Monday, May 5, 2014

Toy Story (SNES) Review

Written: May 2nd-5th, 2014
Year: 1995 | Developed by: Traveller's Tales and Psygnosis | Published by: Nintendo | Distributed by: Disney Interactive
Some of the image quality might be off due to a recent problem I've had with Windows Media Player, so I had to settle with Windows Movie Maker to obtain them.  ...I know, bummer, but I had to work with something.  Just a bit of heads up.
In the mid-80s there was a company that was formed by the name of PIXAR (initially called The Graphics Group) founded by John Lasseter, who had released a series of computer-animated shorts that received high acclaim such as The Adventures of AndrĂ© and Wally B, Luxo Jr., Red's Dream, and Knick Knack.  With the success of their 1988 short Tin Toy, which was based on a toy's perspective, Disney had asked them to make a movie which revolved around toys, only bigger.  After several rewrites and drafts, PIXAR would go on to create the first ever animated movie entirely made through CG: that movie was the 1995 classic Toy Story=)
Toy Story impressed and enthralled critics and audiences since release, and for good reason.  Not only was the 3D impressive for the time (still holds up for the most part), but it had a really good cast of actors, a memorable soundtrack led by Randy Newman, plus a really timeless and well-crafted story (with a lot of wit and heart too).  The screenplay was written by four people, and one of them was Joss Whedon; yes, the same Joss Whedon that wrote and directed Marvel's The Avengers back in 2012, which is awesome!  =D
Image from Wikipedia
That movie was awesome too, and I cannot wait for Avengers: Age of Ultron to come out next May.  He also helped create shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., produced and co-wrote for The Cabin in the Woods, et al.  He even penned the script for
Image from Wikipedia
eeheeuhhhhhhh, I don't think he wants to be reminded of this one.  =|  The point is that the man overall has an impressive resume and the movie was and is to this day a really well-deserved success.  And being the success that it was it warranted two very good theatrical sequels, a series of shorts that take place after the third movie (spoilers?), a Halloween special that I have yet to see (maybe I'll catch it this October), and of course a string of video games.  Some... better than others.
I didn't see the movie in theatres back when it first came out (I was four at the time, but I do recall having seen a trailer of it), but I did get introduced to it after it came out on VHS (unfortunately it wasn't letterbox formatted, which meant I had to sit through a pan-and-scan version; on the bright side the movie's not as wide as say 2.40:1, so not much was lost in the cropping, thank God... long story short, I loathe pan-and-scan with a passion and would rather watch a widescreen movie in widescreen as opposed to a 1.33:1 cropped up version of it).  I've enjoyed the movie a lot since the first time I've seen it, and it wasn't until 2009 that I got to see it for the first time on the big screen back-to-back with Toy Story 2 (in 3D) in preparation for the then upcoming summer's Toy Story 3 (which I also saw in 3D).  Good times!  =)
There were many video games based on the movie (and its sequels), and like many kids at the time I got to experience them around the same time or shortly after that they came out.  And for those that are wondering, yes, I did play all three video game adaptations that were made for the PC: the interactive novel, the... other interactive novel (I guess?  I didn't play that one as much), and of course the PC port of the MegaDrive/Genesis game.  And let's be honest, any platformer based on a license available on a PC was almost always available on the MegaDrive/Genesis first (though I speak from personal experience).  That was the first time that I played Toy Story (which I first knew about in the promo that played after the credits ended in the VHS tape), and months later when I visited my relatives I was ecstatic when I found out that one of my cousins had it for the SNES.  I was also surprised to see how... distinct both versions were, but I'll get to that later.
God, I miss that old Traveller's Tales logo... really takes me back  =(  Why did they have to change it to a bland one years ago?
The thing about Toy Story was that it was a fully CG-animated movie, so people wondered if it was possible to play it on the 16-bit console while emulating its look and feel.  With a little inspiration from Rareware's Donkey Kong Country that came out a year prior, developers Traveller's Tales and Psygnosis (the same team that brought us Mickey Mania: The Timeless Adventures of Mickey Mouse/Mickey's Wild Adventure) proved that they could, at least as best they could, but more on that later.  Toy Story for the SNES was one of those games that were distributed by Disney Interactive and released by Nintendo, but it wouldn't be the last time (same also occurred for Maui Mallard and Pinocchio).  But I've gone on long enough with this intro, how does the game fare compared to its source material?

