Toonstruck flashback review

Toonstruck re-review
Toonstruck re-review
The Good:
  • Hilarious characters with excellent voice talent
  • Eye-popping cartoon art and animation
  • Story is original and very entertaining
  • Fun and thoughtful puzzles are balanced in terms of difficulty
  • Whacky classical score
The Bad:
  • Re-release has neglected to note the hotkeys required to save/load
Our Verdict: Initially launched in 1996, Toonstruck remains a boldly original, side-splittingly funny classic that should be experienced by all lovers of adventure games and cartoons.

Re-released digitally nearly two decades after its initial launch, the 1996 point-and-click classic Toonstruck broke game conventions at the time by catapulting Drew Blanc, a fictional illustrator, into a whacky Looney Tunes-style world. The cast is immediately recognizable, made up of big-name talent highlighted by Christopher Lloyd as the protagonist. The performances are exceptional, delivering witty dialogue that will keep you laughing throughout the entire tale. Add to that the excellent zany artwork and cartoon animation blended with FMV, and you have a gem of a game that remains one of best adventures ever made.

As Toonstruck takes off, we see artist Drew Blanc (Lloyd) asleep on the job and running late for a meeting with his boss (played by Ben Stein), the head of a TV animation company. The studio has created a successful children’s cartoon called “The Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show” but Drew despises it and is feeling overworked and overstressed. To make matters worse, he is suffering artist’s block (as his name would imply) and isn’t sleeping properly, often falling asleep on the job. The burnt-out Blanc makes it to his meeting late, only to be rebuked and asked to design a whole cast of new critters for the show by the following morning. This is the final straw for Drew who, whether by reason of madness or some supernatural force, finds himself sucked into a partially cute, entirely deranged cartoon world.

Before Drew can even comprehend his predicament, he is saved in the nick of time from a flying machine that is blasting everything with evil energy. Our hero’s unlikely saviour is Flux Wildly (not to be confused with the flux capacitor), a toon familiar to Drew who, it turns out, created Flux years ago as part of his bygone dream to design a cartoon series of his own. Flux takes Drew to the King of Cutopia (David Ogden Stiers), who promises to help Drew get back to his world if he and Flux first locate the materials for a machine that will restore “cuteness” to his realm. The King explains that Cutopia is at risk following raids by Count Nefarious (Tim Curry), a diabolical villain with ambitions to corrupt the Tooniverse who is using a flying contraption called the “malevelator” to wreak havoc by turning loveable toons and quaint landscapes into vicious, demented adaptations.

As Drew and Flux set off on their quest for a set of undefined items – you have very little idea what you are looking for at first – they travel through the sickeningly cute land of Cutopia with its picturesque fields and cobblestone streets; the gloomy Malevolands and its criminal underbelly of hungry wolves and cross-dressing ten-pin bowling champions; and Flux’s homeland of Zanydu, a bizarre, colourful place where megaton weights randomly fall from the sky and where citizens pass time by visiting a high-tech leisure facility dedicated to the recreational pursuit of flushing fish down a glorified toilet.  

Considering the cast, it should come as no surprise that Toonstruck’s characters are superbly crafted and portrayed. I often found myself relating to Drew, who faces the very real threat of losing his job if he doesn’t ‘wake up’, ‘get home’ or do whatever it is he needs to do in exactly the right order to return to his own world in time to meet his looming deadline. Despite this pressure, Drew is far less stressed in the Tooniverse, and as we get to know him more we find he is an easy-going, oftentimes mischievous fellow, making for hilarious interactions with the other inhabitants of the cartoon world. Lloyd’s comic timing is particularly praiseworthy, and his lines are consistently funny. A good example is when Drew tries to convince a salesperson from the cheap gimmick company WACME that he has previously purchased a whole bunch of indescribable 'stuff' – presumably the toons would remember a real human as a previous customer and Drew is at a loss to explain even one of the ridiculous contraptions that the company could possibly have sold him.

Drew’s accomplice (and personal creation) Flux joins him throughout most of the adventure, and as the comic relief sidekick it is perhaps fitting that he is voiced by Dan Castellaneta, who as the voice of Homer Simpson is certainly one of the most renowned actors in cartoon history. Flux is a short, purple dragon-like blob sporting a cool pair of sunglasses that he never removes and whose unhinged spontaneity is kept in check by Drew’s good nature. He is funniest when comically suggesting impolite and occasionally violent means of solving problems, or when underhandedly ridiculing perfectly decent characters for no good reason. The differences in views and temperament between the down-to-earth, real-life Blanc and the kooky, offensive cartoon Flux yield an amusing dynamic that kept me laughing as much through my recent replay of Toonstruck as it did in the ‘90s.

Aside from the protagonists, there is also a large cast of minor roles that are equally colourful and instrumental to the plot. Take, for instance, the clover-shaped, cheese-bodied, half-Irish, half-Scottish Barman of the local tavern (voiced by Rob Paulsen), whose accent reflects his mixed heritage by alternating between dialects during conversation. Others include the perpetually annoying, self-centred Fluffy Bunny (Tress MacNeille) and a megalomaniacal Robot Maker (Jeff Bennett) who dreams of designing an army of killer robots to usurp Count Nefarious and take over the world.

As the story progresses and you get to experience more of the Malevolands and less of Cutopia, the more stark raving mad, less well-meaning characters emerge. Some in this certifiable basket case of toons are reasonably disturbing and their dialogue may not be suitable for very young audiences. Though there is no profanity, at one point a series of characters are malevolated by Nefarious, changing them from kind, helpful animals into disturbed BDSM practitioners with whips and a wheel of torture. An old horse has also mysteriously disappeared and been replaced with a machine that produces glue – though the implications are not clearly explained. Certain themes expressed at this juncture are quite adult, and could be surprising for anyone initially taken in by the game’s innocent cartoon appearance. There is even an imprisoned clown late in the game who, as a result of being tortured and lobotomized by Nefarious, has become a sadistic lunatic who inflates balloon animals just to pop them in menacing, violent ways. His comments are sometimes funny, but in reality are very sad.

Toonstruck’s other main claim to greatness is its use of animation, created using a mix of illustration and live-action video technologies to achieve a seamless, believable combination of cartoon and reality, not unlike Who Framed Roger Rabbit. At the very beginning of the game, Drew, his boss and his workplace are all presented using standard film recording methods. As you progress into the cartoon dimension, however, the whole world is hand-drawn and animated with only one exception: the protagonist himself. Even some cutscenes involve a combination of illustrated animation and FMV. Examples of this are when Drew first meets the King of Cutopia, and later when he finds himself face to face with Nefarious after waking up in a cartoon dungeon cell. These ideas were, to the best of my knowledge, new to the adventure genre in 1996 and looked excellent for the time. Incredibly, although there has been great improvement in video technology over the last two decades, Toonstruck’s animated cinematics involving Lloyd still look great today.

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What our readers think of Toonstruck

Posted by rustyiron on Oct 22, 2013

one of the best

Well, I haven't seen such quality since I played Day of the Tentacle and I assure you this one is in the same league. First of all, cartoon graphics are cartoony in the true sense of the word, we talk about warner brothers level here. The performance of...

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flashback review

Adventure games by Burst

Toonstruck  1996

As Drew Blanc, animator of The Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show, your life hasn’t turned out exactly as planned.