One Hit Wonders of Game Design : Toy Commander

Role-playing survival game is willing to take risks

As the Dreamcast was Sega’s last shot at the console market, they were open to a variety of unique titles, hoping that one would become that massive hit that would sustain the system. Today’s game wasn’t one of those titles, but nevertheless it was an example of an interesting design at the time.

Toy Commander, developed by No Cliché was a third person action game. The premise was that a boy’s childhood toys were alive like in Toy Story, except when the boy stopped playing with them; they staged a coup and took over the house. Now the boy must use his remaining toys to take back his house, room by room.

Each room was under the control of one of his early childhood toys and to take a shot at the leader, the player had to complete a variety of challenges. Some required the player to collect certain objects, while others involved winning a race. The player had a variety of toys available from the land and air variety, and in some levels they could switch between multiple vehicles.

Completing a challenge wasn’t all the player had to do, as each challenge had a par time the player had to beat for the challenge to be considered finished. Completing enough challenges in a room will unlock the boss fight, where the player must go toe to toe with the lead toy. Each lead toy the player beats becomes playable for the final battle with the leader of the coup: a teddy bear that is now half-bear, half-cyborg.

What made Toy Commander work for me was the atmosphere and scale of the levels. I’ve always been a sucker for games that deliver on scale: with massive environments and giant monsters to fight, such as in Shadow of the Colossus. Since you’re playing from the point of view of a toy, each room in the house was gigantic, with nooks and crannies to explore. Because each mission had the player use a different vehicle, this helped both expand and contract the size of the world, as driving up a couch has a different feel compared to flying over it in a helicopter.

Toy Commander did have a few issues though in the difficulty department. The par times became a frustrating roadblock with challenges that required the player to perform precise tasks. And it got to the point that messing up or taking too long at a specific point would require the player to restart to have a chance at getting below par.

Not helping matters was the camera system. Since the game took place in huge areas, the designers didn’t compensate for when the player had to maneuver in tight spaces and the camera continually got stuck on objects. Not exactly a huge problem, but when one mistake could cost you the level, a faulty camera can be very annoying to deal with.

I would have been interested in seeing an open world take on Toy Commander, as the scale of the world could fit into the design well. Another game that did fit that description using the toy scale would be the hidden gem: Chibi Robo for the Gamecube.

Toy Commander had an interesting premise with a unique atmosphere which can be tricky to get right. And was one of the many unique series that got a start (and sometimes end) on the Dreamcast.