Toonstruck: Tarred and feathered

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1996’s Toonstruck. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

When we last left Drew and Flux, they were starting their lengthy scavenger hunt to find items to build a Cutifier to save Cutopia from Count Nefarious. And if that sounds like the plot to a TV show that a second grader could make up, then welcome to Toonstruck’s creative writing.

Before venturing out in the country, the duo skulk around the royal palace to look for useful items and just to be nosy. Functionally, Toonstruck is one of the smoother adventure games I’ve played, using a context cursor to interact. One of its few unique traits is that Drew can use Flux as an item to do various cartoony things, like to launch him in the air to grab a trap door.

All of this sneaking results in a perfect trap for the obnoxiously snobby footman, who ends up tarred, feathered, and smacked with an anvil. “Feathers? How predictable,” he drolls before getting knocked out. I’ll admit it, I laughed again. That’s twice so far, game. I’m keeping count!

Free of the palace, Drew and Flux explore the nearby town. There’s an Irish pub with an overactive mouse and some bunnies necking (ew).

Drew plays the organ to get the mouse dancing like mad, and Flux uses a nearby mousetrap to inflict grievous bodily harm upon the rodent. That nets the two an old mug, which may carry no value except in games like these, where it is more precious than life itself.

Up to this point in the game, the puzzles have been fairly straight-forward, but I cry “foul” at the phone one. It’s a quiz where you have had to memorize a whole bunch of details about what color is what thing elsewhere in the game. Unless you’re using a cheat guide, you’d have to write down these questions and then go hunting for the answers — and then hope you get asked the same questions and not different ones the next time. That’s a little too obscure for me.

Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun is hopping around the now-ravaged meadow, having some sort of breakdown while trying to stay perky and happy at the same time. It makes for an interesting conversation. And the above line got another laugh from me, because I’m that basic sometimes.

Well this is a new one on me… a stereotypically ’90s gay scarecrow who’s actually a CAREcrow. Because he likes to care for crows, see? And he wants a new outfit. And he talks a lot. A lot a lot a lot. I’m sensing a pretty deep subversive vibe for this game world. That’s cool by me.

Toonstruck: Doc Brown and the Flux Wildly

(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.

Bio Break 2019 Wrap-up: Retro gaming

We’re just over a week away from the end of 2019 — and this decade — and I thought I’d devote an entire week of Bio Break to looking back at the year and what I’ve done in gaming, podcasting, and writing.

For the first day, I want to share my retro gaming adventures., of which I had quite a few this year. To date, I’ve examined somewhere around 58 titles for this series, some of which were just one-shot looks while most others were extensive playthroughs. This year I explored nine games, which seems pretty respectable, especially considering that two of them were large CRPGs.

My retro gaming series is one that I squeeze into my lunch breaks (the days that I have them). I’ve been trying to go through my GOG (and, to a much lesser extent, Steam) library and justify all of the titles I’ve purchased over the years. 58 games might seem like a lot, but it’s just a fraction of the 257 titles that are residing there. I should pick up the pace!

I wrote up a trio of posts on RTS favorites of past years that I wanted to revisit, which was both delightful and disturbing. Warcraft II, Age of Empires II, and Majesty all got a one-post treatment from me here. I meant to get to Rise of Nations but didn’t find the time.

Other than those, I did three straight-up adventure games (Monkey Island 1 and 2 as well as The Dagger of Amon Ra), two CRPGs (Vampire the Masquerade Bloodlines and Fallout New Vegas) and one adventure/RPG hybrid (Quest for Glory IV). Monkey Island was a hoot to play, especially as both games had a ton of humor and offered the option to flip between the original and remake versions. Vampire held up surprisingly well over the years since my last playthrough, although I do agree with critics that say that the latter part of the game feels rushed (and don’t get me started on that sewer level!).

But I was most excited to play Fallout New Vegas for the very first time, especially considering how it’s developed this cult status over the past nine years. It was strange to be playing it while also playing Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds, which is kind of considered to be the spiritual successor to New Vegas.

