The Wizard of Oz (iOS) review

The Wizard of Oz is a new iOS release from Spooky Cool Labs and Warner Bros. Interactive. It’s an adaptation of the company’s Facebook-based game of the same name, which was in turn an adaptation of the classic movie. The game is free to download from the App Store and carries additional in-app purchases.

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We last reviewed The Wizard of Oz in its Facebook incarnation here, and noted that although it was well-presented with attractive 3D graphics, high quality music and an impressive number of clips from the original movie, its core mechanics were, for the most part, fairly unoriginal.

The Wizard of Oz is essentially a citybuilder for the most part, with players cast in the role of Dorothy shortly after her arrival in Oz following the “twister” at the opening of the movie. Players split their time between helping to rebuild and populate their own renamable take on Munchkinland, and helping Dorothy travel along the Yellow Brick Road on her way to meet the eponymous Oz.

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While building Munchkinland, The Wizard of Oz’s gameplay is fairly similar to established citybuilders such as Zynga’s CityVille. Players must construct housing to increase their population and provide income, and construct businesses to create various resources, some of which are required to make other businesses work and others of which are required to construct new buildings. In a slight twist on the usual formula, The Wizard of Oz also incorporates a number of minigames for when the player wishes to harvest smaller amounts of a particular resource immediately rather than waiting for a time-consuming production cycle to finish. Each type of resource has a different minigame, all of which are simple but fun ways to while away a few minutes.

By constructing Yellow Bricks, Dorothy is able to proceed along the Yellow Brick Road towards the Emerald City. Travelling along the Yellow Brick Road is achieved in a board game-like manner, with Dorothy moving along one square at a time and collecting one of several available rewards on each space. Some rewards are tied to minigames such as multiple-choice trivia questions or chance-based games, while others can simply be collected. The Yellow Brick Road also occasionally features clips from the original movie for players to enjoy. Progression through this part of the game is agonizingly slow, which can be a little frustrating for players looking for an experience with a bit more in the way of instant gratification, but at the same time it provides a long-term incentive for players to keep returning to the game.

The game monetizes through sales of its hard currency emeralds, which can be used to bypass wait timers and purchase premium items. Social features include Facebook connectivity and synchronization with the Web-based version of the game, plus the usual facility to visit and “help” friends. Some buildings also require staffing by friends to perform their functions, and many are more efficient if the friends hired to staff them are of a higher level. This provides a good incentive for players to seek out friends who are active in the game rather than simply spamming people with invites and using fellow players as little more than a resource. In a nice nod to players who dislike “always-online” games, the game can be played locally without connecting to Facebook, though rewards on offer are considerably lower and progression is more difficult without the social features.

The mobile version of the game is very true to the Facebook version, but is a significantly better experience on iPad than iPhone. On iPhone, the already quite cluttered interface is very difficult to use accurately due to the tiny size of the buttons on the screen, and picking up Munchkins to assign them to tasks by tapping and dragging them is all but impossible. This is less of a problem on the large screen of the iPad, but it significantly impacts enjoyment of the game on iPhone. While it is good that the game is accessible to iPhone as well as iPad owners, it would have perhaps been better if the game had been designed as a tablet-only title — or had some more significant interface revamps for the phone version.

It’s also worth noting that the game’s performance is not what it could be. The App Store listing for the game says that it will run on anything from a 3GS upwards, but the actual developer description says that it will only work on iPhone 4S/iPad 2 and up. A number of App Store reviewers who are still using the iPhone 4 have given the game negative reviews for it not working on their device. Even on the 4S, though, the 3D graphics have a noticeably subpar frame rate — a little disappointing considering the visuals are relatively simple compared to some other games on iOS that maintain a frame rate of 30+ while looking considerably better. The sound also stutters quite a lot on the 4S, particularly when loading, and these issues persist even when The Wizard of Oz is the only app in the iOS multitasking bar. Some App Store reviewers have also noted that the game crashes a lot, though it remained stable during testing for me.

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Ultimately, The Wizard of Oz on iOS suffers from the same problem its Facebook counterpart did: it’s yet another entry into a very crowded market that doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself. While nice little touches in the game such as the first-person “Munchkincam,” the minigames and the Yellow Brick Road component add some much-needed variety, it’s still just another tap-and-wait citybuilder at its core. A reasonably nice-looking one that is very true in atmosphere and aesthetic to its source material, yes, but also one that restricts its audience to only owners of newer devices, and which still suffers some significant and noticeable performance issues even with those restrictions. Taking all these issues into account coupled with the fact that there are already hundreds of other citybuilders available on the iOS platform, it’s difficult to recommend The Wizard of Oz wholeheartedly to anyone but the most dedicated fans of the movie.

You can follow The Wizard of Oz’s progress with AppData, our tracking service for mobile and social games and developers.

Wait

A better fit for Facebook than the touchscreen interface of mobile; it remains to be seen how users will take to this new version.