No radio is voiced by Jon Lovitz in this game,
or in the movie for that matter  =(
Andy [insert last name here] is a little boy who has always enjoyed playing with his toys, especially Woody his longtime pullstring cowboy doll.  When humans are around the toys pretend to be lifeless, but once they're out of the room the toys come to life anthropomorphic style.  Then on Andy's birthday Woody and the toys (fearing their replacement) listen in on what toys he was given for his birthday.  And just when it seemed that it was over, a surprise present pops up in the form of Buzz Lightyear.  They all introduce each other, but there are two problems: a) Buzz doesn't realize he's a toy for he thinks he's a real space ranger, and b) Buzz is getting all the attention because of all the cool gadgetry (even by Andy) which makes Woody very jealous (he's long considered himself to be Andy's favorite toy).  Days before Andy's family moves out of their home they decide to go to Pizza Planet and he's told he can only bring one toy; planning on hiding Buzz 'til they come back, he controls RC Car to do the job but knocks Buzz out the window by mistake, which make the other toys very upset and vengeful at Woody.

Pop goes the "?" balloon
On the way to Pizza Planet the family fills up the minivan's fuel, and at that moment Buzz confronts Woody and they fight, to which they become stranded after the car leaves.  After hitching a ride to the arcade restaurant the two find their owner but Buzz gets distracted and enters a claw machine shaped just like a rocket, filled with Little Green Men aliens.  Unfortunately, the next in line for the game is Sid, Andy's sadistic neighbor who not only destroys some of his toys but combines elements of two toys to create "things"; after failing to escape the Claw Woody and Buzz get caught and dragged to his home.  Woody and Buzz will have to work together in order to get out of here alive.  Will the two learn that they've got friends in each other and get to Andy before he's too far to reach?  ...  Wow, so this is what summarizing a movie's plot is like.

The controls for Toy Story are simple as there are only two main actions: jumping and whipping with Woody's pullstring.  In the options you get to choose between NES-style (A to jump and B to whip) or SNES-style (vice versa); I always choose the latter because that control scheme is more comfortable that way.  You can also set up how many lives you wish to start with and whether to enable the storyline or not (not that it makes a difference as it's the same game regardless).  In this sidescrolling platformer Woody doesn't attack enemies, rather he stuns them momentarily with his pullstring.  He can also use it while ducking, while in midair, and he can even swing through a series of hooks with the pullstring to progress forward.  The jumping and whipping controls are decent, and what's fascinating is how there are a few areas that deviate from the genre.

RC Car about to hit Buzz
There are a couple of areas where you must race RC Car to the end of the stage where turning one direction is either done with the left or right buttons (he rotates 360 degrees), all the while collecting batteries so the remote control's energy doesn't die.  There is a stealth kind of stage where you have to sneak by without getting hit by falling or oncoming obstacles.  One of them involves flying your way through, and there is even one area that is viewed entirely in first-person view, which is pretty neat.  While there aren't that many stages that stray far from the sidescrolling formula, it does make things a little fresh while they last.  Woody has a health system that's up to 5, which can be replenished with a yellow star.  Should you gather enough regular stars throughout the game you might earn a continue (as from the get-go you've only got one).  There are also checkpoints which will prevent you from starting from the beginning of the area once you lose a life, which I feel works.

Impressive for its time, this 3D segment looks
a bit dated today
One of the main draws of this game was that its visual style was close to that of the movie, and looking at it today it's clear that it has aged a lot.  The characters, enemies, and items were prerendered in 3D, but mixing them alongside 2D backgrounds and platforms makes it reeeeeeally stand out like a sore thumb.  One of the reasons the Donkey Kong Country trilogy's visuals still look good to this day is because everything was prerendered in 3D and not just the characters (the backgrounds were drawn of course but they were designed in a way that it helped blend in).  Here, not so much.  Though to be fair there are elements that aren't bad.

