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You've Got a Friend In Motion Pixles -- Toy Story on Sega Genesis!!

Throughout the history of videogames, various consoles have served as one of the many pulpits for the gospel of film marketing. Videogame adaptations of movies are a strange breed. Motion Pixels will examine one such game each week, dissecting the basic gameplay, the graphics, and how faithfully it adapts the film on which it is based. Some are good, some are awful, and some are just down right weird, but they are all interesting experiments. We will also take a look at other cogs in a given film’s marketing machine. Grab some popcorn and a joystick and let the games begin!



Game/Movie: Toy Story

System: Sega Genesis

Developer: Traveler’s Tales (Distributed by Disney Interactive)

Year of Release: 1996



Graphics and Mechanics

I certainly hadn’t intended to cover two Disney-licensed Genesis games in such a short span of time, but fate intervened. I was at a used bookstore and happened to wander into a forgotten corner where a lone videogame case stood. Inside was a lovingly used (read “beat-to-shit”) copy of the Toy Story game. The label was almost completely torn off, but there was no mistaking the remnants of the faces smiling at me from the cartridge.

Toy Story looks and sounds utterly fantastic. The characters are so well rendered and fully-realized that, but for a few minor distortions, you could swear they had simply been dragged and dropped from the film directly into your console. Although I’m aware that one of the advantages the SNES had over the Genesis was a more plentiful color spectrum, I found the visuals of Toy Story on Genesis to be vibrant and engaging. The environments don’t play up the foreground depth as much as does the SNES but the vertical angles to the environments were particularly stunning. I don’t know if Andy lives in a mansion or an airport hangar, but those shelves went up for days. I also enjoyed the detail used to define the scale of objects in order to highlight the struggles inherent in being toy-sized.

The gamer plays as Woody, the beloved cowboy doll. Woody’s sole means of defense is his pullstring, which he whips in all directions and also uses to swing about in order to negotiate wider expanses. I’m going to stop describing this as it sounds suspiciously like I’m describing some other part of Woody’s anatomy. The player is also given the opportunity to ride Rex, steer RC, and surf along on Roller Bob as you escape Sid’s house and try to avoid getting eaten by Scud.

The designers of this game were clearly intent on ensuring that the gamer got his or her money’s worth, as the number of levels in this game is impressive. Not only that, but many of the levels are complex and extensive. It’s interesting to note this in context to Toy Story the film. Revisiting the film recently, it struck me how intensely brisk it is paced. If the game and the film were identically paced, you’d been done playing in the time it takes to watch a single Pixar short. As arduous as this made completing the game, the volume and creativity of levels instantly upped the replay value.

Also benefiting the replay value is the ingenuity applied to prevent the gameplay from becoming stale. There are levels with specific missions—relayed to the player via Etch-a-Sketch...

...such as timed levels, driving levels, and levels featuring platform timing elements so complicated as to feel like elaborate puzzles, specifically the inside of The Claw machine. There are also levels that seem to wholesale lift gaming elements from other recognizable titles. The level wherein Woody must search the innards of The Claw machine to rescue wayward aliens uses almost the exact same engine as Castle Wolfenstein...


...and the level that has the player racing back to Andy’s house on RC feels eerily reminiscent of Pole Position.


But this incorporation of other games was done so playfully and with its own flair, that it didn’t feel like they were ripping off either one; as opposed to last week’s Alien on Atari.

There is, however, a fundamental gameplay element that does bother me about Toy Story. In any given level, Woody’s pullstring will bind and restrain an enemy for a brief increment of time...

...but will not actually destroy that enemy. This makes the game so much more difficult than it needs to be by injecting an additional obstacle and especially interfering with the player’s ability to create timing strategies. Part of me understands this and even applauds the designers for holding so true to the film. Since Woody is such a champion of the importance of toys in a child’s life, it makes sense that he wouldn’t actually destroy them. But for the love of Andy’s absentee father, why can’t they just fall over or something so as to be removed from the field of play? It also bugged me that Woody’s hit points did not reset from level to level.


Playing Before Instructions

As much as I loved this game as a kid, falling back into it was not the simple task Aladdin proved to be. Frankly, it got downright aggravating. The very first level paints this as a light, breezy game that is almost infantile in its ease. This delusion is quickly shattered as each level gets progressively more difficult and the lack of default continues becomes a hefty problem. I kept seeing the word “continue” in the lower right corner of every “level complete” screen...

...but never witnessed the counter just below those words rise above zero. As a result, I would continually get to certain point, exhaust all of my lives, and be hurtled back to the start of the game. It reminded me of playing Darkman as it became a race to make it back to the site of my defeat and hope I had enough lives and hit points in tow to propel me forward. Four hours later, I had reached my wit’s end and decided to consult the oracle that is the Internet.



