Toy Story 2

Developer: Traveller's Tales
Publisher: Activision
Released: November 17 1999
Regions: NA, PAL
Genre: Platformer
Multiplayer: 1 Player
Cart Size: 12MB / 96Mb
Saving: Controller Pak
Rumble Pak?: No
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No
Traveller's Tales? In MY movie-licensed video game? Where do I sign up?!

In the world of video games, the words "good" and "movie-licensed video game" are rarely ever seen in the same sentence. Even in the early days of video games, movie-based titles were often rushed and thoughtless piles of trash. Indeed, one game saw release on Nintendo's least popular home console which changed everyone's perception of movie-licensed games... That game, was GoldenEye 007. But, were there any other games of its silver screen kind that had the same level of care and attention given to it? Arguably, yes. At least within the confines of this review, there is one other game that is certainly good, though few remember it. That game is Toy Story 2, which was in fact released on all the other popular platforms of the time, not just the Nintendo 64.

Like the movie, Toy Story 2 is a pleasant surprise considering it's a sequel. Even more shocking, the developer of this game, Traveller's Tales, also worked on the previous Toy Story game for Genesis and Super NES. At the time, it was received very well. Even then, Traveller's Tales had a good reputation, so it's not a huge jump to assume Toy Story 2 would be just as good. But is it? Let's continue on.

Toy Story 2 the video game, is a 3D platforming action game which follows the plot of the movie pretty faithfully. It covers most of the important plot points, while at the same time deviating somewhat every now and then to make the game more fun to play (like having Buzz explore Al's Penthouse). Concerning the game's general design, it's essentially a twist of Super Mario 64's multiple objective-based levels, and the linear stage-by-stage progression method employed by platformers of yesteryear. In each level there are 5 Pizza Planet Tokens to collect through various means, such as collecting 50 coins for Hamm, competing in a race against another character, solving a puzzle unique to each level, or defeating a mini boss. Every third level in the game is dedicated to a full-on boss fight. This boss might be an antagonist from the movie, or a completely original character just for the game. Overall, there are 15 levels in the game, with 50 tokens in total to collect. Lastly, each boss level requires a minimum amount of tokens to be accessed, though this amount is usually pretty low. The game can be beaten with as little as 40 Tokens without exploits or glitches. By N64 collect-a-thon standards, Toy Story 2 is a very meager game, which is perfect considering it was designed with children in mind.

Unfortunately, Toy Story 2 is another one of those "multi-platform" games, which was developed with the weakest (and most popular) game system of the time in mind, which was the PlayStation. Since it's too expensive to update the game's graphics for more powerful systems, this practice resulted in a dulled edge of the high-end market. Compared to N64 games built from the ground up, Toy Story 2 looks awfully shabby. Even on the PlayStation in fact, it's a bit of a crummy looking game. Most of the character models have gaps in their seams and any kind of sophistication in the textures or objects of the surrounding environment are an afterthought. Despite this disparity though, the game has quite a bit of inexplicable slowdown. Most likely the porting wasn't exactly clean and tidy. All the FMV of the PSX version was also removed, per the standard as such. Still, there are worse looking games on the N64, and much worse on the PlayStation. It's a below-average looking game, but in many cases, looks can be deceiving.

On the subject of sound, there aren't many bad things to say about it. Some of the voices were retained from the PSX version and virtually all of the music sounds pretty much the same. It’s all quite faithful to the movie and fits in very well. Stages like Andy's Neighborhood have a particularly hectic feel, while others such as Airport Infiltration and Al's Space Land tend to invoke a sense of daunting scale and uncertainty. Much of it seems to have been composed just for the game, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Considering the cartridge format, the audio doesn't sound much worse than the CD based versions. The N64 version has some different sound effects (such as the coin sound) from the PSX version which were also used in the PC, Mac and Dreamcast versions.

Where Toy Story 2 really holds up though, is in the game's design and controls. Despite being designed with children in mind, it's still quite competently constructed. The level design is often pretty imaginative, utilizing otherwise everyday object and environments and looking at them through the eyes of a toy. Levels like Andy's House, Andy's Neighborhood and Al's Penthouse can be quite interesting to explore. Notable instances include the bathroom in the penthouse that has to be flooded in order to progress through the game, all the little references to the movies in Andy's House and the daunting tree fort in Andy's Neighborhood. Really, the whole game is memorable and inventive with very few dull points; it really must be played through and experienced, whether you're a fan of the movie or like collect-a-thon games.

Lastly, the controls really tie the package together. Buzz is always quite responsive to user input and never falters. Even his arsenal of moves and attacks are pretty simple. Buzz can double jump, fire his wrist laser in both 3rd and 1st person view modes and a spin attack using his fold out wings. These attacks can be charged for increased power. There's also 5 power-ups that become unlocked over the course of the game. Some of these are required to obtain Pizza Planet Tokens in earlier levels. Even with this variety, Toy Story 2 is still a pretty easy game to control, very seldom are there difficult jumps or tricky baddies to fight. It was all designed with children in mind so it can be played by pretty much anyone. The enjoyment in Toy Story 2 is not in its difficulty, or lack thereof, but in its simple and easy going pace. Games need not be hard, in order to be fun.

So, in short, what could have been yet another piece of shovelware in the movie-licensed game bin, is to this day a curious and often unnoticed gem in a sea of trash, all thanks to a developer known for quality (well, back then at any rate) and possibly a less tight publishing contract. Just as GoldenEye showed everyone back in 1997 that quality can be found in even the most unlikely places, Traveller's Tales worked quietly in the shadows of big blockbuster hits with both of its Toy Story games. Maybe one day Toy Story 2: The Video Game, at the very least, will receive the praise it so richly deserves. It may not be much of a looker and it's still based on a movie, but the quality of the gameplay and reliable controls what really make Toy Story 2 a good underrated hit.

Presentation: 8.5
Toy Story 2 represents the movie very well, the major plot points are retained and a healthy sprinkling of originality is included.

Graphics: 4.5
Even by PSX standards, this game isn't exactly a looker. Character models tend to be poorly built and the environments are a bit dark and muddy. The textures are reasonably varied though.

Sound: 7.5
Not much was changed from the PSX port, the music is pretty much the same and much of the voicing remained. It all suits the movie nicely and rarely feels out of place.

Gameplay: 8.0
While at first the controls can be a bit tricky, the game tends to be quite forgiving and is rarely irritating. In this area, a decent helping of polish was applied.

Lasting Appeal: 7.5
The first romping through the game is loads of fun, but there's little to do once you collect all 50 Pizza Planet Tokens and beat the game. The same can be said of other 3D platformers though, so the replay value is dependent on how fun the player thinks the game is.

Overall: 7.2

Written by Aaron Wilcott
May 26 2012