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For all the imagination which the Toy Story movies show, some of the games based on them have been sadly lacking. The cinematic outing for Toy Story 2 is generally regarded as one of the jewels in the Pixar crown. Sadly, the same cannot be said of this Gameboy game.
Toy Story dates from 1999, a time when original ideas were not wasted on film tie-ins. The general consensus amongst software developers was that they would sell by the bucket load on the strength of their name alone, so why waste much effort on them. Such games tended to be hugely unoriginal affairs in specific genres - usually shooting games, flying games or (most common of all) side-scrolling platformers. In that regard, at least, Toy Story 2 does not disappoint: it's a generic side-scrolling platformer that sees you take on the role of Buzz Lightyear as he tries to rescue his friend Woody from an evil toy collector.
What this amounts to in terms of on-screen action is a number of fairly dull, generic levels where you collect coins and perform some pretty simple tasks in order to progress to the next level. This essentially boils down to climbing onto objects and jumping off the edge onto other objects to collect the coins that someone has carelessly left lying around. Occasionally, there's a vaguely exciting bit where you leap off a platform and, having built up enough speed, can fly to otherwise inaccessible areas, but this isn't enough to disguise the fact that this is a bog-standard run-of-the-mill 90s platformer with a big name attached.
Inevitably, of course, your task is made trickier a number of enemies which have to be shot or avoided. This is something which will annoy fans of the film because liberties have been taken with the characters. On the very first level, for example, you come across T-Rex who will kill you if you come into contact with him; fans of the film will, of course, know that T-Rex is one of Buzz and Woody's friends. This is an example of the lazy programming behind this game. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Toy Story 2 actually started out life as a different game before having the Toy Story name grafted onto it. The creators clearly want to include all the characters from the film, but can't be bothered to integrate them into the game in a way which is faithful to the film. Instead, they've just swapped some of the enemy sprites for Toy Story characters. There's no thought for the fact that this might actually upset children.
Graphics are actually quite reasonable. Certainly, they look very primitive now, but taken in the context of a game which is now 12 years old they are not bad. At least the main characters are all instantly recognisable. Graphics are also nice and crisp. Characters stand out well against the background, enemies are easy to spot (so you have a reasonable chance to avoid/destroy them) and the items you can interact with (such as furniture you can use as a platform) are easily distinguished from those that are just background graphics. It's in this area that Toy Story 2 is probably strongest since it does a good job of capturing the look and feel of the film.
The sound is similarly primitive, although again, this reflects the limitations of the Gameboy hardware. Jolly, atmospheric (if slightly tinny) tunes accompany the title screen and each of the levels (although some of them grate after a while), whilst sound effects are limited to generic shooting noises and explosions. Like the rest of the game, then, nothing particularly to write home about; but nothing too monstrous either.
It's the controls that really let the game down. Partly this is due to the limitations of Gameboy architecture which only features two buttons. This means that the buttons have to double up for several functions, which limits your character's movements. You can't for example, shoot and move at the same time - something which I always find annoying. Similarly, since the A button is used for both Run and Jump, you can't perform both actions at the same time, so taking a running jump onto a distant platform is out of the question. Instead, you have to stop, carefully position Buzz as close to the end of the platform as you can and then hit the A button together with the D-Pad to jump.
Six or seven times out of ten, doing this has one of two outcomes: either you will get too close to the edge of the platform and simply fall off the end; or you will not get close enough to the edge of the platform you are on and end up short of the one you are aiming for. Either way the end result is the same: you have to climb all the way back up to where you were in order to try all over again. As so often with 90s platformers the pixel-perfect positioning needed to make some leaps soon becomes a source of frustration.
There's one big thing in this game's favour: its price. Since it is now over 10 years old it can be picked up dirt cheap. I got my copy for less than a pound which means that, with a bit of luck, writing this review combined with your reads should pay for it! The sad truth is that's about all it's worth. All of the love, care and attention to detail that characterize the films have been lost in a lazy, sloppy tie-in which sees Buzz and friends simply inserted into a generic platform game.
Toy Story 2 is not a complete disaster and there is a certain amount of fun to be had from it. Kids will love being able to take control of Buzz Lightyear and enjoy seeing their favourite Toy Story characters recreated on the Gameboy. Ultimately, though, the game offers nothing new over hundreds of other platformers that were released for the system. Only the licence sets it apart from other Gameboy platform games, and that's not enough to save Toy Story 2 from sinking into mediocrity.
© Copyright SWSt 2011