start the game out nearly solo (Toto wouldn't abandon you), but it isn't long before you meet up with the other main characters. In typical RPG fashion, you need to fight your future compatriots before they'll join your team; however, none of these early fights are particularly difficult. If anything, they serve as something of a tutorial without being a tutorial. Experienced RPG players will be right at home with the mechanics, while newbies will find that the introductory level eases them into the thick of things.
The DS certainly isn't a graphics powerhouse, yet Media Vision managed to put together a respectable 3-D engine to drive the game. Viewed on the DS screens, Dorothy and crew are vibrant and well animated. Meanwhile, the world of Oz is bursting with color, staying true to its reputation as a land of fantasy. The character designs are faithful to the classics, with a healthy dose of anime infusion. We wouldn't be surprised if Media Vision's take on Dorothy inspires quite a few cosplayers at future cons. Ruby red heeled boots, a lace skirt and stockings make for quite the outfit. You can check out Dorothy, along with the witches of the seasons, at the official Web site.
Witches, you say? Yes, that would be plural. In the game's version of events, the Wizard of Oz is willing to send Dorothy home only after she defeats the four witches of the seasons. Each of the witches has a themed world and a different personality, giving the game the potential for a good deal of variety. We're hoping that it delivers on its promise and doesn't end up being a repetitive grind fest.
Getting a good sense of a RPG can be difficult when you only have a short time for a first impression. In the case of The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, however, that first impression is a good one. Be sure to keep Dorothy on your radar and check back for the full review. We'll let you know if it's worth bringing her home or if you should just leave her lost in Oz forever.
More articles about The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road