Swinging away
For example, a lot of the areas look good, detailed, and colorful with some neat usage of Street Fighter II-like parallax scrolling (right down to the floors as you move left and right).  Most of the character models look a little fresh (with the exception of Woody, who looks like he's in need of polish, and the kids chasing their paper airplanes in Pizza Planet, who look like cardboard cutouts) despite showing a bit of age, especially RC Car and Rex.  The first-person area inside the claw machine looks very decent what with the 3D navigation involved (though the texture looks fairly dated), bringing to mind first-person shooters like Doom, and it makes me wonder if Traveller's Tales used a special chip to make that possible.  The animations are really fluid, and some of the foreground shelves have book spines that make clever nods towards previous PIXAR fare, such as Knick Knack and Tin Toy (nice).  The cutscenes from time to time even have screen captures of the movie, which surprisingly look rendered very well in 16-bit format (I still think they look good), and before each stage the memo/instructions are posted on an Etch-A-Sketch.  That is clever!  =)
Some things might stand out, and while it doesn't look as great as it did way back when, Toy Story for the SNES does still look a tad bit decent, even if time has aged it a lot.

Forget Woody's nightmare, I have a feeling
this portion in particular gave most children
nightmares!  =<
Soundwise, SNES Toy Story is okay.  The instrumentation is interesting what with the hard piano and some of the brass instruments that are played.  Here's the thing, though: a lot of the music here has got a samey feel to them, for some areas have different music that either ends or has a flourish in a very similar fashion, and I do mean similar.  For the bunk of the soundtrack it's rather laidback at points, which isn't a bad thing by itself, but for an action/platformer it sounds very unusual (this isn't Super Metroid).  Most of the songs are passable, but there are few which are likely to grate on people's nerves (Sid's room... with the banging sounds of a tool left and right).  >_<  Some of the highlights I feel are the song that plays during the first area, the third area where you compete against Buzz, the area where you confront Buzz, the playful sounding sleuth area in Pizza Planet, and the eerie-sounding music that plays during the "Really Inside the Claw Machine" 3D portion.  The rest, though... could benefit from either better composition or being redone all together.  =(

"I'm sorry I couldn't stop them from selling
you in the third movie, RC Car!  Ahhhhhh!!!"
How about the music that was lifted from the movie?  The movie's music was done by Randy Newman, and while his reputation nowadays is polarized among others, the songs that he wrote for the movie are fun and timeless.  During the title you get to hear the song "Strange Things" (sans the lyrics) which sounds very faithful in 16-bit format, only with a tad quicker tempo.  The full song too, which is a plus!  =)  For the longest time I've been curious as to why "You've Got a Friend in Me" (the movie's key song) wasn't playing in this song when it was available in both the PC and MegaDrive/Genesis versions.  Well, turns out they actually made the song in SNES format but some technical issues prevented it from playing in-game.  Just go to YouTube and The Cutting Room Floor if you don't believe me!  And the strange thing: peculiar instrumentation and faster tempo aside, it doesn't sound half bad!  What the hell?!?  So instead of listening to this wonderful song play during the cutscenes and credits (like you could in the other versions), all you listen to during these moments here is silence, which feels downright creepy and unsettling!  You know it's one thing if a song is made but is never used deliberately but it's completely another for a song to be made that was meant to be used but couldn't play due to technical issues!  Really upsets me!  >=(

Commander Peepers (c) Craig McCracken, Disney / Made by me via MS Paint
This is aimed at the game, not the game's composers
Wow, I never realized how terrible Pizza
Planet's service was
The sound effects are very decent.  The effects for when you collect the stars are nice (though a bit loud when several instances are played at once), the sound effect for when you bounce on a ball sounds rubbery, and RC Car makes squeaking sounds for when he turns or revs up.  The only sound effects I didn't like were the constant banging and hammer sounds that took place in Sid's room, over and over and over and over again, and it's made all the worse because they outsound the music (yeah, it's that annoying).  There are also some soundbytes from the movie, with phrases such as "Helloooo!", "To infinity and beyond," and "Yeeha!", et al; voiced faithfully not by the cast of the movie, but by several notable Disney voice actors, including Jim Hanks (Tom's brother who voiced Woody in the first segment of Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: The Adventure Begins) and Corey Burton (who not only gave the voice for Captain Hook in the times he's spoken in Disney's House of Mouse (someone had to write that) and Return to Never Land but also gave the voice to the ship's captain in the Wander Over Yonder episode "The Ball").  Just to give some examples.

