Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Wizard of Oz — Seta's Super NES game

The Seta Corporation got the license to make video games based on the MGM Wizard of Oz film in the early 1990s. However, only one game was created for the Super NES in 1993.

A book from the period that the game was in production actually featured the game's development, revealing that Seta was taking suggestions from players for the game. One feature they showed was changing the color of the landscape in the game. The Baum Bugle mentioned Seta was also taking suggestions for future games.

The game features music from the MGM film and some new pieces of score, digitized and rearranged into looping music. It's a little grating however. There's only so many times you can listen to 16-bit versions of "We're Off To See The Wizard," "If I Only Had A...," "Optimistic Voices," and yes, even "Over The Rainbow." As for the other pieces of music, they're not memorable.

In this game, Dorothy and Toto have been blown to Oz, where Dorothy is suddenly given the Ruby Slippers. The Wicked Witch takes Toto away, and Dorothy has to go through Oz to the Emerald City. Along the way, she is joined by a Scarecrow, a Tin Woodman, and a Cowardly Lion.

The graphics for the opening cutscenes are pretty flat. While Toto, the Tornado, and everything else moves, Dorothy is a static sprite. Other reviewers say she looks dead. That's actually pretty accurate.

The in-game sprite is an improvement, though instead of her braids and pigtails, Dorothy has her bob from her appearance from after the Wash & Brush Up scene in the film. (Other reviewers have stupidly claimed that this means she's not based on the movie.)

The appearances of Glinda and the Wicked Witch of the West are weird. They're both bubbles! Glinda's shows her from the shoulders up, while the Wicked Witch is just the head.

The Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion have okay sprites, though none of them really call to mind Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, or Bert Lahr. (The Cowardly Lion actually looks more like a giant teddy bear with a lion's tail and mane.)

Each character has a different move set. Dorothy can kick, duck, jump, and shoot bubbles and stars that she can pick up. She can also float if you pick up a winged slipper. The Scarecrow stabs with his pitchfork, duck, and jump. The Tin Woodman uses his axe and kicks (his lack of jumping has been criticized as a flaw in a platformer game). The Cowardly Lion can slash with his claws, jump, duck, and climb trees. All characters can throw yellow gems.

Each character has their own health rate and set of lives. You can switch between characters immediately with the "select" button. You can find items to increase health and lives. For health, Dorothy has a purple bubble, the Scarecrow has tiny haystacks, the Tin Woodman has oil cans, and the Cowardly Lion has tofu. (The manual says he's a vegetarian.) For lives, Dorothy has a blue bow, the Scarecrow has a mortarboard, the Tin Woodman has a heart, and the Cowardly Lion has a badge.

Some reviewers claim that once the Cowardly Lion "dies," he doesn't come back. This is because when you get the Lion, he only has one life and if all lives for a character are depleted, they are unavailable. Permanently. I have played the game, attained extra lives for the Lion, had him die on me, and he was still available. If Dorothy loses all her lives, the game is over.

As I just said, this is a platformer game. You jump through obstacles and fight enemies to get through levels through four (yes, four!) countries in Oz before reaching the Emerald City. And book fans will likely be glad to hear that the countries do have defining colors: yellow, red, blue, and purple. However, don't get your hopes up too high, because the Munchkin Country is defined by yellow, while the Wicked Witch's land is in the purple country.

The levels are rather difficult, actually. There are barrages of enemies in virtually every level, and the few that don't have them have many pitfalls that are easy to fall prey to. Villains include giant frogs, lemon drops that drop on you, live chairs, jumping little men, guards, flying monkeys, crabs, fish, jumping dentures, cats, buzzards, and even bluebirds. Yes, even the "happy little bluebirds" want to kill you.

Each country has a "boss." In the first three countries, defeating the boss gets you your companion. To get the Scarecrow, you must defeat a giant crow. The Tin Woodman, a locomotive. The Cowardly Lion, a giant mouse with a crown. ... If they had the Queen of the Field Mice in mind, I don't know what they were thinking. The final boss is the Wicked Witch of the West, but you don't see Dorothy get Toto back for some reason.

Each country has different colored bricks to complete a road to finish the last level of each country safely. About 99 bricks does it. However, to get them all requires replaying levels. Fortunately, each one can be ended early by walking back to the beginning.

In addition, to get to the Emerald City, you have to have six tickets from each country, a fact you don't learn if you don't have the manual until you get to the Emerald City! These can be found hidden away (or just lying there) or by playing a mini-game where you play as Toto. Most of these are easy to complete, though some are tricky. They are accessed by touching a dog bone you see hanging around.

The most difficult mini-game involves clearing off numbers that you get by rolling dice. Why this is so difficult is that as you go on, you run out of numbers to clear, and if you get a number that's already been cleared off, you have to find the dog bone again and start over. If you're playing the game on a real Super NES, this would be extremely frustrating. I've played it on an emulator, and fortunately, that lets you save and restore states so you can try again without the hassle. Still, it is frustrating because it takes awhile before you get a number you can clear off.

After beating a boss or completing a country, you're given a password you can enter when you start the game so you can start from that part again.

In the Emerald City, you must find keys to go through giant emeralds that don't look like doors. Finally, you meet the Wizard, who appears in a globe and tells you that the magic of the Ruby Slippers has been depleted and now "neither witch will want them." (WHICH other witch?) Dorothy and Toto are sent home in a balloon.

The game has a lot of great ideas for a Wizard of Oz-based action platform game, but the overflow of enemies feels un-Ozzy. In addition, the difficulty is just too difficult when you start. My first attempt, I had only beaten the first level before all my lives were depleted. The game is not intuitive at all. So, this is not a game for someone who isn't a seasoned gamer. And the seasoned gamer will likely not be interested. It is a case where it failed to find an appropriate audience. The difficulty and repetitiveness required to finish the game will turn off anyone who isn't determined to complete it.

And I never figured out how to change color. There was nothing about it in the manual. (Maybe that feature was dropped before release.)


Doug Wall said...

I think I saw the Angry Video Game Nerd review this one. He hated it.

Nathan said...

If the Winkie Country is purple, maybe it means they had Volkov's Magic Land in mind? Okay, probably not.

Sam A M said...

I never really was much into video games like that, unless it was something like SEGA/Sonic or Mario Kart/Donkey Kong.