Of all the iconic Looney Tunes characters over the years, the Tasmanian Devil is probably one of the more interesting ones. Taz, as he is often called by fans, has appeared in the least amount of animated shorts, but the voracious creature of destruction has become one of the studio's more popular creations. The character was popular enough to get his own TV show and a number of video games. As the years passed, the popularity of the Looney Tunes characters never waned, and neither did the public's love for the incomprehensible tornado-spinning animal. Wanting to give the character another shot, WB Games teamed up with veteran portable developer WayForward to create another game starring Taz. Galactic Taz Ball may be another character-driven platformer, but the approach is different from what most people expected. Thankfully, being different works fairly well in this case.
Galactic Taz Ball's plot is serviceable, just like the plots of many Looney Tunes shorts from years past. The Martian's forces have invaded Earth once more, but rather than trying to take over the planet, they've decided to loot it instead. The plan is to take the Earth's natural landmasses, complete with water and trees, and transport them to Mars to beautify it, and the first target on the list is Australia. Naturally, Taz gets caught up in this mess when he awakens to find himself suspended in the air. His job, whether he knows it or not, is to get to Mars and convince Marvin the Martian and his cronies to return the land to its rightful place.
The game is split up into two distinct sections, each with a different perspective and style of play. The player will spend most of his time in the overworld section, which is shown in an isometric perspective. The player uses Taz's natural abilities to get from one floating level to another, destroying Martian robots and collecting golden kiwis, which unlock concept art in the Extras section. For the most part, Taz can't swim, run or jump, but he can use platforms for jumping and his spin ability for running and gliding over water. He can spin to destroy some robots and barriers, and he can even destroy other robots with his ground pound ability. While his spin is notorious for destroying anything in his way, there are some barriers that can't be broken with the spin ability alone. For that, Taz has to traverse through the underground sections.
The underground sections play out much differently from the overworld sections. It's a classic side-scrolling game, but you have minimal control over Taz. You can influence him to go left or right, but he'll walk aimlessly the moment you aim him in a direction. You have control over the various devices in the level, though, so you can use things like fans, conveyor belt switches and springs to lead Taz to the exit, which will bring him back to the overworld and open the gate so he can progress.
On paper, this sounds like any other platformer, but what makes this platformer unique is the method of controlling Taz during the overworld stages. The player is given a virtual trackball to control Taz, and the direction of the spin and speed in which the ball is moving determines where Taz will go and whether he walks or runs off into his famous tornado spin. Because the touch-screen on the DS isn't sensitive enough to determine speed, you must make multiple strokes in the same direction to simulate a fast-moving trackball. Consequently, slowing down means you have to either start rolling in the opposite direction or just roll toward a wall and leave Taz there until the speed meter drops and he goes back to walking speed. It is a tricky mechanic to get used to, especially for a platformer, but the early level designs help get you acclimated.
With 25 levels and five boss fights, the game is quite lengthy. However, you can easily tell that the game is made for the younger set because of some of the implemented mechanics. Falling off ledges and walking into water won't deplete your health. Spikes, lava and enemy robots will still deplete your health, but falling off the floating landmasses due to the tricky control scheme will simply bring you back to land unscathed. The player also has the ability to amass a large cache of extra lives without any real effort. Like any classic platformer, obtaining 100 gold pieces will get you an extra life, as will obtaining a rare 1-up icon. Coins, both large and small, are littered everywhere and are left behind by defeated enemies. Without even trying, an average player can easily have more than 10 extra lives in reserve by the time the first boss has been defeated.
Finally, Galactic Taz Ball is actually quite lax with level progression. You will always have at least three levels in each world to choose from, and completing any of those levels will open up a new level or a boss fight. Defeating the boss will open up the next world, where three more levels await. In a way, because you only have to complete a minimum of three levels before a boss fight, the game can be a short experience. Put all of these factors together, and you have a game that a young child could probably complete rather quickly, with plenty of lives to spare.
As emphasized before, the controls are a huge reason for the game feeling different, and depending on your DS system, your enjoyment will vary. Because the trackball is virtual (in order to accommodate DS systems without a GBA expansion slot), players need to swipe a good portion of the screen to get Taz moving at running speed. The original DS and DS Lite consoles are fine for the job, while the DSi is only slightly better for the task due to the smaller screen; less of a swipe is needed to get moving faster. Consequently, playing the game on the DSi XL becomes more of a challenge because of the larger screen, which equates to longer strokes to get Taz moving.
No matter which system you use, though, one thing that will be common is that the virtual trackball is nice for what it is set to do and, again, once you get used to the scheme, it works quite nicely. The only time you use anything other than the touch-screen is when you need to do a ground pound, and that occurs whenever you hit any face button. Moving to the underworld is a much better affair, though, since most of your time is either spent swiping over Taz to influence his walk or tapping on switches to help Taz get where he needs to go. Overall, the controls work well enough thanks to the responsiveness and simplicity of the touch-screen.
The graphics are simple but well put together. The backgrounds sport plenty of primary colors and not too much detail, but they present themselves well as nice 3-D versions of what a typical Looney Tunes or Taz-Mania cartoon background would look like. The trees stand out because they're composed of one flat polygon, and it's very noticeable when Taz passes by them.
The characters look great and sport some nice details and personality, despite their diminutive size. It isn't completely canon as far as details go, though, since Taz sports yellow eyes instead of white ones, but everything else meshes nicely. If there's a complaint to be had, it would be with the camera during the overworld sections. The camera does a good job of following you around, but because it isn't maneuverable, you won't be able to get a better view of Taz if the view is obstructed by a floating platform or landmass. The obstruction could prevent you from seeing enemy robots on patrol or a ledge from which you could fall. It would have been wonderful if the developers had enabling transparency on objects that appear in front of Taz, but as it stands now, it's an unnecessary obstacle.
The sound in Galactic Taz Ball is done nicely. The music is typical platformer fare, but it shows off hints of influence from classical music as well as old Looney Tunes material. Hearing an excerpt of "Morning Mood" play for the first few levels, for example, is a nice nod to all of that. The voice work is good as expected, since the currnet voice actors who play the roles of Taz and Marvin the Martian reprise their roles in this title. Marvin has a good amount of dialogue, considering the amount of cut scenes in which he appears, and while Taz isn't really the talkative type, you do hear him quite often. Admittedly, he is saying nonsense most of the time, but it's a little repetitive to hear the same voice sample every time he starts to spin.
Galactic Taz Ball is an interesting gamble that pays off pretty well in the end. The virtual control scheme is a bit tricky, but once you come to grips with how it works, it turns out to quite functional. With good graphics and sound, the game does enough to entice its intended audience, and the level of difficulty ensures that the audience won't put down the game in frustration. Galactic Taz Ball is a good weekend distraction for young Taz fans, but older fans will make quick work of the game in an afternoon.
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