With almost every major movie title, there is a video game that comes along to cash in on it. In 1997 Goldeneye 007 was released on the Nintendo 64, in 2005 The Warriors received its own adaptation, and countless others have been released in years in-between and beyond. And while there is a wide, wide variance in quality among them, the 1995 video game adaptation of Pixar‘s Toy Story is the best one I have ever played. I remember going to my dad’s house every Friday, and that trip usually entailed him taking me to the nearest movie rental place and letting me pick which video game I wanted to rent for the weekend.
During the mid-1990s I had a Sega Genesis at my dad’s house, and Toy Story was a game I would rent so often that my parents just gave in and bought it for me after three straight weeks of renting. There are many reasons why the game captured me as a youth, its 18 levels (the Super Nintendo and PC versions had 17 levels, the Game Boy version only had 10 levels) were charmingly unique in terms of design. Some of the cast returned to voice characters, and the game was challenging 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 tie-in games did not offer a lot in terms of gameplay variance. And others, let’s face it, just weren’t good.
A lot of times with movie tie-in games, their development cycle is very short because studios want them to be released at or around the initial release of the films they are based on. This leads to a lot of cut corners and not-so-memorable gameplay. Toy Story is one of the rare exceptions when it comes to quality. The movie was released in November of 1995 and the video game version was released that same month on the Sega Genesis. A month later, it trucked along to Super Nintendo, Microsoft Windows, and Game Boy.
Toy Story had it all in terms of its level design, making it more than just an ordinary platformer a lot of games based on children’s movies were made (Aladdin and The Lion King being the most popular). While the levels coincided with the story of the movie, each level had its own unique feel and design. Levels like its first one, That Old Army Game, and one of its later stages (titled Sid’s Workbench) were your standard platforming levels. The only thing they all had in common was that the overarching goal of each one outside of its few boss battles (Giant Buzz Lightyear, and the Claw Machine to name a couple) was to get from one point to the other as Woody.
But the developers added a stealth level set at Pizza Planet, and a couple of chase levels — one had you dodging fireworks and cans while being chased by Sid’s dog as you ride atop Roller Bob. There were also multiple timed levels, one of which is a maze involving the squeaky and adorable aliens, with 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-controlled car RC — the catch of those levels is that you need to collect batteries while running out of power. If you fail to obtain a certain amount, you have to restart the level.
For a game made in 1995, its use of 3D characters really was a gamechanger for its time. In the Sid’s Workbench level, there is 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 yells “Hot, hot, hot!” The enemies and objects are also uniquely designed and do a great job of showing the difference between Andy and Sid’s personalities. The levels set in Andy’s room are bright, and enemies range from original 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 you have to not only dodge mutant toys and hit them with your drawstring, but you also have to jump in-between spiked yo-yos that are hanging.
I really wish there was a way for Nintendo to add Toy Story to its Genesis collection library, or that the game would get a re-release just like Aladdin and The Lion King did. Though it has been many years since I last played it, watching videos of playthroughs really brought back wonderful memories. The game devs over at Traveller’s Tales took risks and added unique and memorable twists on what a platform game could be. While the movie provided a blueprint, they found ways to make the game feel original and timeless, from its music to its Etch-A-Sketch mini-game. Toy Story really isn’t a game we should lose to the march of time, and modern movie tie-ins really could learn a thing or two from it.