I have just as much of a place in my heart for the Looney Tunes characters as any other red-blooded American, and so I've been excited each time a new game comes out featuring our favorites from the Warner Bros. archives. But I find that I have been disappointed by the games, not necessarily because of the creativity and sense of humor used when putting them together, but because of the seeming lack of attention to the actual playability of a title. Taz: Wanted, although chock-full of potential, is the latest in a line of sadly limp games.
The premise of this game is that Yosemite Sam has captured Taz's girlfriend, the She-devil, and is attempting to turn the island of Tazmania into a theme park. Taz must destroy all of the wanted posters in each of four levels (three sections per level centered around a hub) to thwart Sam's dastardly plan. Along the way he can eat sandwiches for bonus games, pick up golden statues of Sam for points, and destroy as many objects as possible, all the while avoiding the Taz Catchers with nets. There are humorous special powers available during the game, including Invisibility potions, Super Burp Soda cans, Hiccup Soda, Mega Hot Chili Peppers, and bubble gum. Taz can also eat elements of the scenery and spit it out again as an attack. The final part of your arsenal of attacks is the ACME Dial-a-Costume phone booth, where Taz gets a costume that comes with a special attack (ten each). Along with the main story mode are two-player choices of "destruction," "vehicle race," "time trial," "tournament," and three secret games that can be opened by beating bosses in the single-player game.
The graphics of this game are pretty darn good, with all the best of the cartoon world made into interactive environments. The music was great (I swear to God that I heard a tooney version of Manson's "The Beautiful People") and after reading the music titles in the back of the instruction booklet, I can tell that those people who were working on the soundtrack had just as much fun as those rendering the graphics. I wish that there were more vocal responses from Taz and Yosemite Sam, as it got really repetitive in a very short while, but the other sound effects are the oodles of fun that you'd expect from a cartoon adventure.
What this game has going for it is the great sense of humor Looney Tunes is known for. You can swing with monkeys, bounce and sproing all over the landscape on special items, twirl until you're dizzy, and that's just the beginning. Yet while I was often amused by the antics of our twirling friend, there are elements of the game that are problematic. The control of Taz is the first and most distressing. It's hard for me to imagine a child trying to wrestle to get Taz moving in the right directions, especially when navigating difficult spaces or spinning. I was frustrated during enough of the game trying to make maneuvers that should have been easy that I can imagine the level of frustration a beginner would have on this game.
The second issue that I had with this game is the terrible design of the two-player mode. The single player mode is short enough that the two-player mode is where the game might find some longevity. However, the vehicle race, which is the most promising of the bunch, is frustrating. You have three races, one on floor polishers in the Samsonian Museum, one on jet-bikes in Granny's Canyon, and the last and most problematic, shopping carts in Looningdales. The floor polishers are very hard to steer and the shopping carts, in order to move AT ALL, required repeated pushing of the 'O' button. I know that the designers might have thought kids were button pushers by nature, but give me a break! After three laps of repeated pounding, I was ready to find the person who thought this was a good idea and tap him or her repeatedly on the forehead as many times as I had to do so in finishing my race and then ask them how effective this method of propulsion was. When seasoned players have hand cramps after one race, it's time to rethink your design strategy. Granny's Canyon is the best of the three, but when you have only one real playable course, it gets old really quickly. Destruction mode and time trials are limited in their scope and imagination, and tournament is merely a mix of the above types, and is just as frustrating and inane.
Finally, the worst sin of this game is in its inability to compete in a genre that has really pushed the boundaries. If I had never played such gems as Banjo Kazooie or Mario, I would probably be much more impressed by this title. But I have seen games with huge levels and seemingly infinite places to explore which have smooth controls and a great cameras. Just getting a popular franchise may be enough to lure kids into begging their parents to buy this game, but that is a cheap ploy when you don't take the time to make games that are of a competitive quality and scope. The PS2 is lagging a bit in the children's games arena, but if it wants to compete, it's going to have to do better than this. Asking people to buy your mediocre game just because there doesn't happen to be much else on the market for this system is rubbish. Rent this game if you must, but I would think twice before paying full price.