IGN Review of The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
The Nintendo DS is great for younger (or casual) players, and it's also a haven for awesome RPG's – seldom is it both at once though. With the latest RPG effort by XSEED, The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road, the developer is out to create a fully-accessible role-playing experience that also works for the casual crowd. It's no easy task, but while there are some tug-of-war issues to be had within the game's inherent strategy, those that pick up Wizard of Oz on DS will find a game that does manage to satisfy despite what kind of gamer you are. The real question is whether or not casuals will pick up what could be a very intimidating game, or whether hardcore DS gamers will bother with what could be viewed as a "watered down" experience.
The Wizard of Oz is all about compromise, since the game is literally out to satisfy two very different crowds. For that reason you've got a relatively drawn-out tutorial as an intro, simplistic systems within the game's battle mechanics, and a very basic "every RPG" feel. The design is anchored around a Dragon Quest battle mechanic, though in-game control is done entirely with the stylus using a unique trackball system. It's addictive, too. You may not be hooked by some kind of Etrian Odyssey-like amount of depth (it isn't in there), but when I say I truly had fun just steering characters around in the world it's no overstatement. The control is catchy.
For those looking for a more traditional RPG experience, Oz is still there for you; sort of. The game's "ratio" system makes use of the different styles of characters in the Wizard of Oz universe, so while Dorothy is a bit weaker than her escorts, she's also light and agile, which the game takes into account. Ratios are a simple system, assigning a number to each playable character in the game, and then instructing players that they can only use four "actions" in a turn. Dorothy is a light character, so she is only "one" on the ratio scale. Lion is a two, and Tin Man is three. With only four slots, that means Dorothy could go four times, or twice with one attack from Lion, or that Tin Man could go once along with Dorothy as well. Add up the numbers to make four, and you've got your attack; simple, but it works.
There's also some inherent strategy in the fact that characters that don't attack also aren't there on the front lines to receive punishment back, so if you're about to lose Scarecrow you simply don't have him attack that round. As another level of complexity the game adds in elemental affinities as well, giving a slight Pokemon-like feel to battles as well. Fire beats plant, and so forth. It isn't the most in-depth battle system, but it works, and it's both simple enough for newcomers and deep enough to keep the hardcore players interested for at least a little while. Other little additions such as the ability to label street signs with your own icons (a simple "make your own map" system) and some branching paths and additional spells and items through finding other Oz characters add to the game's depth a bit; though after a few runs down the yellow brick road you'll find that much of the game is same-old, same-old as well. You'll run through areas, fight baddies, go back to Oz's palace to re-up on items, and then jump right back out again. It's simple, but it's also inherently fun as well.
On the presentation side of things Oz is a fun game, though it's also a bit of an odd grab-bag of execution vs. expectation. Casual players will find that the game's story is actually aged up a bit from the regular movie or on-stage performances, as it's based more on the original book. You know, the one that has Tin Man as an axe-wielding maniac. The game finds a nice balance – it's rated E, after all – but it doesn't follow the same pacing younger players might expect. The movie says that when Dorothy gets to the Emerald City that it's show over; in the game, that's the intro level.
Visuals are beautiful though, and while most casual players will be buying it due to box art alone many of the DS loyal will find that Oz can hold up to other RPG's on the system. Dorothy's run and skid animations are extremely lively – also tied to the simple joys of rolling the trackball around to navigate the world – and there are some decent effects as well. The music is a nice compliment to the game, though you won't find anything too memorable or stand-out in any way, outside of the fact that nearly every sound and score is inspired by both Oz's source material and Dragon Quest. It's a true mash-up of styles, but it all still works in an odd "This shouldn't be good, but is" way. All in all this is a fun RPG with limited depth, but a game that also mixes some nice visuals and presentation with its accessible feel.
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