lauantai 21. toukokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Toy Story (1995)

GENRE(S): Action / Platform
RELEASED: December 1995
DEVELOPER(S): Traveller's Tales, Tiertex Design Studios (GB)
PUBLISHER(S): Disney Interactive, Psygnosis, Black Pearl (GB), Sega (GEN), Capcom (SNES)

Disney's Toy Story is not only perhaps my favourite animated film franchise of all time, the first two movies are some of my favourite movies altogether. Toy Story changed the world of animated film, by being the first ever feature film to be made entirely with computer generated animation. It was also the first movie made by Disney's Pixar Animation Studios, that has since flourished with other significant, animated blockbusters such as Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and finally, perhaps their most critically acclaimed work thus far, the one and only WALL-E. At the time of Toy Story's theatrical release, there was an eulogy going on in the video game business, the eulogy for the 16-bit era. Although the inevitable video game for Toy Story was expected to be released on the newest systems on the market, Disney Interactive decided to push the struggling 16-bit consoles to their final limits instead. Although the game is audiovisually one of the finest efforts ever produced for 16-bit consoles, it's devoid of many things that add up to an entertaining game.

Manic frustration to infinity and beyond

Whenever no one's watching, toys come alive. This is the story of a pullstring cowboy doll named Woody, who has been his owner Andy's favourite toy for all of the boy's life. For Andy's seventh birthday, his mother buys him Buzz Lightyear, a highly advanced action figure of a space ranger. Woody tries to make friends with Buzz, but it turns out the egotistical Buzz believes himself to be a real space ranger, and somehow manages to impress the other toys to the point that the generic Woody's leadership and whole existence is forgotten. Woody grows so jealous of Buzz that he tries to "make him disappear", and finally succeeds, but as the pressure from the other toys becomes harder for him to bear, and as he realizes that Andy's feelings are the most important thing in the whole world to him, Woody sees no choice but to go on an adventure to save Buzz himself.

I went to see Toy Story in the theater - twice. When the VHS was released, I borrowed it from a friend for a week, and watched it every day. I was pushed around in school for watching kids' movies, imagine that... Toy Story is a story for all ages. To this day, it hasn't lost one bit of its edge. I think every Pixar and DreamWorks movie out there is above all, still out to challenge the whole Toy Story trilogy. Every movie in the trilogy is absolutely phenomenal, from the audiovisual presentation to storyline. Every second of the whole trilogy counts as one of the finest passing moments of CGI animation. Even though Toy Story 2 is perhaps my absolute favourite part of the trilogy, the first movie has an overwhelming aura about it, probably due to its legendary status of being the first full-length CGI feature in history. The video game came out at a bad time, for me, I mean - after all, it was one of the best-selling games of the final 16-bit stretch there was. I was simply more interested in whole new games for the new systems on the market. I was no hi-fi freak and years passed before I bought something to replace my SNES, but 99% of the new games that were released for 16-bit systems were crap, plain and simple. I thought Toy Story would be an exception, it got some positive reviews, but it's not. It's fancy-looking, semi-entertaining, but one of the most frustrating games there is. I'll give you a play-by-play commentary on the first few levels after this commercial break:

Look at those guys go.
The visuals are out to place one final cap on the 16-bit technology's significance and prowess. Toy Story looks phenomenal. However, its capacity can't hold on to infinity and beyond, so most plot twists outside of the gameplay are delivered by written messages only instead of actual cutscenes. Every now and then, there's one still image to accompany the written mission objective. The CGI animation is simply superb, so magnificent that with just a little bit more effort, this SNES title would look like a cheap, early PlayStation game. There's a relatively hefty amount of voice samples, recorded by original Toy Story voiceover artists Wallace Shawn and R. Lee Ermey, voiceover veterans Corey Burton and Pat Fraley, and finally, Woody is played by Jim Hanks, the younger brother of Woody's original voice talent, Tom Hanks. The samples have the best production money can buy. The music's a bit irritating, and it actually somewhat reminds me of the first Home Alone game (!). It's not really that bad, but I guess it's the starting environment that paints the ugly portrait.

In the first level, you need to find two things: the baby monitor and the bucket of army men. If you've seen the movie, you know the goal; the baby monitor works as your intercom as the army men go on a recon mission to investigate Andy's new toys. So, this is a standard platforming level. Although the controls are simple, the game's ways are somewhat awry. Woody's jump is not nearly as fluid and forceful as it might first feel like. Everything with question marks in platformers always signals a power-up, but in this game, balloons with question marks explode upon touch and burst out a series of marbles (?) that will damage you. Planes and trains are your only enemies in this level, and they cannot be destroyed, they can only be damaged or tied down for a very small window of time with Woody's pullstring. Trains are obviously incapacitated, while you never know how long a plane can go on without damaging you, once you hit it. They are definitely your worst concrete enemies programmed for this game. Since Woody can't jump properly, the idea is to go to the other end of the level, then back across a higher ground, and once again, back to the end once you've reached the highest level. Very often, you need to jump into the unknown, and that unknown might just be the floor of Andy's room, so yes, there's a lot of trial and error going to happen, and a lot of frustration related to backtracking. However, if you happen to lose all of your lives on this little trip, get ready for the worst.

