The 16-bit era was the golden years for licensed games especially games with the prestigious Disney logo slapped on them. Back in the early 90s, if you picked up the video game version of your favorite Disney movie, odds were that you got your hands on a quality title. Many words have been written about how great Aladdin, The Lion King and the Mickey Mouse series of games were, which proved how fun our favorite films could be when placed in the palms of our hands. In the midst of quality titles released in the 90s, Toy Story, seems to have been forgotten. Fear not, every toy will have its day, so let’s take the time to remember what made Toy Story such an interesting and creative title.
Before hitting it big with the Lego series in the late 2000s, Traveller’s Tales were tasked with working wonders for many Disney licenses throughout the 90s. Titles included Mickey Mania for the SNES and A Bug’s Life for the Playstation and Nintendo 64. Many people praise Toy Story 2 for being a well developed licensed title for the N64, but the prequel is just as fantastic if not more ambitious than its 64-bit counterpart.
Toy Story mixes an array of genres and blends them into a surprisingly ambitious title for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive and Super Nintendo. You play as Woody replaying the events of the 1995 computer-animated Pixar film, but with a few liberties taken by Traveller’s Tales. Most levels are sidescrollers with specific missions to complete before making it to the end such as; getting all of the fellow toys back into place before Andy comes returns to his room. These levels play well as the basis for most of the game and allow the player to walk in the boots of the famous cowboy and explore the world through his miniature eyes.
Woody can use his pull-string to break objects or wrap up enemy toys to make them temporarily neutralized. He can also use his pull-string to latch and swing off hooks, like a simplistic hook shot, which allows for greater vertical maneuverability. The pull-string better differentiates Toy Story from other side-scrollers with missions designed to make each level much more than simply point A to point B.
However, sidescrolling isn’t the only thing Toy Story has up its sleeves. Traveller’s Tales throws overhead racing using R.C. into the mix. In one such section, Woody controls R.C. to exact his revenge on Buzz Lightyear by running him over constantly. R.C. is used again to recreate the famous car chase scene from the movie. Combine R.C. derby levels and riding on Rex across Andy’s room and Toy Story offers the player high-speed thrills.
If that wasn’t enough, how about playing as Woody in an FPS Doom-styled venture inside the claw machine. Yup, a nerve-racking time trial will have Woody navigating the inner mechanisms of the claw machine to help the alien inhabitants escape before the time runs out. And yes, it’s all in glorious 16-bit 3D environments.
As stated earlier, Toy Story takes liberties with the story, and boy does it ever. When levels stray away from the original narrative, things become crazy, like having Woody battle a giant transluscent Buzz Lightyear inside a toybox surrounded by spinning fireballs. It’s refreshing to see games not feeling the need to toe the line to please their base material while, at the same time, being loyal to the base material and keeping the gameplay fun and ambitious.
Disney’s Toy Story is a definite example of how to carefully and considerately develop a game with a beloved license. It’s a challenging experience; keeping the classic ‘lives and continues’ mechanic intact all while not being cheap in its difficulty like most LJN games do. Toy Story is a well-thought out and cleverly executed game that respected the Pixar franchise and showed how well translating material to the gaming medium can be if a little care and admiration is present. Toy Story refuses to be a cheap cash-in and stands to prove it. Modern movie games, take note.