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Toy Commander (Dreamcast)
MSRP: $49.99
Number of Players: 1-4
Developer: No Cliché
Publisher: Sega of America

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

Videogames have been trying to re-create the experience of playing with toys for years. From the games based on the "Toy Story" movies to the Army Men series of games, gamers have had plenty of opportunities to relive their childhood memories. None of those previous games, however, have created such an expansive toy-based world as No Cliché's Toy Commander for the Sega Dreamcast.

Toy Commander puts you in the role of Andy, a young boy whose toys have revolted against him. To regain control of the toys, you must ally yourself with boss toys that control various parts of Andy's house. That's achieved by beating each boss in battle after you've defeated levels in that toy's area of the house. Beat the boss and he'll open up a new area to play in and will join Andy's campaign to regain control of his toys from the Toy Commander.

The missions you're asked to complete can range from knocking a few eggs into a pot of boiling water to full-fledged combat scenarios requiring you to disable an enemy's base or rescue firemen from a burning building. The variety of missions is at once the game's strength and weak spot. Why? Each level can be thought of as a puzzle, because a certain amount of patience is required not only to finish the level, but to figure out how to do it in the required amount of time. Finishing the missions, in most cases, isn't too difficult. The added requirement of having to beat the boss toy's time is definitely going to frustrate some gamers. (You have to beat four of the boss's times to move on to the duel with the boss.) Very few clues are given as to which way is the best or fastest to solve a particular mission. If this sounds like a challenge to you, this game might be right up your alley.

Thankfully, the rewards for moving on in Toy Commander do make the frustration worth it. As you progress in the game, more areas of Andy's house are opened for you to play in. The game begins in the kitchen and dining room, but you can eventually make it into your bedroom, a hallway, the garage and your parents' bedroom.

The graphics do a great job getting across the idea that you're playing with toys in a virtual house. The items scattered throughout the various rooms are inventive, as well as useful in creating some ingenious obstacles. The level of detail is superb. There's even a cat that occupies the house along with the toys and, as an example of the detail level involved here, there's poop in its litter box. (Yes, you can shoot the cat, but it doesn't get hurt; just a little irritated.)

The musical score is almost subliminal. It definitely does set the mood, however. The sound effects are top-notch and definitely let you know what's going on around you. Bombs whistle as they drop and explode with the proper thunderous reports when they hit their targets. The vehicles you can use to move around the play areas all sound appropriately toy-like.

Controlling those vehicles may seem a little tricky at first, but since the game requires you to play each level so many times to move on, you'll definitely get better as time goes on. In some cases, though, the game could be a little more helpful in letting you complete your task. The lack of a top-down view makes the levels where you have to drop items on to another item unnecessarily difficult. Lining up your vehicle from a third-person rear view can be tricky. The inclusion of a first-person view does help in some cases, but a true top-down view would have been extremely helpful.

If the single-player game gets old, there are multiplayer options available as well. The game supports up to four players in deathmatch-type games that take place in the house. There are three variations on this mode of play: Deathmatch, Cat & Mouse and Capture the Flag. These definitely add a change-of-pace to the game's mission-based solitaire mode and are most welcome.

Overall, Toy Commander is a game that doesn't set any new standards in gameplay, graphics or sound, but does provide an interesting experience for those willing to tough it out and reap the rewards. Definitely a title that one should rent before buying, just to be sure it appeals to you.

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