You have to wonder what took Activision so long to finally bring the Toy Story license to life by way of a kart-racing game. It seems like every license under the sun is destined to become a kart racer sooner or later. At any rate, Activision's Toy Story Racer is exactly what many have come to expect from a mascot-driver kart racer: a game that is easy and fun to play with familiar and popular characters from movies and cartoons. Simply put, the bulk of kart-racing games on the market are aimed at a much younger market than most games, and the gameplay in Toy Story Racer certainly falls in line with other games in the genre.
With more than 100 challenges, Toy Story Racer has quite a lot to offer. What sets this game apart from other similar games is the variety of races, which are not limited to a simple four laps around a track. For instance, the game contains a battle mode in which you are pitted against your fellow toys in a circular arena, and the object of this challenge is to knock out as many of your opponents as possible by tossing various items, such as balls or sheep, in their way. Also of note is the tournament mode, which adds a point system to a series of short races: The winner of each race is awarded a certain number of points, and the toy with the most points at the end of the tournament walks away victorious. There is also the standard four-lap race. Early on in the game, the challenges are simple, but as you progress further into the game, new twists are added, such as imposing a time limit on the race or having to finish the race without getting hit by another character's projectiles.
To make matters more interesting, after every victory, you are awarded a green army man as a trophy. As you'll see after just a few races, you will need progressively more and more army men to unlock more challenges. To make your way through the entire game, you will need to play through with just about all of the ten available characters in the game. While the sheer number of challenges, types of races, and playable characters makes for a rather long game, it does serve to become somewhat repetitive after a short time, as there are only so many ways you can dress up the tracks available in the game. This does not detract from the overall fun the game, as it is just as fun to pick up for a few races at a time.
The controls for Toy Story Racer couldn't be simpler. You can steer with either the D-pad or analog stick, supply acceleration with the X button, brake and reverse with the O button, and finally use items or power up with any of the shoulder buttons. Controlling your toy of choice onscreen is just about as easy, which makes for an enjoyable experience. To add a touch of realism, the speed and handling of you car varies depending on the terrain. While going uphill, you will slow down considerably, as if you were driving over a heavy rug. In an outdoor level, you will be able to control yourself easier if you choose to drive over cement rather than tall grass.
Visually, the characters and levels are taken directly from the two blockbuster movies. While they are significantly less detailed than their big-screen counterparts, you'll find yourself immersed in familiar surroundings, racing against familiar faces. As is the case with more than a few games of this ilk, the PlayStation hardware has a little difficulty drawing in backgrounds in time with the fast pace of the races. As a result, there is a noticeable amount of pop-up, but the game does not seem to slow down even when the screen is alive with action. Sadly, Randy Newman, who composed the score of the two Toy Story movies, does not supply the in-game music. While it would have been a nice touch to add the familiar tunes, the music and sound contained within the game manage to keep within the same whimsical vein. It should also be noted that the same actors who supplied the voices for the films supply the voice acting in the game.
Toy Story Racer is a fine example of how a company can put a new twist on a familiar concept. It's no Crash Team Racing, but Toy Story Racer provides plenty of challenge for young and old alike.