Intermission! I'm not going to swirl around the subject any longer: there are no continues in this game. You can earn continues by collecting a certain amount of stars, but be warned that you need to be able to beat some really tough levels in the beginning of the game just for a chance to earn one continue. The amount of stars one continue needs to be spawned is ridiculous. You take most damage in this game by complete surprise. It requires so much trial and error, that it's absolutely impossible (and I mean it, impossible!) to beat it honestly without having to restart the whole thing maybe as many as five times, at least. There are 17 levels in this version of the game - and you'll be begging for mercy, or just a tiny little fragment of slack or forgiveness, just five or six levels into it! Eventually, when the game yet again returns to the title screen and prompts you to "Press Start", I don't blame you one bit if you indeed press a button, but Power instead of Start, and play some game that has at least some decency towards players. End intermission!

Woody, the great big buzzkiller.
In the second level, nothing can harm you - except for a very unforgiving time limit. You're supposed to guide a bunch of your fellow toys to their correct spots in Andy's room, 'cause the kid is coming up the stairs and if he sees something's wrong, your secret is exposed. OK, so two toys are supposed to go under the bed, while the rest belong in the chest. What you need to do first is get rid of every obstacle blocking the toys' way to both directions. Once you've done that, the toys that go under the bed should go there automatically. This is where the fun begins: you're supposed to go ON the bed. What this practically means is that once again, you need to run to the other end of the level, then back again, to engage in a frustrating race against time: you must step on a pump to fill a balloon, and the sudden inflation will throw the rampant toys up in the air and into the chest. This needs perfect timing, since the toys are running around like morons. If you miss the right moment just once, you'll lose a heap of valuable time. Keep in mind that there are no continues; if the time limit expires, it's game over! So you got them all in the chest, now you need to run all the way back to the end of the level and bounce onto the bed. If there's any less than 20 seconds left on your timer, you're toast. And what's worse, you need to watch it! Why couldn't the game automatically fail if there's just no way to succeed?

The third level's a "race" against Buzz Lightyear. You're not really racing - it's a little hard to sink in since the level's so hectic, but indeed the first thing you need to do here to have the slightest chance to succeed is ignore Buzz's impressive antics completely. It turns out to be a really frustrating, straightforward platforming level with planes, your new worst enemies in bouncing clowns and sharks, and a rail that you're supposed to cling onto and climb, but Woody just won't do it - your only option is to run through a pack of sharks jumping beneath this rail, and of course damage yourself in the process. Re-tar-TET. The level is followed by the game's first, and one of its only boss fights, against... Buzz Lightyear. Of course, this isn't for real, it's just in Woody's nightmare. This is a very simple and kind of cool boss fight, I really thought the game would finally pick up a little after that. How wrong I was... last and definitely least in my play-by-play, the worst part of the whole game.

Intermission II! I almost forgot, your health does not replenish between levels. Need I say more? End intermission.

A Buzz Clip is the game's first of several levels, in which you control an RC car in a Micro Machines-like setting. As RC cars usually do, your vehicle runs on batteries, and the battery's life cycle is your time limit in this level. Your goal is to navigate all kinds of junk by driving as fast as you can, find Buzz Lightyear and bump him straight off the table. If and when you succeed, he leaves behind a spare battery that replenishes your makeshift time limit. Then, you need to find him again several times in succession, each time the course gets harder. The controls of the car are simply horrible; it moves just the way it wants, nothing more, nothing less. You might be able to drive straight for several seconds and cop a decent feel of the driving, but then, for some inexplicable reason, the car might swerve straight into a junk wall, which steals priceless time from you, apparently if the game detects you're doing too well. Once again, run out of batteries enough times and you're in the title screen, given the riddle of a lifetime: "Press Start". Like I said, eventually the desire to do that will run out.

The final gates of hell.
I've seen a lot of unfair games in my day that some people mistake for "challenging", but Toy Story is at least very close to the top of that heap of impossibility. I think that if I had the slightest desire to start it over for the millionth time and not rest until I've completed it, I'd have to draw a perfect recreation of each level, each obstacle and each enemy, as well as measure the range of their movement on paper to have the slightest chance to succeed in my mission. Didn't they learn anything when people expressed their disbelief over the overwhelming pseudo-difficulty of The Lion King? Jesus, I'm not sure which one's worse!

Toy Story is one of those games that takes a lot and gives nothing back. It would be so much better with a series of relatively small efforts. For example, they could've made the graphical scale smaller, so the environment would be a little easier to investigate and you could somehow see even a little bit ahead of yourself. They could've let us destroy the enemies instead of just incapacitate them to an enigmatic extent. They could've made the driving controls better. They could've somewhat refined general controls. They could've given us at least one single continue by default! Would've, could've, should've. This is what we got, and we've got to live with it. Tragic. 

SOUND : 8.0


a.k.a. Disney's Toy Story

GameRankings: 79.57% (GEN), 69.50% (PC), 63.70% (SNES)

The Sega Genesis version has an originally exclusive level (Level 16: Day-Toy-Na) that was ported to the PC version. Consequently, another level (Level 11: Really Inside the Claw Machine) was removed from the PC version.

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