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The Not-So-Wonderful Games of Oz

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There's no place like home consoles...

MGM's The Wizard of Oz should have been a disaster. After the release and subsequent success of Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the studio sought its own potential hit film to be adapted from a children's book. In 1938, MGM purchased the film rights to Frank L. Baum's best seller and, over the course of a year, 13 different writers -- most uncredited -- would contribute to the script. Initial ideas for the film included changing Tin Man into a criminal without a heart who had his body cast in tin as a punishment, a song and dance number inspired by "The Jitterbug," and a romantic subplot between Dorothy and the 18-years-her-senior Hunk aka The Scarecrow.

The producers may not have had the best ideas, but what they did have is a song, perhaps the film song, as well as a child actress who would work 16 hours a day while subsisting on a diet of pills and other pills, and a complete disregard for the health and safety of their actors. That was filmmaking in 1939 and their recklessness led to one of the greatest films ever to be put to print.

The Wizard of Oz is so good, so crucial to the filmmaking canon, that nearly every other attempt to follow it up has failed. It's simply too timeless, and while some products carve their own path to success like The Wiz -- the stage musical, not the movie -- most are quickly forgotten, even ones with kick-ass jazzy soundtracks. This is true for games as well and today, on the 80th anniversary of the release of that historic movie, I wanted to take a look back at some of the attempts to turn this classic, family-friendly fantasy tale into a video game.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1985)

Released the same year as Disney's ill-fated and terrifying Return to Oz, The Wizard of Oz from Windham Classics is a graphical text adventure game published for MS-DOS, Commodore 64, MSX, and the Apple II. The game is a pretty straightforward retelling of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its sequel, The Marvelous Land of Oz. The key difference between the four platforms are the available colors, with the MSX having the richest color palette. While I don't expect anyone to watch a full playthrough of the game, I would suggest checking out the Apple II version of the Wizard. I can't decide if he looks more like late-career Marlon Brando or Dr. Evil.

The Wizard of Oz

The Wizard of Oz (1993)

Arguably the most well-known of the Oz video game adaptations is the Seta Corporation published The Wizard of Oz for the SNES. Developed by the terribly named Manley & Associates -- which would late become EA Seattle until the studio was closed in 2002 -- it featured Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion venturing through five different worlds with a surprising number of levels to conquer. For a licensed game of a property not usually associated with gaming, Manley & Associates certainly made sure it was filled to the brim with content. Unfortunately, none of that content was any good. I remember renting this at one of our rental shops and that's a $1.50 I will never get back.

The one thing this version of the game had going for it was the use of the artwork from the MGM film. It's just a shame such iconography couldn't be put to better use. If you want a more detailed look at just how bad this is and are willing to sit through early internet gaming humor, The Angry Gamer did an episode on it back in his GameTrailers days.

Remember GameTrailers?

The Wizard of Oz

Oz no Mahoutsukai ~Another World~ RungRung (2000)

RungRung had the badbad misfortune of launchinglaunching for the original PlayStation rightright around the releaserelease of the PS2. Developed by Affect, it's an item-collecting RPG that sees Dorothy trying to collect all the pages of the Rung Book to stop the evil Ugu. According to the Operation Rainfall review of the game, which is the only real source of info I could find on it in a language I speak, the game has very little combat as it's more concerned with getting players to explore and interact with the locals of Oz's various lands. Sadly, it doesn't appear this approach has aged all that well.

Surprisingly, this game is available in the west but it is not at all translated. Publisher GungHo added it to the PlayStation store in 2013 without localizing it. I'm tempted to give it a purchase, but the Operation Rainfall review recommends two years of Japanese knowledge and the only Japanese knowledge I have are lewd dungeon crawlers, Miyazaki films, and extremely inappropriate WWII-era Bugs Bunny cartoons.

The Wizard of Oz

RIZ-ZOAWD (2008)

In 2008, Wild Arms developer Media.Vision took a permanent break from working on its treasured Wild West RPG to take a crack at the Oz mythos. The end result was RIZ-ZOAWD, or as we know it in the west, The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road. A more proper RPG thank the IP's last outing, RIZ-ZOAWD tasks players with taking down four different witches and collecting the various magic eggs that nest in their respective lands.

It's not a great interpretation of the source material, but I have a soft spot in my heart and head for this game. First of all, it's gorgeous on the DS; perhaps the best looking 3D game in the handheld's catalog. Second, you move Dorothy around using a trackball on the touch screen, which somehow never got old. Finally, the battle system, though simplistic, actually lends itself well to teaching the basics of strategy in a role-playing game. Each turn, the player has four slots to insert attacks into and each of the four party members takes up a certain number of slots. Dorothy and Scarecrow each use one, Lion uses two, and Tin Man uses three. Mixing and matching based on what you were fighting was key to victory.

