Taz Wanted Preview
Taz is getting ready to tear up the Xbox--we take him out for a "spin."
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Over the last few years, Infogrames has been making good use of the Looney Tunes license with an assortment of solid games for the various consoles on the market. Its latest game, Taz Wanted, is being developed by Blitz Games and focuses on everyone's favorite Tasmanian import, the Tasmanian Devil. Featuring cel-shaded graphics and gameplay that's reminiscent of that of the Crash Bandicoot series, Taz Wanted looks as though it should be a solid addition to the Xbox platformer library.
The game's plot revolves around Taz's quest to find and rescue his ladylove, the She-Devil. The pair's romantic time together is cut short when they're both caught and hauled off to a zoo run by Yosemite Sam, who is apparently expanding his career. Taz is separated from his significant other when he is made the star attraction at the zoo and she is hauled off and entered into competition on the Gladiatoons television show. Taz, obviously taking issue with these events, busts out of his cage at the zoo and heads off in search of his hairy soul mate.
You'll take control of Taz after he breaks free of his cage at the zoo. The first area you'll find yourself in will serve as the game's main hub, allowing you to access the various levels in the game, each of which is set in a different part of the zoo. The hub will also serve as a tutorial level in which Tweety will walk you through several lessons that will instruct you on the basics of controlling Taz. Once you've gotten the basics down, you'll be free to head off to the first level in the game, Zooney Tunes, through an unlocked gate. As you progress further in the game, more of the gates in the hub will open up and let you access new levels.
At the start of each level, Tweety will walk you through your goals during a fly-through of the area. Taz's main concern is destroying a set number of wanted signs put up by Yosemite Sam throughout the level. You'll receive a bonus for destroying a set percentage of items in each level and for finding and destroying a golden statue of Yosemite Sam hidden in each level. You'll also find the usual assortment of miscellaneous items to collect, ranging from the useful sandwiches and other power-ups that let Taz release a mighty belch to dangerous bundles of dynamite. You'll also come across phone booths that let you change into special outfits ranging from a snappy skateboarding ensemble to a reindeer. Besides looking cool, the outfits let you perform a special attack that will permanently take out enemies in a level as opposed to just stunning them, which is all you can do as plain old Taz. You'll earn money for each wanted poster you destroy, and at the end of each level, Taz's cash total will be tallied up. As you progress through the game, your accumulated funds will be endangered by net-wielding zookeepers--every time you're caught, you'll lose some cash.
Handling a Tornado
Controlling Taz is pretty straightforward. His moves stay true to the temperamental toon's well known repertoire and throw in some platformer-style concessions. You'll move Taz with the left analog stick. The B button will perform Taz's trademark spin, sending him hurtling along at high speeds and allowing him to break through most boxes. The A button will let you jump. The Y button will let you wolf down a variety of edible, and not so edible, objects in the game, and you'll be able to spit them out by pressing the button again. The X button will unleash a good old-fashioned temper tantrum, and when you're wearing a special outfit, the X button will perform the special attack specific to your attire. The right trigger will put you in a first-person look mode when held down, and the left trigger will let Taz sneak around.
Graphically, the game features a very cartoony look that keeps to the style used in the old Fox cartoon Taz-Mania. The Xbox churns out simple and brightly colored cel-shaded graphics that capture the visual aesthetics of the cartoon. Each of the levels in the game is themed and features specific geography and enemies, as well as the aforementioned zookeepers. Zooney Tunes, for example, offers a traditional zoo setting with hazards that include electric fences, leaping alligators, and bears, while Ice Burg is a collection of snow-covered slopes, icy patches that send Taz skidding out of control, and snowball-throwing polar bears. The various enemies and hazards you'll encounter feature quite a bit of personality thanks to their design and animation, which is looking quite good. Taz himself has never looked or moved better--his various facial tics and movement are all captured in the game and look very good.
The graphics are complemented by the game's voice work, which features all the familiar voices for Taz, Tweety, and company. Most of the sound effects are also straight from the cartoon and add to the game's presentation. The weakest part at this point is the game's soundtrack, which sounds a bit out of place--at the moment, it looks as though it's leaning toward breezy light-rock tunes that feature a touch of ska. The contemporary tunes don't quite fit some of the more classic Looney Tunes moments on display in the game. Fortunately, the music can be turned way down, so it's never overbearing. Other than that one small hitch, the audio in the game is fine.
Overall, Taz Wanted is coming together pretty well. The game's look pretty much nails Taz and company, and the voice-overs capably give the various characters a healthy dose of personality. The gameplay is coming along, and the mechanics work well and are fresh enough to keep the game from turning into "generic licensed platformer #9999." It will be interesting to see how the game turns out, since the Xbox is sorely lacking platformers at the moment and Taz Wanted may be just what the doctor ordered. Taz Wanted ships this fall.