With almost every great movie title, there’s a video game that comes to capitalize on it. In 1997 Goldeneye 007 was released for the Nintendo 64, in 2005 The Warriors received its own adaptation, and countless more were released through the intervening years and beyond. And while there’s a huge difference in quality between them, the 1995 video game adaptation of Pixar’s Toy Story is the best I’ve ever played. I remember going to my dad’s house every Friday, and that trip usually involved him taking me to the nearest movie rental location and letting me choose which video game I wanted to rent for the weekend. .
In the mid-1990s, I had a Sega Genesis at my dad’s house, and Toy Story was a game I rented so often that my parents gave in and bought it from me after three straight weeks of renting it. There are several reasons why the game captured me in my youth, its 18 levels (Super Nintendo and PC versions had 17 levels, Game Boy version only had 10 levels) were lovely and unique in terms of design . Some of the actors reverted to voice characters, and the acting was tough but not impossible to beat. Goldeneye was fun, but a lot of my entertainment with it came from playing multiplayer with my friends – other movie-related games didn’t offer much in terms of gameplay variance. And others, let’s face it, were just not good.
Often with movie-related games, their development cycle is very short because the studios want them released at or around the initial release of the movies they are based on. This leads to a lot of shortcuts and not-so-memorable gameplay. Toy Story is one of the few exceptions when it comes to quality. The film was released in November 1995, and the video game version was released the same month on the Sega Genesis. A month later it was trucked to Super Nintendo, Microsoft Windows and Game Boy.
Toy Story had it all in terms of level design, making it more than just your average platformer. Many games based on children’s films have been created (Aladdin and The Lion King being the most popular). While the levels coincided with the story of the movie, each level had its own feel and design. Levels like its first, That Old Army Game, and one of its later stages (titled Sid’s Workbench) were your standard platforming levels. The one thing they all had in common was that everyone’s overarching goal outside of their few boss battles (Giant Buzz Lightyear and the Claw Machine to name a few) was to go from Dot to Dot as Woody.
But the devs have added a set stealth level to Pizza Planet and a few chase levels – one requiring you to dodge fireworks and cans while being chased by Sid’s dog as you roll atop Roller Bob. There were also several timed levels, one of which is a maze involving the squeaky-lovable aliens, the goal being to find eight of them and return them to the main part of the machine. Another type of level had you playing as Andy’s remote control car – the problem with these levels is that you need to collect batteries when you run out of power. If you fail to get a certain amount, you have to start the level again.
For a game made in 1995, its use of 3D characters was truly a game-changer for its time. In the Sid’s Workbench level, there’s a part where Sid repeatedly burns you with his magnifying glass, and you can see the expressions of pain on Woody’s face as he repeatedly shouts “Hot, hot, hot! ” Enemies and items are also uniquely designed and do a great job of showing the difference between Andy’s and Sid’s personalities. The levels set in Andy’s room are bright, and the enemies range from the quirky wooden trains and planes to characters like Ham, the green army men, and others from the movie. Sid’s room is dark by contrast, and not only do you have to dodge the mutant toys and hit them with your cord, but you also have to jump between the dangling spiked yo-yos.
I really wish Nintendo could add Toy Story to their library of Genesis collections, or the game would get a re-release, just like Aladdin and The Lion King. Although it has been many years since I last played it, watching videos of readings really brought back wonderful memories. The game developers at Traveller’s Tales took risks and added unique and memorable twists on what a platformer could be. While the movie provided a blueprint, they found ways to make the game quirky and timeless, from its music to its Etch-A-Sketch mini-game. Toy Story really isn’t a game we should lose over time, and the ties to modern movies might really teach a thing or two.