If RIZ-ZOAWD had more influence from the world of Oz and a lot less from standard JRPG tropes -- there's no need for dragon masters to be in a Wizard of Oz game -- I think it might have fared better with reviewers. Either way, it remains an interesting curio for those who fall in the center of the Gamer/Wizard of Oz Appreciator Venn Diagram.

The Wizard of Oz

Emerald City Confidential (2009)

One of the hallmarks of post-Judy Garland takes on the Oz mythos is the notion to go dark with it. Return to Oz went dark. Wicked went dark. Emerald City went dark. Tin Man went really dark. There's something called The Wizard of A.I.D.S. where the Wicked Witch is killed by a giant condom and I'm not quite sure what message that was supposed to be sending to kids in the '80s.

Emerald City Confidential also opted for a darker rendition of the characters and their world. Set in the seedy underbelly of Emerald City, Confidential casts players as Petra, a private detective who sets out to find a missing person. The game is a point-and-click noir adventure released only on PC and, as luck would have it, Destructoid actually reviewed it back in 2009, back in the age where we suggested "rent it" on mid-tier titles and ended our ledes with teases about "more after the jump."

The Wizard of Oz

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return (2014)

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is a very, very bad movie. Much like 2013's Oz: The Great and Powerful, it carries the baggage of the MGM classic, something millions of people around the United States watch every Thanksgiving on TNT, unable to actually establish itself as a worthwhile companion to that film. But where Oz had a massive budget, big stars, and the backing of Disney to just eke out a success at the box office, Legends of Oz had a bad script, bad songs, and bad animation. It also had a bad video game adaptation.

Released for the Nintendo 3DS, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return is a crappy match-three mobile game that GameMill attempted to pass off as a game worth $20. It is not. If you're really desperate for a match-three game with Dorothy Gale, Zynga has a derivative free-to-play one on mobile. 

Oz: Broken Kingdom

Oz: Broken Kingdom (2016)

Speaking of derivative, Oz: Broken Kingdom is the latest attempt to find gaming success in the jolly old land of Oz. Developed and released by Nexon for mobile, Broken Kingdom features new girl Ophelia teaming up with Tin Man, Lion, and Scarecrow to battle a regenerated Wicked Witch and powers more evil than her. While that might make for a decent PC or console game, with Nexon on the helm, the final product ended up like so many mobile freemium games, prioritizing grinding and spending money over skill-building and tactical thinking. It's certainly a beautiful game to behold, and takes a much darker spin on the setting, but five minutes into it I had to delete it off my phone because no amount of goodwill towards the source material could force me to muster through an imitative experience.

Other Games:

Obviously, this isn't a complete list of every game to feature The Wizard of Oz. In my research, I found a host of mobile and browser games, including dating visual novels, that are either defunct or never saw release outside of Japan. That includes Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love, the Nintendo DS follow-up to Freshly-Picked Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland. There's also Oz Chrono Chronicle from DMM, best known in the west for Dead or Alive Xtreme: Venus Vacation. I also stumbled across OZMAFIA, which I guess counts. 

Codename STEAM

Dorothy and friends have also made appearances in games not completely based around Oz. In 2015, LEGO Dimensions released with an entire level set on the Yellow Brick Road and the witch's castle. Sadly, outside of a Fun Pack featuring a flying monkey and the Wicked Witch of the West, none of the characters were playable in the final game. In the much-better-after-it-updated Codename S.T.E.A.M., all four protagonists from the film are unlockable characters. Their inclusion made perfect sense as Nintendo loves to raid the public domain when making its games, as anyone who played through Wii Music will be able to tell you. Crusaders of the Lost Idols also features characters and settings from the book and the game Rugrats: Munchin Land puts its own spin on Oz.

The One We Never Saw:

OZombie

It's unfortunate that perhaps the most interesting game to feature the land of Oz is one that was never made. In 2013, American McGee launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the development of OZombie. Similar to his work with Alice in Wonderland, the game would have featured a very dark take on the classic tale that saw Dorothy's great-great-granddaughter building an army to take down a mad Scarecrow.

The Kickstarter page for it promised a single-player, story-driven experience with tactical RPG gameplay and 3rd person exploration. The concept art looked pretty dope, but sadly, McGee was only able to raise just over $140,000 of the $950,000 he was seeking for the project. Nothing has come of it since and the last we heard of American McGee, he was unsuccessfully trying to get EA to let him make another Alice game.

*****

It's tough to say if the industry will ever get Oz right. Games tend to focus on combat and that's just something you usually don't associate with The Wizard of Oz. It's not violent or scary, but earnest and kind-hearted. And as it continues to inspire Hollywood to make bad movies but also good episodes of television, I hope the games industry doesn't give up on finding its Emerald City at the end of the Yellow Brick Road.

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CJ Andriessen
CJ AndriessenFeatures Editor   gamer profile

Just what the internet needs: yet another white guy writing about video games. Also, I backed that Bloodstained game. more + disclosures


 


 



Filed under... #adaptation #Classics #Destructoid Originals #Movies #retro

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