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Toy Commander
Platform:  Dreamcast
# of Players:  1-4
Developer:  No Cliche
Publisher:  Sega
Features:  Jump Pack, VMU
Ratings:  Teen
Memory Req.:  
Info:  http://nocliche.com
Take a little bit of Body Harvest, mix it up with a great big helping of Army Men and, voila, you have a good idea of what to expect from Toy Commander.

The game’s story begins as most domestic disputes do. Lack of attention. In this case, our protagonist, Andrew Guthy (Guthy?) hasn’t been paying too much attention to his old playmate Huggy Bear. Huggy’s not too happy about that. In retaliation, the egomaniacal Huggy Bear dons a new persona replete with cybernetic implants and rallies together an army of similarly neglected toys. And so begins... the toy war... or... the... yeah. Andy must now use his knowledge of plastic combat in order to defeat the vengeful Huggy or lose control of his own imagined world.

One of the most amazing things that No Cliché (the game’s developers) has done with Toy Commander is to keep from becoming one of those too-kiddy-for-me games. Steps have been taken towards keeping that sensation of wondrous and imaginative feeling of pitting toy against toy, but at the same time it instills upon the player a certain sense of urgency and the game captures a substantially darker, more mature feel.

Although the notion of a virtual toy simulator feeling mature seems ludicrous, No Cliché have done the game a great justice. From the intro (little Andy Guthy bouncing around his house with a toy plane in hand) to the mission debriefing screen (a Go-Bots knock off named Cyclone undermining your skills as a toy commander) the game does make a sickeningly delightful impression. Even in the first three missions, your tasks seem so superficial (dropping eggs into a pot, locating the candy bar, etc.). These levels are merely preparatory for the heart of the game.

The first real mission of the game takes place in the kitchen stages. You’re greeted by the ever-cynical cyclone as he claims that the submarines under his command are about to take out one of your supply boats. Mission? Take out the active submarines as well as any other possibly threatening forces (i.e. a hidden submarine base). The mission starts out with a great sweeping camera shot of the kitchen which is now flooded. The toy tugboat sets out on its journey and you take control. As soon as the gloomy, ambient, electronic music starts up and your plane takes off, you feel more like you’ve taken part in a World War II movie (Das Boot perhaps?) rather than Toy Story.

Some have complained that Toy Commander looks like an N-64 game. Then again, some people have complained that the PSX still has better graphics than the Dreamcast. (Ah, the video game industry: Mecca of unfounded convictions.) True, this game could have probably been done on the N-64, but truer still, it would have looked like shit. Toy Commander offers up some of the most realistically constructed and detailed domestic architecture ever put into a game. Each level is massively realized from the kitchen and dining room to the bathroom and attic.

The effects used on the vehicles and the weapons are startlingly realistic. Everything sounds like it’s been taken straight out of Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. The environmental effects are just as realistic. Imagine the subtle click of plastic against an eggshell. That’s how much effort has been put into the sound effects. The soundtrack is an oddly placed electronic/techno/whatever bit, but, as I mentioned before, it’s one of the things that keep the game from feeling too cutesy.

The gameplay is a great difference from the run-of-the-mill toy game. As opposed to Army Men 3D, you spend no time on the ground as a foot soldier. Instead, you control a multitude of different vehicles (warplanes, helicopters, tanks, supply trucks, etc.) almost all of which are armed with an array of eccentric weapons. For example: caps for bullets, pencils and pen caps for missiles, erasers for bombs, tacks or pushpins for landmines, and lots of other neat stuff. In each mission, you are granted control over two or more different vehicles. Most of the missions can be beaten with just one of the vehicles, but it’s up to you to decide which vehicles to use for what tasks. This strategy is a great element that makes the game that much more original and fun to play. "

What also helps an action game overcome mediocrity these days is a strong multi-player option. In Toy Commander multi-player mode you have three options. Deathmatch, Cat and Mouse, and Capture the Flag. Deathmatch is your standard all out war mode that has become so popular as of late and can be played in teams or every man for himself. Cat and Mouse is played by one player being the mouse and the others being the cats. You gain points by staying the mouse and running away from the cats, but once you’ve been shot, the player that shot you becomes the mouse and the roles are switched. My personal, all time favorite is definitely the Capture the Flag. The players pick their teams and try to grab the opposing team’s flag, bring it back to their base, and, at the same time, prevent the enemy from replicating their actions. Good, good, good fun.

I do have one complaint, however. The control is a bit too loose at times. Especially when piloting fighter plane. It can cause a lot of unneeded deaths and frustration. You can get stuck in corners and in other sticky situations. In the end, however, the gameplay shines through and you’re left with one of the Dreamcast’s most original, intuitive and addicting titles. A must buy for any action or strategy fans.

Robert Cirkeljirque


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