At this point, we’re all pretty used to calling Maniac Mansion “the first graphic adventure game,” and just kind of leave it at that. By that, I mean that the natural evolution of graphic adventure games is mostly centered on what LucasArts and Sierra were doing with the fancy new pointing-and-clicking peripherals, and not much attention has been given to the other early adopters out there.
Take, for example, this one: Murder on the Mississippi, released in 1986 for the Commodore 64 by … the fuck? Activision? Okay, didn’t see that one coming. Ironic, considering what happened to Sierra, really. But let’s not dwell on that.
No, seriously, I’m asking. What gives? It was teased by the current rightsholder, then apparently just dropped and forgotten. At least, that’s how it seems.
Maybe I should backtrack, in case you don’t know what Toonstruck is. Because, even as popular as it once was, mentioning it still seems to draw some quizzical glances.
Toonstruck was a late-golden-era (1996) graphic adventure game created by Burst Entertainment, a company made up of a bunch of adventure gaming veterans (the one I’m most familiar with is artist Bil Skirvin, who had previously been at Sierra On-Line). They sunk everything they had — and then some — into developing Toonstruck, their first — and, as it would turn out, only — product.
The production values are really second-to-none. You’ve got fully animated cartoon fun in the style of 1930’s Warner Bros. cartoons, voiced by industry veterans like Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson), Tress MacNeille (Mom from Futurama), and Frank Welker (every goddamn cartoon you’ve ever seen). On top of that were live acting performances by Christopher Lloyd (yes, that Christopher Lloyd!) as the protagonist, and Ben Stein from before he came out as a right-wing nutjob.