Toonstruck flashback review - page 2

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.

The digital re-release is a fairly stock-standard reboot of the ‘96 version. It is not a re-mastered version of the game, but nor does it claim to be. Very little is different, therefore, from the original CD-ROM edition, which is by no means a bad thing – after all, why fix something that isn’t broken? Perhaps the only notable change to the formula is the use of ScummVM to run the new version. This works relatively fine, although I noticed that no information about the use of ScummVM hotkeys (I purchased through Steam) was provided, meaning that saving and loading could be a problem if you have not had much experience with ScummVM before. (For the sake of those players, press F5 to save and F6 to load.)

In terms of in-game controls, Toonstruck uses a single mouse-click to perform most interactions. The actions that can be taken depend on the particular hotspot and are indicated by changes to the cursor. The inventory can be opened by clicking a ‘bottomless’ bag icon to the lower left of the screen, and acquired objects can be combined with each other or used within the environment. Usually Drew can talk to characters by clicking on them, which is indicated by a set of chattering teeth, though one exception is when you try to interact with Drew’s ever-present companion Flux, who adds an extra dimension to solving puzzles. When you click on Flux, the cursor changes to a symbol of his face, meaning he can be used in the same way as other items. Particular puzzles can only be solved using Flux, mainly due to the fact that he is smaller and able to access areas that Drew cannot.

Matching the skill of its animation and screenwriting, Toonstruck is a masterpiece of puzzles and solutions, and an excellent example of inventory-based, non-linear puzzle design. Many problems are extremely inventive and must have required a great deal of abstract thought to create. Such obstacles include constructing a decoy squirrel to lure a real one away from his stash of nuts, and solving a puzzle using a book of unsolvable puzzles. The problems also vary greatly in difficulty, and all things considered do a very good job of balancing the challenge by making sure they are never unreasonably frustrating and that they gradually get more complex as you progress.

Typically the less challenging brainteasers involve obvious physical item uses, such as cooking something on a fire, while those that are more so require some understanding of Looney Tunes-style reasoning to solve. One case of the latter is when you need to find a way to move an elephant hooked up to a contraption in order to ferry Drew and Flux across the sea, but my personal favourite is when you need to find ‘stars’. It took me several hours of searching for them before the solution finally hit me. This sort of puzzle represents the kind of outside-of-the-box thinking that I enjoy most in point-and-clicks, and few have created as many of this type as Toonstruck. Having noted this, odd logic isn’t overused throughout the game, and several subtle hints are nested throughout so that those with less understanding of cartoon themes won’t be disadvantaged.

The use of audio reinforces the distinct Saturday morning vibe by relying on familiar comical impersonations of mallets, crashes and other madcap sound effects. The music, too, evokes an almost instant sense of classic animation, all made up of familiar public domain tracks that have been used in cartoons for generations. A different tune plays depending on the current screen, like Flux’s hometown of Zanydu, which is accompanied by the perpetual looping of Laurie Johnson’s “Happy Go Lively”. Packed with brass band and piano riffs, it is whimsical enough to be interesting the first few times and perfectly expresses the insanity of the place by endlessly repeating until the player leaves the area. Another example is the use of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies” in a Cutopian castle, a song that has featured consistently in animated media, perhaps most notably in one of Disney’s earliest animated musical features, Fantasia. Most scores remain the same throughout the game, but there are occasional changes that occur when revisiting scenes that have been malevolated, such as a pleasant lofty trumpet tune being replaced by an ominous string piece.

In terms of game time, I estimate that it originally took me over a week of on-and-off playing to finish. I strongly encouraged (forced) a friend to play Toonstruck recently and it took her 22 hours to complete. This second time around, my own playthrough lasted just over 10 hours, which is still longer than many modern adventures. This is a substantial game, and one that is pure value every step of the way. It is one of the funniest adventures I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing, and my replay of the re-release has been a welcome nostalgic journey every bit as enjoyable now is it was so long ago. Its puzzles are challenging, creative and nicely designed. The music conveys a whacky cartoon atmosphere that complements every other aspect of the world, including its impressively distinctive art and blended animation style. The story is captivating as well, and at the expense of repeating myself, genuinely hilarious.

Over the years, many fans have lamented the lack of a long-promised sequel that never came to pass. Unused animations and unplayable scenes of Drew Blanc on a Wild West street or alongside a cartoon Van Gogh can still be located online. Some are even shown in the Toonstruck trailer, but sadly we will likely never know what these scenes meant for the story, or indeed what Burst ultimately anticipated for the comic duo. Although it is now unlikely to receive an encore, fortunately the game remains complete in its own right, with an ending that is surprisingly bittersweet considering its off-the-wall story. Some have expressed dissatisfaction over Toonstruck’s final scenes, but I personally have always been left feeling that the tale of Drew Blanc offers a thoughtful perspective on real-world stress and of an artist’s escape into the medium and madness.

For twenty years I’ve wished, somewhat wistfully, that like Drew Blanc I might again venture into this remarkable, beautiful world, and that dream has at least partially been realised by Toonstruck’s downloadable re-release. When all is said and done, it is one of those rare titles that anyone interested in point-and-clicks and/or cartoons simply must experience. So whether rekindling fond memories or playing for the first time, set some time aside (and plenty of it) for Toonstruck. Its eye-popping art, brain-busting puzzles, and above all its whacky characters make for an excellent adventure and a stupendous barrel of laughs not to be missed.

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.