Must progress by rope
When Toy Story the video game came out it was a huge hit, seeing that the movie was a box office success at the time.  And while this game was successful in terms of sales, that didn't say anything about its overall reception.  Since it came out its polarized gamers, with some gamers falling in the camp of liking it while also creating a camp that did not like it, for various reasons all together.  Reasons people would like it: it's charming and colorful, with some decently designed areas, incorporating some stages where you stray from the regular formula, the visuals faithfully capture the look of the movie (for the most part), and the controls are good.  Reasons people would not like it: it's challenging, the areas are short, until you get three hundred stars in the game you've only got one continue, the obstacles could've been improved here and there, Woody's invincibility time is about a second long, it has to be beaten in one sitting, and the game itself is fairly short too.

Woody, incapacitator of Potato Heads
One of the main drawbacks to Toy Story is that it's a very short game, and the brevity of its areas helped contribute to that.  Most of the areas are pretty straightforward (with some upper levels in a few of them), while two of them is open-ended in design.  A few of them are just a single segment, and that's relegated to boss battles.  What prevents them from being mindlessly boring are the obstacles that are laid about, and from time to time there are checkpoints that help you on your way.  Woody only has a health of five, but it doesn't fully replenish itself once you get to the next area, which may have turned off a lot of people.  Now it's not so much an issue that it has to be beaten in one sitting (as it's not a very long game), but the difficulty did not please everyone considering that it was aimed for younger gamers.

Get the toys back in their place before Andy
comes back
I don't consider Toy Story to be a thoroughly hard game per se, though there are obstacles to go through that demand a little challenge.  This is one of those trial-and-error kind of games, in particular during a couple boss fights where following the proper pattern and timing your attack right is an absolute must.  Speaking of timing, there is one area where there are moving platforms and you must jump on them at the right time to get on them otherwise you'll fall and have to go up again.  There are times when obstacles may rise up or fall down right in front of you, meaning you'll have to stop until the way is clear, sometimes back to back.  A couple of the stages are timed, meaning you'll have to do everything you can in that allotted amount of time.  I can see what Traveller's Tales' intentions were with the difficulty for this game, but it overall feels underwhelming with not as many enemies as there should be and could benefit from more interesting versatility.  For the most part I find Toy Story to be very manageable (I was a kid when I first played it, and I found it hard at the time, but the game got a little easier for me the more I played it), but there is one area that will prove to be a big task to get through alive: escaping from Sid's dog, Scud.

Oh yeah, because that's clearly how claw
machines work on the inside!  <_ font="">
There are a few force-scroller stages in this game, with a couple of them being likened to obstacle courses.  The first one where you ride on Rex is manageable enough, but when you escape with Roller Bob they try to throw everything at you all at once requiring to react in the nick of time, even as Scud trails right behind you as bombs and rockets are being thrown at you simultaneously.  It's beatable if you persevere, but its frenetic pace and hammered-in obstacles make it the only difficulty spike in the overall package.  I won't say that adding challenge to a kids' game is ill-advised per se, but if you're going to do that then make sure that there's room for smooth maneuverability and manageability too.  No kid will be patient enough to get through that force-scroller area in particular (if they get that far), even if the rest of the game is slow paced.  There is a code which enables complete invincibility throughout the game; I'm not saying you'll need it exactly, but if you don't feel confident playing the legitimate route here is what you have to do:
in the first area right next to where the Bank is (by the toy biplane on a string), bounce on the ball and land yourself on the bottom drawer.  At this point crouch yourself until you see your health star spin left and right.  Congratulations, now you're invulnerable to not only health loss but life loss as well!  Unfortunately it'll make the difficulty even more underwhelming than it already was.  =(

Getting into gear
Toy Story the video game's heart is in the right place and it clearly shows its ambition throughout, but its brevity and underwhelming difficulty drag the experience down a lot.  Some of the stages that stray from the platforming genre are nice, but there could've been more.  While the majority of the game is manageable, Scud's stage is the only one that will truly prove to be herculean.  Its slow pace makes it somewhat manageable, but I would've appreciated some more engaging versatility and some more obstacles to add a tad more challenge.  The visuals, dated though they may be, do look decent but are not in any way, shape, or form seamless with the 2D backgrounds and prerendered characters.  The soundtrack is okay (with lots of low points here and there), but I'm very disappointed that "You've Got a Friend in Me" actually was composed for the SNES but could not be played when it was the main movie's song, especially since it sounds really good.  The gameplay is good but I wish there was more, as even at seventeen stages (eighteen in the MegaDrive/Genesis version) it's a short game given that many of its areas aren't that long.