In any case, I put a lot of effort in these playthroughs, and I hope you enjoyed the write-ups on them. You can read or revisit them by clicking on these links:

Fallout New Vegas

The Dagger of Amon Ra

Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines

LeChuck’s Revenge

The Secret of Monkey Island

Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness

Fallout New Vegas: The Mr. House always wins

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

As we come to the final post in this playthrough, I found that it was a stunning coincidence that this past week, Star Trek actor René Auberjonois passed away. Only when that happened did I read his obit and discover that he was the voice of Mr. House in Fallout New Vegas, a fact that everyone seemed to know but me. It certainly makes playing the game that much more poignant, and I am even more glad I’m siding with Mr. House now.

Let’s move into endgame, shall we? The goal here is to put Mr. House and his army of Securitrons in a position where they’re sure to win the final battle, and part of this means to remove the Brotherhood of Steel from the equation. They hang out in a very confusing bunker full of high-tech gear and gizmos. Veronica, my companion, has a funny moment when she uses an intercom as if she was ordering drive-thru.

I’m always about the more elegant solution to quests than simply shooting up the place, so in this case, it requires stealing some keycards and then activating the bunker’s self-destruct sequence. I mean, would you be able to pass up the chance to activate self-destruct just to see what happens? Definitely not.

Veronica is somewhat less than pleased that I entombed her whole faction, but those eyes and the slight smile tells me that she’s not going to hold it against me. She takes off, and I head back to Novac to grab Boone as my travel companion.

There’s one other quest that Mr. House wants me to do, which is to protect the NCR’s president. He shows up to make the world’s loooooooongest speech, and if I was a better secret service agent, I probably would have found and eliminated the sniper that took off his head. But I didn’t. And that’s OK. The game continued anyway.

Thus we come to the final mission of the game, and boy is it a showstopper. A massive battle breaks out all over Hoover Dam between the NCR, Legion, and Securitrons. I dive into the midst of this, attempting to power up the dam for Mr. House (who needs the juice), while the Boomers send in giant bombers to help out. Going through this shortly after beating The Outer Worlds, you can definitely see similarities in how Obsidian did both of those games’ final missions (complete with friendly factions coming in to help out).

With Boone, Rex, and a securitron of my own, I had a private army to help me navigate the battlefield. Wasn’t tough at all, I just let them do most of the fighting.

Eventually I took the fight right to the big head honcho of the Legion, who shows up in this intimidating mask and begs for a fight. Again, I’m not about fighting if there’s a better way… and there was. My speech skill was 93, but I had a couple of “Meeting People” magazines that gave me a +10 speech bump. Therefore I was able to talk him into taking his dirty Legion and performing a full-on retreat without having to shed any more blood. Then, with the same speech skill, I told the commander of the NCR army that Mr. House was now in control of the Dam and he needed to bow out. Everyone left, I didn’t have to fight, and I felt awesome.

Thanks for a great time, Mr. House. I don’t regret fighting for you at all. Robots are the future!

With that, the game came to an end, and a series of narrated slides told me the fates of various characters, cities, and factions. For the most part, it was pretty upbeat — I helped more people than hurt, although it was sad to see Rex die at the age of 200 because I didn’t spare time to get him fixed.

And that’s Fallout New Vegas, folks! Obviously, I didn’t explore every locale or finish every side quest, but I feel that this was a good run even so.

So what did I think? First of all, I definitely agree with those who say that this is more of a true sequel to Fallout 1 & 2 than Bethesda’s games were. It has that classic wasteland feel, gritty humor, and tons and tons of choices. Obsidian did a pretty good job letting me play the character I wanted and working my way through quests in a variety of ways. The combat was decent (I used That Gun from the moment I bought it on, as it was that amazing), the perks fun, and there’s some legitimately funny moments.

I also appreciated that even though New Vegas was the key location, the game didn’t get as much into urban exploration as I feared. Most of it was out in the wasteland, even toward the end of the game, and I enjoyed that a lot more.

Criticisms? Probably the look: The graphics are a little rough and I got so sick of tan-and-brown-and-gray by the end. I know that there are some mods out there that make the landscape look more interesting and attractive, and I can understand why people did it. Also, I wish that there could have been an on-screen minimap instead of having to pull up the Pip-Boy each and every time I wanted to look at where I was and where I was going. That got old, fast.

That’s it! Join me in the new year for a new retro gaming series. I hope you’ve enjoyed this one as much as I did writing and playing it.