Playing After Instructions

As it turns out, there is an economy to this game that simultaneously exacerbates its difficulty and represents the only logistical method of beating it. Scattered throughout every level are tiny gold stars. What I regarded as trivial grabs for a higher score turned out to be a critical game factor. Getting all 50 stars in a given level will earn the player an extra life.  For every 200 total stars you collect, you will be given the opportunity to play a bonus games to earn extra hit points. Every 300 stars gathered will net you that coveted extra continue. The convenient thing about having to strive to collect stars in order to effectively maneuver through the game is that most of the levels do not carry a time limit and you can therefore engage in this star search to your heart’s content. There’s something about this demand of the gamer to amass gold that poetically speaks to Disney’s measure of human worth.



Mission Accomplished?

I am happy to report that I was in fact able to beat Toy Story. Even with the revelation about the value of the gold stars, it still took me several hours to accomplish this task. The two levels in Sid’s room were the most difficult. The sheer number of enemies and the incredibly complicated pull-string swinging strategies were absurd.


Faithful to its Source?

Sega’s Toy Story follows the movie to a tee, much like the Aladdin game. The story elements of the film that aren’t played out explicitly by the gamer are communicated via interstitial screen shots from the film itself.

While there are a few levels that operate within the confines of the film’s plot while not necessarily within environments that were visible to the viewer, there is one such level that is wholly manufactured by the developers. This level is a dream sequence involving Woody being attacked by a giant Buzz...

...which also represents to the only actual boss in the game. This is an interesting deviation from the structure of most games. The game also features recognizable sound bites from the film as well as 16-bit versions of Randy Newman’s spectacular original songs.

But beyond recreating the film’s entire plot, there are so many little touches throughout the game that pay specific and endearing homage to the film. There is a particular moment in the first level that is so subtly engrained in the flow of the game that it would be easy to miss if you weren’t looking for it. As the troops parachute down from the top of the dresser, one of them suffers a malfunction with his chute and falls flat on the floor. He writhes there for a bit before one of the helicopters hovering through the room backs up and sends down a lifeline. It is reminiscent of the scene early in the film wherein Andy’s mom steps on an army guy and the sergeant, refusing to leave a man behind, goes back for him. I also enjoy the book on the shelf in Andy’s room labeled Tin Toy, a reference to Pixar’s first short as well as a carryover from the film. The iconic lamp and star-clad ball can also be observed.



Final Thoughts

There are those who would argue that simply rehashing the plot of the film, almost exclusively, is a lazy method of game development. I can certainly agree to a certain extent, but not in the case of Disney games. So many of Disney’s greatest films are so excitingly adventure-based that they perfectly lend themselves to game adaptation. As a kid, even as a tween by the time Toy Story was released, I found myself watching Disney movies and imagining myself as the characters in the film; experiencing what they experienced and being heroes just as they were. Toy Story on Sega gave us the chance to fly with Buzz, to sneak into Pizza Planet disguised as fast food...

...and to step into the boots of the dearly loved leader of Andy’s room.



Licensed to Sell

It’s not as if you need search the most out-of-the-way pawn shops and roadside dirt malls to get your hands on some Toy Story merchandise. For a while, it seemed the Disney store at my local galleria was being kept solvent entirely by Woody and Buzz memorabilia and apparel. But I must say I am surprised to see a Toy Story Tree-Growing Kit sporting the image of one of the aliens from The Claw machine. I suppose the immediate association is the fact that the aliens were green and planting a tree represents adopting a green initiative, but to say it’s a loose association is to say Sid demonstrates serious warning signs of borderline personality disorder.



Brian Salisbury  


Readers Talkback
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  • what version of the Toy Story movie did you see, a poorly-bootlegged DVD?

  • May 31, 2011, 2:56 p.m. CST

    I just don't understand

    by glenn_the_frog

    How a review of a video game from 16 years ago is either "cool" or "news". Interviews with actors even if they aren't doing anything is at least insightful... And the behind the scenes pic of the day is at least cool sometimes... but this?

  • May 31, 2011, 2:58 p.m. CST


    by Nick

  • May 31, 2011, 2:58 p.m. CST


    by Nick

  • May 31, 2011, 3:27 p.m. CST

    What the hell?

    by A G

    I'm actually FOR this kind of content but that came out of nowhere. A more interesting feature might feature computer games which are SEQUELS to movies. For some reason the Goonies II game stands out on the NES. Also, Behind the Scenes Pic of the Day is very very over. Can it, asap.

