Review: Oscar in Toyland (DSiWare)

A colourful trip down memory lane

Originally released as Trolls in 1992 for the Amiga, Super Nintendo and PC, Oscar in Toyland is a remake of what many consider an Amiga gaming classic. The game combines platforming with a “scavenger hunt” game mechanic which challenges the player to find a certain number of “baby Oscars” per level.

The game begins with the titular character standing in a long hallway of different doors which lead to the different game worlds: think of an extremely primitive, 2D version of Peach’s Castle in Mario 64 and you’re not too far off. The game gives no introduction as to what you’re actually supposed to do so it’s up to the player to enter the first world, Candyland. It’s advisable to read the included instruction manual, as there is no in-game tutorial on controls and no information on what each power-up actually does. Each of the game worlds has a different theme ranging from the aforementioned Candyland to a world based on media with newspaper scenery and appropriate enemies to match. It seems as though the game may have been given a slight update since it’s original release in terms of the levels as Media Land featured iPod-like platforms for the player to climb on.

One of the things that really makes this game standout is how bright and colourful each world is and at times this isn’t a particularly good thing. Some of the game’s levels are pleasing and genuinely quite detailed and vibrant: however, some of the game’s more colour intensive levels such as featured in Candyland and Fable Land are a little bit too intense. Seizure-inducing intense, even. Furthermore, some of the game’s backdrops are simply psychedelic gradients of colour that really do add to the overall nausea-inducing vibe that this game gives off at times. Besides the visual discomfort this can cause it can also interfere with gameplay, as at times it is hard to work out what is a jumpable platform and what is part of the backdrop. At the time of its original release I’m sure the bright colours impressed the gaming masses, but in this day and age colour alone does little to impress. It should be noted that some levels are really quite nice; it’s just a pity that this isn’t a majority of levels.

As far as actual gameplay goes the game is reasonably solid: it’s an overall decent platformer and the added task of finding baby Oscars to complete each level is quite a nice addition to the formula, as the game could easily become quite dull otherwise. Oscar moves quite quickly and this is great for zipping around levels and jumping from platform to platform in quick succession. However, at times it is difficult to judge exactly when Oscar will stop moving and where he will land on a platform; the movement isn’t 100% accurate and this is only compounded by the visually busy levels. An addition to the DSi version of the game is the map of the level which is displayed on the touch-screen which provides a zoomed out view of the entire level. This helps to navigate the sometimes sprawling levels and avoid falling down pit holes.

Just like Mario and Sonic, Oscar has various collectibles that have both positive and negative effects on Oscar’s performance. “Speed Up Shoes” do what they suggest and allow Oscar to move quicker and jump further while conversely a “ball and chain” slows him down. A shield gives Oscar extra protection against enemies and wings allow him to fly, and there are various other items to discover which have similar positive and negative effects. Furthermore letters can be collected throughout levels that spell out either “Bonus” or “Bogus.” A bonus round consists of a level full of items that increase the player’s high score, while a bogus round challenges the player to find a certain item in the level or they lose a life.

The game has quite a steep difficulty curve and at first can seem quite difficult due to the re-spawning enemies and Oscar’s slightly tricky controls. However after the first world is completed the difficulty doesn’t really seem to increase and in fact some later levels seem much easier, in particular the underwater world which basically allows Oscar the wings power-up for the duration of the world albeit with a very slowly depreciating oxygen limit. Furthermore for every few thousand points added to the player’s high score they are awarded extra lives and continues making a game over really quite difficult to achieve!

One of the strangest things you are likely to find about the game is that it features the same audio track for every level. This is really quite odd considering the different themes for each level, and indeed it can quickly get very annoying listening to the same piece of chirpy music over and over. This is perhaps due to the original size restrictions that the game would have faced, and indeed Oscar requires only 38 blocks of memory on the DSi system. Still, a more varied soundtrack would have been nice!

Conclusion

To conclude, Oscar in Toyland is a fairly decent platformer which expends on the basic idea of the genre. The game packs a decent amount of content for its price-tag and, despite some dodgy controls, plays pretty well. Unfortunately the game is majorly let down by its gaudy and over-the-top presentation, with some levels being monstrously cluttered with platforms, enemies and too much going on in the background. The bright visuals which were praised at the time of its original release can only now be described as excessive. Furthermore with only one audio track to accompany each level it's hard not to feel like the game is on loop with it's all too similar gameplay and generic backdrops.

Overall, if Oscar in Toyland had been polished and updated for 2009 this could have been the DSiWare service's first big platformer. As it is, Oscar in Toyland only just manages to escape mediocrity, and yet doesn't quite fall into the "good" category.

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