Retrospective: Toonstruck

Getting animated.

So I have this thing. I love it when cartoons and humans interact. I mean, love it. It makes me feel a depth of happiness I can't explain. To understand the extent to which this reaches, I need say only this: I enjoyed watching Space Jam. No matter how bad the script, the jokes, the direction, I still enjoyed seeing Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan playing basketball together. And I won't apologise for it. From Bedknobs And Broomsticks to Loony Toons: Back In Action, if cartoon and human worlds cross over, I'm sold. Which brings us to Toonstruck.

In looking back at some of the best (and worst) adventure games of the eighties and nineties, it's too easy to remain within the archives of LucasArts and Sierra. Perhaps Westwood's Bladerunner gets quickly remembered, Cecil's Broken Sword games, and someone will recall Adventure Soft's Simon The Sorcerer games. But what about The Legend of Kyrania series, also from Westwood? Access's Tex Murphy games? Microids' Syberia? And what about Burst Studio's Toonstruck? Why isn't everyone talking about it? It's absolutely bloody brilliant.

Christopher Lloyd had some experience working with cartoons, when he played the terrifying Judge Doom in 1988's Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Eight years later he's on the opposite side, playing the agonisingly named Drew Blanc, a real world cartoonist stuck working on the ghastly, cutesy Fluffy Fluffy Bun Bun Show.

Called in by his boss, played superbly by the dry, laconic Ben Stein, he's told he has to work all night to new bunny characters to the programme, to spice it up. Blocked, he's unable to find the enthusiasm. On the wall in Blanc's office is his favourite creation, the never realised Flux Wildly, a purple creature with green eyes, the cartoon he wishes his career could have been about.

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Personally I find Lloyd's gurning to be enormously entertaining.

At a certain point during the night things get weird. Blanc finds himself falling through a vortex into his television, which takes him into a cartoon world (as often happens to cartoonists). He immediately meets Flux himself, and is introduced to the king of the land he's in, Cutopia. There are three lands in this world, the isn't-everything-just-lovely Cutopia, its opposite grim and dark Malevolands, and between the two Flux's hometown, Zanydu, home to lunatics.

The evil ruler of the Malevolands, Count Nefarious (voiced to perfection by the ever mellifluous Tim Curry) has built a device called a Malevolator, which zaps all that is good and pure and turns it evil. So Drew and Flux set out to collect all the components needed to create a Cutifier to reverse the damage.

The first thing that stands out here is the talent. Christopher Lloyd, you know, Dr. Emmett Brown, as your player character. He's always shown as film, scan-line FMV, projected onto the 2D, hand-drawn cartoon world. And this is literally hand-drawn, then scanned in. His interaction with the world is animated around his actions, letting him hold cartoon objects, or more frequently get hit on the head with them.

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