(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
While most of the games that I’ve gone through in my Retro Gaming series I’ve either known of or played personally in the past, Toonstruck is a different story. I first came across this just a year ago in a YouTube video review and subsequently picked it up on GOG.com to save for a special occasion. I’m quite flabbergasted that it escaped my attention — it wasn’t a massive breakout hit, but this is a game starring flippin’ Doc Brown himself (Christopher Lloyd) as well as Ben Stein, David Ogden Stiers, Tress MacNeille (Futurama and Simpsons), Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Dom DeLuise, Tim Curry, Frank Welker, and more. I’m not making any of that up; this game is stocked with the voice talents of some of the animation industry’s greatest right here. And I haven’t played it.
That changes today.
From what I can tell, Toonstruck is in the strange sub-niche of cartoon and live action crossovers that we’ve only rarely seen in movies like Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Cool World and Space Jam. You’ll note that this isn’t a sub-genre that’s really taken off. It’s got to be very hard to make and make right, so we’ll see how this game does it. Let’s begin.
At the start we meet a frustrated TV animator named Drew Blanc (played by Christopher Lloyd), whose name is the kind of humor that we’ll be encountering in this game. Because he draws a blank a lot when it comes to schedules and creativity. You get it.
Drew originally wanted to make a bizarro cartoon character named Flux Wildly but instead sold out to make the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show instead. His boss, Ferris Bueller’s Ben Stein, tells him that by morning Drew needs to create a whole bunch of new bunnies to jazz up the show. For some reason, this is a near impossible task for Drew, who falls asleep on his table after moaning a lot.
While he’s sleeping at four a.m., the Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show pops on the TV. And then promptly sucks Drew into the cartoon universe, because of course that’s how this sort of thing works. I saw it on Captain N that one time.
Promptly, two things happen to Drew. He’s attacked by a flying saucer and then bumps into his own neglected creation, Flux (voiced by Castellaneta). As Flux tells us that he lives far away in this world, it’s not really explained why he happened to be in this other country when Drew shows up, but now I know where Doc Brown got the idea from the flux capacitor. I was only allotted one Back to the Future joke for this series, and I’m using it now.
Despite not having much to live for back home, Drew seems hellbent on getting there. Flux takes him to the good King Hugh, who says that he has that ability but requires Drew to help him first, as this is an adventure game. The evil Count Nefarious has made a weapon to turn good cartoons bad, which to me seems far more interesting, but Hugh wants Drew to help assemble a machine to reverse the effects and make everything ultra-cuddly again. I’d think Drew would hate this idea, but Lloyd vaguely gestures and reacts to a green screen and agrees to this.
By the way, I want you to meet Toonstruck’s options menu. Prepare your eyes, because this is going to hurt:
That’s either the absolute best or worst thing I’ve ever seen in my life.
Toonstruck’s design is a combination of FMV and animation, which actually looks pretty great. Sure, Lloyd’s movements have that unnatural cadence that you get from FMV, but he blends in fine to the world, which itself is colorful, expressive, and scored by a Disney-like soundtrack. This looks like a game at which a lot of money was thrown.
A lot of the humor of this game is of the wry-and-pun variety, which isn’t necessarily bad, it just depends on the delivery. A lot of the humor is also smack-you-on-the-face-with-a-fish subtle, such as this literal footman here. “So does that mean that in this world, a butler is a great, big…?” starts Flux. “Exactly,” says Drew. That got my first laugh of the game.
At this point, I am actively rooting for Count Nefarious to win, if only to put an end to these chipper armadillos. Anyway, the royal engineer tells Drew that he needs 12 specific items to build a “Cutifier” to save the country. It seems that the mystery items are the opposites of what Nefarious has used in his machine (for example, sugar to his spice), so now we’re off on a scavenger hunt.
“How long could that take?” Drew asks innocently, not knowing the first thing about adventure games at all.