The Wizard of Oz review
In what is possibly the least timely movie tie-in release of all time, Spooky Cool Labs and Warner Bros. have released the official Facebook game of the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie. The new game, which is built in Unity for cross-platform play and scalable 3D graphics, is available now for all players.
The Wizard of Oz starts well, with some stills and clips from the movie depicting Dorothy’s arrival in the land of Oz and the demise of the Wicked Witch of the East. Dorothy then subsequently meets Glinda the Good Witch of the North and discovers her quest to follow the Yellow Brick Road and make her way to Emerald City. Thus, most players would probably expect some sort of adventure/role-playing game experience, with players taking control of Dorothy (and later her companions) as they attempt to make the perilous but colorful journey.
Instead what we get is a title that is rather similar to CityVille at first glance. A very well-presented CityVille-alike, yes, and one with a few surprises up its sleeve, but a CityVille-alike nonetheless.
The player’s time in The Wizard of Oz is spent primarily rebuilding Munchkinland by constructing houses and resource-gathering buildings. More houses mean a higher population of Munchkins, who can subsequently be assigned to the production buildings in order to generate the resources required to continue building.
The Wizard of Oz sees players managing several different resources in order to keep Munchkinland running smoothly. Food is used to keep Munchkins happy and make them do their jobs in the resource-generating buildings, wood is used for construction and yellow ore is used to construct yellow bricks and subsequently rebuild the famous Yellow Brick Road. On top of these resources — which can also be purchased using hard currency — the player also has an energy bar, which replenishes at every level up and is able to “overflow” above its maximum. This latter mechanic makes the energy bar an all but pointless addition to the game, as, at least early in the game, the player’s energy bar never gets even vaguely close to running out before it is refilled. It would have been a better, more player-friendly move to take it out altogether — there is no real need for it, and there is plenty of opportunity for monetization through sales of resources and other premium items.
The game’s hard currency of Emeralds may be spent on a variety of other items besides basic resources. A Starter Pack provides the player with a bundle of coins, food and wood; a Daily Deal presents players with a premium building at a discount; and Emeralds may also be spent on unlocking content early before reaching the required level. They may also be used to speed up activities that take varying amounts of real time. It is all very conventional and predictable for the most part. This predictability extends to the game’s social features, which are nothing more than the usual “visit your friends to help” mechanic coupled with regular nag screens and quests encouraging players to invite their friends.
Despite the fact that players have seen almost everything this game has to offer before, there are a few interesting little features that do make The Wizard of Oz worthy of note, however. For starters, the game’s presentation in Unity-powered 3D graphics means that the player has a lot more control over how they look at their Munchkin empire. It’s possible to zoom right down to street level and see the Munchkins (and Dorothy) wandering around, or to zoom right out and get an overview. The camera angle may also be freely rotated, and players may click on an idle Munchkin at any time to get a first-person view of their village. Munchkins wander around automatically and have a habit of staring at the least interesting things on the map, but can be controlled with the arrow keys — though the game does not make this obvious at any point.
The second noteworthy aspect of the game is the addition of minigames when harvesting resources. While the most efficient means of generating resources is to assign Munchkins to buildings and then wait for them to produce a package of wood, food or ore, if the player needs a smaller quantity of an individual resource in a hurry, they may pick up a Munchkin and drop them on a tree, rock or lakeshore to acquire wood, ore or food respectively. When they do this, a minigame begins — chopping down a tree uses a rhythm-based game where the player must swing their axe as accurately as possible, mining for ore uses a golf game-style “swing meter” where the player must stop a power bar as close to maximum as possible, and fishing requires that the player click and hold a button to reel in the fish but stop when the line is getting close to snapping. The player can level up the Munchkins’ abilities at collecting resources through repeatedly playing these minigames, which provides something fun to do besides just clicking on buildings repeatedly.
Once the player gets to a stage in the game where it becomes time for Dorothy to travel along the Yellow Brick Road, a second section opens up. Here, gameplay unfolds in an almost board game-like manner — constructing new yellow bricks for the road unlocks the next few “tiles” which Dorothy can move along. Each step along the road gives Dorothy the choice of several different spaces to land on — some might simply award resources or money, while others will trigger minigames with prizes. Occasionally there are forks in the path, and Dorothy will have to choose between them. And, of course, she will encounter the Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion eventually.
Progress along the Yellow Brick Road is extremely slow — Dorothy must return to Munchkinland and produce large quantities of bricks to move just a few spaces along it — but it at least provides a good long-term incentive to keep playing for those who enjoy the core building gameplay. It is, however, worth noting that the game only gives relatively minimal indication that this new gameplay mechanic will show up later, meaning that it’s entirely possible some players tired of relatively conventional citybuilding gameplay will abandon the game before they get to it.
The game makes good use of its source material. There is a good amount of speech and music taken straight from the movie in the game as well as occasional video clips, though the new speech that has been recorded for the game somewhat understandably clashes horribly in terms of sound quality with the fuzzy sound from the 73-year old movie.
The Wizard of Oz is a disappointingly unoriginal game at its core, then, but its solid presentation, good use of its source material and few surprises do make it worthy of note. It would have been nice to see Spooky Cool Labs take a more creative approach to its gameplay, but what we ended up with isn’t a bad game as such — just one we’ve already seen many times before today, and one we will probably see again many more times after today.
As a new release, The Wizard of Oz is not listed on our traffic tracking service AppData at the time of writing but Facebook indicates it has picked up 20,000 monthly active users so far. Check back shortly to follow the game’s progress.
A disappointing lack of creativity in its core gameplay mechanics doesn’t mask the fact that this is a solid citybuilder at its core.