Gears, gears, everywhere!
I do still have fondness for this game and there are moments that I find fun in it from time to time, but its underwhelming structure left a lot to be desired.  A lot of the areas and key moments were lifted from the movie, and I like that, don't get me wrong, but I can see how one may find this game to be bad.  I don't consider it bad personally and I do get that its ambitious, but it is a heavily flawed game which could've used some more polish and clean up to make it a little more enjoyable and exciting; but for what it is, SNES Toy Story is average fare.  Though as far as average fare is concerned I'd much rather play this game than the blandly uninteresting Super Adventure Island or the depressingly and unenjoyably stale Mega Man VII.  But then, I'd rather play any game that doesn't make me feel depressed.

Just import this game if you don't believe me!
A dark and grim story coupled with demanding high difficulty: because that's not going to upset anyone at all!  Gosh-dammit it all, Namco!
If you're curious about Toy Story on the SNES it's worth a try to see what the only 16-bit video game adaptation of a PIXAR movie was like, though you may have to lower your expectations.  If you're in the mood for a manageable movie-licensed platformer, this one's not so bad.  If you're looking for the best movie-licensed title you'll find on the console, your best bet is Disney's Aladdin.  If you want to play a game where some stages stray from the formula, then you should try it.  Just don't expect too much if you decide to go in; not as good as the movie it's based on (obviously), but while it could've been better it could've been a lot worse too.  Still, I'm glad I got my thoughts on this game out of the wa---
Did you say "worse"?
Oh, no!  >_<
Because I just so happened to have found a diminutive version of this game
Y-You don't mean...
Oh yes!  I am referring to that version: the Game Boy version
Game Boy version?  You're telling me there's a Game Boy version of Toy Story?  Have you seen the game I just reviewed?
Yes, but I'm afraid in that your time spent with this review you've forgotten that there was just such a version
You're lying!  You don't know what you're talking abut!  That is the most ill-advised thing I've ever heard in my life, for there could be no good coming from th---
Have fuuuuuun~
*shakes head* I hate you...

( >'.')>TO EACH THEIR OWN<('.'< )
P.S.: Yes, the Game Boy version is real, and I can tell you right now that it's not up to par with the SNES version.  At all!
P.S. 2: I like to pretend that Traveller's Tales never changed their logo; it was fine and endearing and charming and likable.
P.S. 3: I think that Disney's House of Mouse is okay.  I liked it at the time that they showed it, but a part of me has always felt that it's just not great (and in retrospect, it's not, but the Disney ensemble was nice and clever).  As flawed as Return to Never Land was, I personally don't think it's bad as for the most part it's a very decent sequel to Peter Pan.  Captain Hook is a real highlight in both movies.
P.S. 4: And yes, I am aware that Corey Burton also voices Captain Hook in Jake and the Never Land Pirates.  I just never watched that show, not a single episode; but the animation does look endearing and colorful from the promos I've seen of it, even one they actually showed in theatres believe it or not.
P.S. 5: And while we're still on the subject of Peter Pan, may Bob Hoskins rest in peace.  He played a very fun and enjoyable Smee in Steven Spielberg's Hook, and all those other fun and enjoyable roles he's played in his career.  It'll never be the same without him.  ='(
P.S. 6: In irrelevant news, I just saw The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and I liked it, personally; but I'll never look at its predecessor the same way again.  Not a bad movie to kick off 2014's summer, though I do understand why it's got middling reviews.
P.S. 7: Thank God the Toy Story trilogy came out in theatres way before very late 2013, otherwise we'd have had to put up with the annoying videos before and after the trailers played with the condescendingly obnoxious narrator and the red balls in AMC Theatres that they still play today.  It may be cute the first time, but over half a dozen times later it's grating and you hope that it ends really quickly!  >=(  WHO OKAYED THIS?!?!?
P.S. 8:
Oh, Buzz, you showboat.
Thank you for reading my review, please leave a comment and I hope you have a great summer!  Take care!

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