  • May 31, 2011, 3:34 p.m. CST


    by SebastianHaff

    I was the only fourth grader in America who didn't see Toy Story in the theater. My parents didn't let us have video games, so I used to go to my friend's house to play Toy Story on Genesis, as it was the closest I could get to seeing the movie till it came out on video. Keep in mind, it took nearly a year back then for something to hit home video, and that's a hell of a wait when you're the only kid who hasn't seen the hip new film! <br><p> Anyway, this game made my expectations for the movie so fucking high, I knew it'd never live up. <br><p> And then, the movie fucking topped it. Man, I'm all nostalgic for both right now! Going to fire up my Toy Story blu-ray, and see if I can find any Toy Story Genesis roms for my Mac. Bye-bye.

  • May 31, 2011, 3:37 p.m. CST


    by SebastianHaff

    When the movie finally hit VHS, Mom let my brother and I each choose a movie at the video store. My brother immediately snatched up Toy Story, and I knew he would, so I marched right by the kid's section, summoned as much courage as I could, and rented Night of the Living Dead for the first time. I think Toy Story followed by Night of the Living Dead, to this day, might be the best double feature I've ever had.

  • I mean, come on...

  • May 31, 2011, 4:17 p.m. CST

    Re: Sega/TOY STORY

    by ArmageddonProductions

    You were still playing Genesis (or any other 16-bit console) in 1996? That's the year PlayStation came out. Don't get me wrong; they never bothered to update "Skitchin'" for the next-gen consoles, so the Genesis still gets my love to this day, but I remember forgetting allllllll about the Genesis, the S-NES and the Neo for a while after the first time I saw somebody play "Resident Evil" on a PlayStation.

  • May 31, 2011, 5:38 p.m. CST

    Forgive my video game ignorance...

    by SebastianHaff

    But what is a Neo?

  • May 31, 2011, 5:43 p.m. CST

    I was almost 18 when I got this game for Christmas.

    by sweeneydave

    I rolled my eyes for getting what I thought was gonna be a "baby" game. LOVED the game as soon as I started playing it. It was the perfect companion piece to the movie. I eventually could beat the game without losing a single life.

  • May 31, 2011, 5:44 p.m. CST

    re: armageddonproductions

    by sweeneydave

    9 months later I went off to college, witnessed Resident Evil played for the first time. And yes, although we kept the RE game outside of our dorm room for fear of demonic retaliation, I was SOLD on PlayStation.

  • May 31, 2011, 5:57 p.m. CST

    I wasn't allowed to see movies in the theatre until

    by sweeneydave

    I turned 18 in January. Toy Story was my first movie theater experience. I remember asking my friends to tell me how similar the game was to the movie.

  • May 31, 2011, 9:58 p.m. CST

    sebastianhaff, the Neo he's referring to is...

    by Inexplicable_Nuclear_Balls

    the Neo Geo game console made by SNK. It was insanely expensive, about $600 for the unit and $200 per game. It was the exact same hardware SNK used in its arcade machines, so you were getting a duplicate of that at home. It never had much of an installed userbase due to the cost.

  • May 31, 2011, 10:57 p.m. CST

    Can we get a list of links to all the prior articles in this series?

    by wackybantha


  • June 1, 2011, 3:58 a.m. CST

    You guys are young.

    by Dennis_Moore

  • June 1, 2011, 7:36 a.m. CST


    by Ron Mexico

    After seeing the first couple of pics I had to scroll to the talkbacks to see if anyone else had the same thought as me. Bravo.

  • June 1, 2011, 7:55 a.m. CST

    I was the only 4th grader in America who didn't

    by durhay

    see E.T. in the theatre. Not that my parents wouldn't take me, I just didn't care to see it for some reason. But I bought the novelization. Strange.

  • June 1, 2011, 8:56 a.m. CST

    again, not to be a thorn... need more 'classics' from the industry.

    by nssdigitalchumps

    If you're going to go in the way back machine to talk video games you have to include the Odyssey, 2600, 5200, Atari PC, Neo Geo, 3DO and (God forbid) the CD-I. Make yourself a well-rounded reviewer and explore some systems you may not have experienced. You'll find some gems. Neo Geo AES is fantastic, btw. I've always wanted one. It was $699 for the system and $299 for the games (they were basically the arcade games compressed into a very large cartridge).

  • June 1, 2011, 12:34 p.m. CST

    Links to previous articles?

    by Bruce Thomas Wayne

    These are great reads.

  • June 1, 2011, 1:07 p.m. CST

    Links to previous articles!

    by RichardLuzT

    So many of us want it

  • June 1, 2011, 8:31 p.m. CST

    nssdigitalchumps, I agree about the classics

    by Inexplicable_Nuclear_Balls

    Although I don't believe there were any games based on films for the Odyssey. I would also add ColecoVision to your list. It's the only console you can play WarGames on.