Fallout New Vegas: Bombers and mafia fantasies

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

After having done dozens of these retro gaming series — seriously, check it out — I have noted that there usually comes a certain moment in which this desire of wanting to complete a game wells up inside of me. Usually it happens when I’ve been immersed in a particular title for a while, can sense that the ending is coming, and want to move on to a new game. I’m not dissatisfied with the game itself, mind you, just eager to see a project completed.

That’s where I’m at with Fallout New Vegas right now. I can smell the end credits… but I can’t see them. And I am hungry to wrap up another one of my major December 2019 goals. So let’s get to it!

One of the things I really like about New Vegas — other than the fact that it feels more like a Fallout game than the last three Bethesda entries have been — is that you really have a LOT in the way of choice. Choices in how you complete missions and choices how you shape the story. By the endgame, which I am entering here, I can support either Mr. House, the NCR, or the Legion and help them win the day. I’m throwing my hat — and chips — with Mr. House, because I’m pretty sure he’s an A.I. that looks like Robert Downey Jr. Tell me what to do, O Iron Man!

Even though I’m secretly working for Mr. House, I’m still able to infiltrate the Legion and help them out with some quests (all with the goal of getting that platinum chip back, of course). The Caesar gives me a “gift” of disposing of Benny any way I see fit. I chose combat in the arena, because there’s nothing like mashing a mafia movie and a Roman epic together. Bye-bye, Benny. This is what you get when you shoot people in the head.

Mr. House tells me the story of the chip, which was manufactured right before the bombs fell and started the whole post-apocalyptic scene. He’s been trying to get it back ever since, as his capabilities were only partially activated without it.

Now that he’s got the chip, his robot army is upgraded from cops to soldiers and have access to missile launchers. Seriously, why *wouldn’t* you side with the faction that has the robot army?

I’m probably not as high in levels as I would be if I had done a lot more side quests, but I feel that level 16 is pretty good. I’m downright deadly with a pistol and can go into VATS for nearly forever.

The war is brewing between the three sides, but Mr. House wants me to help him (it?) stack the deck. Next up is venturing out to the well-armed and paranoid Boomers, a collection of military nuts who have holed themselves up in an Air Force base and never come out. Getting their aid required a whole lot of quests, including raising a bomber from the bottom of Lake Mead.

Lotta fish-men in that lake. Nasty ones, too, that spit magic or something at me. While I got access to a rebreather to stay underwater forever, New Vegas doesn’t let you use weapons down there — even if you’re being attacked. That seems rather unfair.

Look at that, one bomber resurrected for robots to cut up and cart away for reassembly. This is such a strange game at times.

From there I dove right into a mafia movie, thanks to another quest that had me taking down mob bosses inside of their own skeezy pleasure palace. Let me give you some free advice: Getting holdout weapons in this game is one of the best things you can do — especially if you’re a pistol expert.

Fallout New Vegas: All hail the King!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Welcome to New Vegas at last! While I started the game geographically close to Fallout New Vegas’ key city, you can’t really go there right away; there’s a lot of nasty stuff between Goodsprings and New Vegas that serve as a deterrent for this. Instead, it was a very roundabout trip to get back here from the opening cutscene and try to figure out this courier business with Benny.

New Vegas itself is an oddity in the Fallout universe. It has some really rundown sections, to be sure, but at the core is a relatively attractive casino strip that enjoys full electricity and amenities. It’s really strange to see this alternative universe 1950s-style town in good condition.

It’s here in New Vegas that I met The King. Not Elvis, not unless he got reincarnated or something, but a guy who obviously idolizes Elvis. I don’t really care about the singer, but any guy who has a cybernetic dog is OK in my book and worth helping out.

The King sent me on a mission to investigate an escort (the non-sexual kind) who has been into some shady stuff. It’s a kinda clever quest: I hired him and let him lead me around until we got “ambushed” by a bunch of guys that he “killed” quickly. I followed this up by taking him down, because that’s more effective than a negative Yelp review. Plus, he had a really nice gun I wanted. My character is sinning all OVER the place here. Bad character!

