Toy Commander


Review by Don Evanoff

No Cliche


Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 9

Overall: 9

Well…The Dreamcast is now a dead system. No need to liner on the point. Just because a majority of gamers out there are more interested in the next Tekken installment than something innovative, that is not my concern. But, now that the system is gone, we can now start thinking about “classics” or “must-haves” for the system. While the list for Dreamcast “must-haves” is long, Toy Commander is certainly near the top.

Who didn’t set up huge battles with their toys as a child? Lego and shoebox cities, alphabet block and hot-wheel track highways. Racing their model cars full of urine. (huh?) All this and more is accomplished in Toy Commander. A variety of missions take you through battles in cities, races on the ground and through the air, and search-and-rescue and infiltration missions. And similar scenarios take on a new feel and difficulty as you progress through the game, moving from room to room in Average House, U.S.A.

Toy Commander is about a group of evil toys that are tired of loosing in play battles with the boy of the house. Huggy Bear, the ring-leader of the rogue toys, has taken control of the house, commandeering each of the rooms with the help of evil sub-commander toys (i.e. bosses). Each room is divided into six to eight missions, with an additional mission against the boss of that room. After successfully completing four missions in a room, you can move on to the next open room of the house. Progress through all the rooms of the house and you encounter Huggy Bear in a final battle. But wait! It is not that simple. Yes, you can complete a room without encountering the boss, moving on through the house to the final battle with Huggy Bear. But, no, you can not fight Huggy Bear without conquering several of the bosses. You must use the conquered bosses against Huggy Bear, as they are your only weapons against him. And to meet a boss in combat, you must complete three of the individual missions of a room in a shorter time than the boss has determined for that mission. A mission can be conquered without the best time, but a best time is necessary to encounter the boss. Without the boss conquered, there is no way to conquer Huggy Bear.

One of the great aspects of Toy Commander is the wonderful sense of scale No Cliché has created. Possibly the best example of this scale is during a battle in a city being ravaged by a Godzilla-like monster in a bunny suit. You control two vehicles to stop this “giant” before he flattens and burns the city; an armed jeep and a helicopter. I use the term “giant” because the Godzilla is only three feet tall, but you control vehicles the size of Matchbox cars in a child’s bedroom. You drive around carpeted and play-track streets, roll up and down Hot-Wheels parking garages, fly in and out of cardboard and Lego skyscrapers, but can pull back to discover the relation between your battle and the boy’s bedroom. Suddenly the cityscape has become a play-set, and the battle a noisy playtime activity which a mother would complain about.

Other games have tried to convey this scaling atmosphere before. Some well, like Micro Machines and Micro Maniacs, and others not so well, like Army Men. The Army Men series most closely resembles Toy Commander in concept, but Army Men has always failed to realize what it is supposed to be…toy combat. Army Men is a combat game disguising itself, and evading ESRB adult ratings, by coloring it’s soldiers solid green or tan. Throwing in the occasional alphabet block or hanging a bath towel in the background does not translate into toy warfare. True, Toy Commander focuses more on vehicle combat than man-to-man fighting, but Army Men never made you feel like you were playing with toys. The battlefields seemed more like hostile terrain than a sandbox or bedroom floor, and the soldiers seemed more like, well, soldiers than plastic toys. Seeing a figure melt from a flame-thrower is small consolation for a lack of effective game design.

Speaking of game design, another strong suit of Toy Commander is the gorgeous layout of the different rooms in the house. As well, the play-fields show an enthusiasm in their structure, not just getting to point B from point A without letting enemy C get you. The combination of room and mission bring a unique feel to the game play, despite the similarity of two separate missions. An air race in the boy’s bedroom can have a feeling of playfulness as you swoop and dive through bunk bed ladders, tented album covers, and over fish tanks, while another air race in the attic can take on a dark, confining tone as you bank by dusty cobwebs, buzz over discarded photo albums, and loop over abandoned wire dress mannequins. The overall impression is enhanced by the little details, like the snowflakes falling against the ceiling skylights, smoke puffing from a damaged vehicle, or the steady flames of a fireplace or you burning home base. And background action keeps the whole scene alive and moving with anti-aircraft missiles streaking through the dining room sky, opposing aircraft dive-bombing a base, and ground men providing cover fire as you attack the enemy on his turf. Witnessing the thought and commitment that went into each level, it is hard to believe this was No Cliché’s first game, or that Toy Commander was a first release title for Dreamcast.

There are problems with the game, but are so subtle that they can hardly be called distracting or detrimental. Slow down is rare, despite the amount of activity or rendering in a scene, and when it occurs, it is brief. Multi-player game play has some drawbacks. It can be difficult to track down an opponent, especially when competing in one of the larger rooms. And sometimes the camera angles can switch on you when in a corner or other tight spot, causing some disorientation. But again, this is rare and not nearly the problem gamers have encountered in other games, like Jedi Power Battles.

I could go on and on about this game, but I’ve got other games to play. No Cliché did a superb job with Toy Commander. They had fun creating it, and that fun carries over to its game play. A lot of imagination went into the missions, as referenced earlier by the bunny-costumed monsters or urine-filled cars (I won’t go into that one). And the game makers seemed intent on torturing every toy cow in sight whenever aliens are encountered. Replayability is above average because of the number of missions per room to complete, plus the time challenge of each mission to overcome. And as you complete more missions, more play fields open for multi-player combat.

It is a shame we are seeing the end of Sega consoles. Sega has always encouraged unique game development, unlike other Tekken-tag-snowboarding-Madden plagued systems. Sega showed us that it is a good thing to keep playing with our toys when popping Toy Commander in the Dreamcast. You should give it a shot to show both Sega and No Cliché you agree.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:34 PM