Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road is a role-playing game that attempts to immerse you into L. Frank Baum's timeless novel. It's successful at some points, employing a pleasant soundtrack, familiar characters, and a charming exterior to enchant you. Unfortunately, what should have been a remarkable journey into a cherished classic quickly degenerates into a generic, unexceptional spin-off. Its sheer mediocrity and incessant backtracking thoroughly mar the land of Oz, crafting an adventure that is sure to bore.
The plot is occasionally heartfelt and utilizes some of the traditional Oz lore, but it is mostly dull and uninspiring. You're cast as the orphaned Dorothy, a simple country girl swept up by a tornado and deposited in the land of magic. You'll eventually team up with the original cast--including Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man--as you proceed to Oz's castle. What's interesting is that the real story begins only after Dorothy and friends meet Oz, who immediately enlists you to protect his kingdom against four wicked witches. Regrettably, the events that follow are predictable and unexciting, and aren't helped by the repetitive and shallow gameplay.
The turn-based battle system is highly primitive and mundane, encompassing the bare-bones, standard combat offerings that one would expect of the most unsophisticated RPGs. Battles are split into rounds that limit your allies to four turns; you select your desired party members and attacks at the start of the round, then watch the chaos unfold. The process is a little restrictive and prevents you from quickly adjusting your strategy in response to changing battle conditions. This means you're unable to react to a problem--and, say, remove a severely weakened party member--until the end of the round, which can get irritating. Combat eventually evolves to include magic use, but enemies are such easy prey that spells are unnecessary overkill, so you'll only use them for healing or boss fights. A few routine status effects, such as poison and confusion, are included, but they're rarely used and are nullified at the end of the match, making status ailments moot points in the face of easy combat. You also won't encounter much progression beyond these core basics, which is discouraging because you won't find any advanced skills or techniques to truly captivate you.
While there are a few tactical concerns to keep in mind, the majority of combat sacrifices strategy and potentially satisfying gameplay for a pushover difficulty level. Monster affinities with specific characters--such as a ghost-type foe's weakness to Dorothy--seem designed to encourage tactical play, but you can easily ignore this feature and throw anyone at any monster type to be successful. An annoying battle wizard undermines any remaining strategic emphasis by suggesting a default battle plan at the start of each round. This lowers interactivity and makes you feel like you're watching automated battles instead of playing through them. The system's incompetence is even more aggravating because it'll frequently recommend that you waste your best items in the dumbest of situations, such as healing minor scratches with advanced potions. It's easy to work around the battle wizard's silly strategies, but it's vexing that there's no way to turn the feature off, which forces you to constantly correct it.
As if to further insult its high pedigree, your journey is largely a one-dimensional, monotonous cakewalk full of tedious backtracking and rudimentary puzzle mechanics. Exploration is severely limited and highly linear, restricting your exploits to the meandering road that you'll guide Dorothy along by sliding the stylus across a virtual track ball, which is the highlight of the game's low interactivity. The correct path is relatively easy to discern because retracing your steps gets you back on track if you find yourself at a dead end. Puzzles are bland and simplistic, often requiring you to unlock gates by lighting torches and restarting water fountains. This usually involves traipsing through half a stage, flipping a switch, doubling back, and finally following the path to the newly opened door, which results in tiresome backtracking. Wandering down the yellow brick road is just far too easy and simple an endeavor to prove interesting, with the exception of boss battles. Bosses often pull cheap, advantageous maneuvers that challenge you artificially and force you to rely on just as much luck as skill to achieve victory, which quickly leads to frustration. The rest of the monsters are a cinch, consisting of pallet-swapped foes that rely on similar attacks, which makes battling even more repetitive due to low enemy variety.
The endearing fantasy look is colorful and charming despite crude texturing. The adequately detailed, 3D environments are dotted with sparkling streams and vibrant flowers. Characters are modeled simply but sufficiently, allowing you to clearly make out the fluttering of Dorothy's skirt as she dashes down the road. Soft artwork conveys the few touching elements of the story quite well, with appropriately timed sound effects and sweet melodies enhancing the events, which really gives you the sense that you're reading a fairy tale brought to life. The soundtrack is just as attractive and subtle an accompaniment to stages, setting an almost childlike tone. You'll find spell effects, attack sounds, and the typical monster growls somewhat cheesy, but they're easily overlooked.
You can spend roughly 20 hours in this lackluster adaptation of the land of Oz, but most of this time is spent mired in backtracking or wearisome, simplistic battles. The game's complete lack of depth and innovation will have you hard-pressed to find anything intriguing enough to pull you back for more--let alone keep you playing. The Wizard of Oz: Beyond the Yellow Brick Road has decent core mechanics, but its mind-numbing mediocrity culminates in a lackluster experience troubled by a slew of irritants. The game is ultimately forgettable and provides little lasting appeal.