After getting myself into the King’s good graces, I am gifted with two wonderful rewards. The first is free access into the Strip (which I kind of already paid to access, so that was a bust) and use of his cybernetic dog Rex. This means I now have two companions, one of which is apparently crazy about rats. That suits me just fine.

The ever-present Victor — who I think is jumping around from robot to robot thanks to software — greets me on the Strip and lets me know that the elusive Mr. House wants to meet lil’ ol’ courier me. But first, I have a score to settle with Benny.

Since the casino won’t let me bring in weapons, I have to smuggle one in. Thankfully, there’s a holdout weapon vendor nearby, and I purchased a silenced .22 to carry with me. I actually never needed it, but I would have felt naked otherwise.

Benny understandably freaks out when I show my face on the casino floor. I mean, considering that the last time he saw me he shot me in the head. I wanted to return the favor, but the odds were greatly against me, and no amount of bullet time is going to help me win. So I played along, got double-crossed, and then talked myself out of it (!).

That’s when I got the biggest shock of this game so far when I found Yes Man inside Benny’s suite. Yes Man is an obscenely cheerful robot who serves as an exposition dump, spilling all manner of secret plans to me. It turns out that there’s this platinum chip, see, that actually contains a lot of very useful data about the defenses of Mr. House (who may or may not be a super-computer, I don’t know). Benny wanted to use the chip to take down Mr. House and establish himself as the new leader of the city, hence why he shot me when I was transporting said chip at the start of the game.

There’s a lot that needs to be done, according to Yes Man. I have options to side with Mr. House or another faction or try to vie for the top spot myself, but I’m going to need that chip and handle an upcoming battle between the Legion and the NCR at Hoover Dam.

Even the Legion is willing to deal, now that I’m a major player in town. Golly, everyone loves me all of the sudden! I’m the belle of the ball!

Fallout New Vegas: Judge, jury, and tourist

(This is part of my journey going playing through 2010’s Fallout New Vegas. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

I am torn between two desires as I push further into Fallout: New Vegas. The first is to roam forever and fully explore this game map. The Fallout games are like catnip for explorers and completionists, and it does drive me a bit batty when I don’t get to see 100% of everything out there. However, the second desire is to push forward in the plot and make headway on actually completing the game. I don’t want to be in here forever; there are too many other worlds to game (and blog) about!

So I gave myself two weeks to explore. Two weeks to roam aimlessly, pursue unexplored map markers, and level up a tad. It was a good time, more or less, although I didn’t really encounter a lot of super-noteworthy locations. Mostly I shot up radscorpions and got ambushed a few times by the Legion.

And I found this adorable painting. Truly, New Vegas is the burgeoning art scene of the future.

What is a little weird to me is how the world around me seems to be all caught up in this relatively small saga of a rogue courier (me) who somehow escaped death and is now acting as judge and jury over the American southwest. I do like to listen to Radio New Vegas while I play, because every once in a while the DJ will talk about some of the things I’ve done and how it’s impacted the communities.

There is a lot of opportunity during wanders and quests to form opinions of the major factions in the area — namely the Legion, the NCR, and the Great Khans. There’s some good and bad to all of them, although the Legion do seem to be more evil than the rest and the NCR a tad more law-abiding and Boy Scoutish than the others. I particularly liked the above statue at the NCR camp commemorating a great alliance of yesteryear with the Desert Rangers (a nod to Wasteland, I assume).

Meanwhile, my character is beefing up in all sorts of great ways. I’ve accumulated several perks, both from leveling and from hitting various achievements. I am Lord Death now, since I’ve killed so much. That’s going on my business card.

I did swap out Boone for a different companion that I met at a trade stop. Veronica here is a member of the Brotherhood, and I went with her because she seems a lot more personable than the grunty Boone. Plus, she punches things to death with her robot fist, and that never gets old.

Back on the trail of the main storyline, I made my way to Boulder City to broker a peace between the NCR and the Khans in exchange for some info about the jerk that shot me.

See? Everyone seems to know me. I’m like tabloid fodder for the apocalypse. I’m still confused why Benny wanted to kill me over a platinum casino chip, but hopefully I’ll find out some day.

Turning my back to Boulder City, I head into New Vegas proper for the first time in the game. Its bright lights beckon to me — but is it a warning against imminent peril? TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR RETRO GAMING DUN DUN DUNNNN