The N64 version of Toy Story 2 surprisingly doesn't win any graphics competitions against the PlayStation game, and actually falls short of the 32-bit companion. The gameplay, however, salvages what the visual side is lacking. Unfortunately, the lack of animated cutscenes from the film is sorely missed. Part of what makes the Toy Story 2 game experience fun is that it's like interacting with the movie. Still screens with oversimplified text just doesn't seem the Pixar way.
Toy Story 2 is something like n-Space's Rugrats: Search for Reptar in that it has mission-based levels set off a hub, which, in both cases, is a house, and that it follows the film's scenarios to a T. Toy Story 2 is larger, with about 15 levels (three levels within five zones) you can play through them either as quickly and easily or as difficultly as you wish. By picking up all the items and solving all the puzzles, Toy Story 2 has a bit more complexity than Rugrats, which probably exists more in the "good for kids" category. Toy Story 2 wants to appeal to a broad range of gamers, not just kids, and this is obvious in its level design. In each of the levels you have several objectives. You have puzzles to solve, tokens to collect, enemies to fight, and items to find - in addition to a boss fight at the end of zone. However, once you complete one objective, you have the option to move on, fight the boss, and work your way to the next zone. It's usually easy to acquire 50 tokens in a level, as they're scattered about the environment, often lending clues as to which obstacles you can jump on, and so forth. You can also pick up tokens from dead toys you've destroyed with your Buzz Lightyear laser. Eventually you must go back and replay levels, if you haven't picked up all the goods, as you'll need a decent-sized stash of Pizza Planet tokens to advance toward the final stages. But as in any game, you learn certain skills as you progress that will make stages that had seemed difficult in the beginning much easier.
The graphics, however, were disappointing. Not bad, but not what you'd hope for from the N64 - given what developers started out with in the Toy Story motif. With movie license games, it's easy to assume that the PlayStation/N64 trade-off, should both versions exist, will be graphics for the N64 and sound and fmv for the PlayStation. This is not the case. The PlayStation version actually has both, and the N64 offering was pretty weak. Without scenes from the film, the movie's energy is gone. The look and feel is there, but the mood is not. The environments are colorful; they're mostly easy to get around in and free of depth perception. But the color seemed a little flat on the N64, even with the same nice touches found in the PlayStation version, such as Buzz's reflection being visible from inside his space helmet when you're in targeting or close-up mode. The cameras presented a bit of a problem. You could choose passive or active cameras, with either you in charge of the camera or the camera in charge of itself. You decide. What's good is that you can change between active and passive cameras on the fly during gameplay. You'll probably find yourself doing this quite often in the beginning. When the active camera is agreeable, it's suspiciously good. But then, seconds later, you'll find yourself cornered in an alley, pushing a box next to a chair that you must jump on to leap onto a scale that will in turn send you soaring into the air. This isn't fun with a camera whipping around you like a mosquito, yet you've too much going on to manage your camera while you navigate your jumps, grabs, and leaps. This becomes a problem far too often, dragging the game's overall score down a bit.
It's certainly not the worst camera system out there, and you will get used to it and probably settle on the active camera at some point, cursing your way through the game. It proves the game to be yet another notch away from being a kid's game.
For a movie with generous voice-over already in the can, you'd expect an overload of catch phrases and one-liners in the licensed game. This is not the case, and Crystal Dynamics could learn a thing or two for Gex from this one. It's a simple model: Less is more. The voices from the film are intact, but they're not out of hand, at least Buzz's voice isn't. It does get a bit annoying when Hamm whines, "Buzz, come 'ere" the entire time you're in his territory. And Sarge's pep talk gets old pretty fast. But for the most part, the catch phrases are few and far between - just enough to make it interesting without driving you to the brink. And the music? Toy Story music. 'Nuff said. All the dressing aside, Buzz has a variety of moves that he uses quite well. As Buzz, you can jump and double jump; hoist yourself up; climb plants, trees, and poles; execute a heavy-duty foot stomp; spin to attack or to deflect weapons; float on balloons; use a grappling hook; slide down zip lines and wires; run; and best yet, target and lock on your enemies, switching between them with a simple tap of the right shoulder button. The environments are so diverse that you'll find interesting uses for your base moves throughout the game. On one level, you must jump (with the right pacing, a la Mario Party style) on an air pump to inflate a rubber pool duck. Once you do, you'll use an unlikely move to actually solve the related puzzle. We won't give it away here, but as with this example, the game does makes you think. The use of Rumble when pushing boxes and taking lasers from toy robots is a good feature but not necessarily noteworthy or inventive in its delivery.
What really rounds out and makes up for the compromising cameras and the lack of fmv sequences in Toy Story 2 on the N64 is the sheer number of minigames. As in Rugrats, you must race the RC Car in order to win Pizza Planet tokens, which open up levels or zones later on. You also must keep your eyes open for lost sheep or take a few seconds out to find Mr. Potatohead's eye, ear, or what have you. You must also collect baby ducks for the rubber duck or bones for Slinky, all within a set period of time. If you get frustrated with one minigame, you can move onto another within the level and come back later. The gameplay is nonlinear, therefore, you're not punished for pacing yourself and exploring.
In the end, the game is good, even with its shortcomings. Whether you've seen the movie or not, Toy Story 2, as a game, stands on its own because it offers gameplay. It's not complicated or sexy, and, in fact, the N64 game isn't all that attractive or well designed. But it is possible to have fun with it. If you are a fan of the Pixar films, the game struggles to deliver the same experience in video-game format - largely due to the missing fmv cutscenes. The shortcomings, however, aren't enough to take away an entertaining movie-to-video-game effort. It's well worth a rental.