It's been a busy, controversial few days around here, but that can't be reason to stop us from stirring up further debate and testing the waters of our new forum policy, so I'm just going to come out and say it: Toy Story is the single greatest children's franchise in the history of movies. Try as you might to point me to some other series or beloved character — The Never Ending Story, Looney Tunes, Rick Moranis' Honey franchise — I need you to really think hard here and understand this: I am right.
All joking aside, I really do believe Toy Story is in a league of its own. With three fantastic movies in the wild and a promising fourth coming this June, as a big fan, I got to thinking about the tie-in video games Toy Story has had over the years, and you know what? Those have been pretty awesome too. In an industry where movie tie-in games have almost always been bad and often closer to horrible, Toy Story has survived three console generations and over two decades as a very good video game franchise. Hopefully that means Toy Story 4 will get a tie-in too, and if it does, history tells us it should be great.
Some of my earliest memories with video games come from playing Toy Story on Sega Genesis. Back then, competing console versions of the same game weren't ported, but whether you played it on Genesis or SNES, if you played it at all, I bet you recall Toy Story the 2D platformer was pretty well done. Like a lot of platformers back then, it played great as a speedrunning game and it looked pretty good too, with character models fashioned in an early 2.5D style and taking players all across the movie, from the opening scene in Andy's cloud-covered room to hiding under Pizza Planet trash as you moved about a busy restaurant and beyond.
The game wasn't one of a kind. That was, after all, the golden age of movie tie-in games, at least in terms of quantity. But Toy Story for SNES/Genesis also earned high marks for its quality, sitting today at scores ranging from mid 6s to high 8s among reviews from 1995. Game Informer called it "a humorous and fun adventure that will certainly entertain everyone in the whole family." It's fair to say this original game is the weakest of the series' tie-ins, but even then it was better than so many other games of a similar mold and today stands as a preview for even better games to come.
A few years after the genre-defining success of Toy Story, Pixar followed it up with their movie sequel and once again gamers got to relive the colorful enchantment of this series on home consoles. For me, it was the Nintendo 64 version of Toy Story 2 that I unwrapped under the Christmas tree in 1999, and I still remember it being just about all I did that day. The world was much bigger this time — four years is an eternity in video game development — and each level let players take Buzz Lightyear and jump, shoot, race, and zipline across Al's Toy Barn, a construction yard, and a penthouse apartment among many other levels.
Once again the design was not out of the ordinary for its time — 3D platformers were to the Nintendo 64 what 2D platformers were to the generation before it — but like the first game, no one could rightfully call it an attempt to quickly cash in on people's fandom. Toy Story 2 was a legitimate video game, made with heart and offering plenty of boss battles, side content, and even a light Metroidvania element that demanded players return to old levels once they had unlocked the right tools some hours later. If you're of a certain age, you maybe missed the first Toy Story game, but I bet you fondly recall the sequel. I played it some more as recently as two years ago on my PS Vita, and it still holds up as a 3D platformer. Reviews were once again relatively mixed at the time, though better overall, with the PlayStation version earning lots of good to very good scores. Today it may not seem like it set the world on fire, and I suppose it didn't, but in the same era as Superman 64 and other atrocities, you have to contextualize Toy Story's modest successes as exceptions to the rules back then.
It took a long time before we got anything more out of the Toy Story movie universe, but in 2010, the third movie finally arrived prepared to delight their now aged original fans and any kids or siblings they may have gained since the original movie hit theaters. We were still getting a pretty steady stream of tie-in games back then, though fewer than before no doubt. But once again, a new Toy Story movie fortunately came with a new Toy Story video game. I actually wrote previously about the great Toy Story 3 game in an ICYMI feature. If you read it, you may recall how I paid special attention to the game's Toy Box mode, which was the predecessor and proof of concept for the more popular mode of the same name we would later see in the Disney Infinity series. The story mode was fun too, following a similar path as the others by giving us remixed versions of the movie's scenes as platformer levels.
It was the Toy Box, however, that gave the game its lasting appeal. Positioned as an open creation hub, kids and families were able to build whatever they wanted inside. Set up town to your heart's content, placing the bank, sheriff's department, and other buildings just how you like them, decorating the town and its residents, doing stunt races, unlocking new themed areas like a haunted house and a sci-fi land fit for evil emperor Zurg — there was a lot to do, and much of it was unscripted sandbox play geared for kids. It was awesome. It's still awesome. The game's aggregate score of about 75 (depending on your platform) makes it the highest scoring of all three movie tie-in games and solidifies the franchise as one of the most consistent gaming tie-in series.
To span three generations of consoles like that and each time put out a quality game when you're up against the movie schedule clock and buried in IP law is no small feat. Leaving the games in the hands of expert family game studios like Traveller's Tales and Avalanche Software went a long way over the years, and combined with the naturally appealing look and feel of the Toy Story world, these games have consistently translated well to the interactive screen. For these reasons, I'm really hoping we get a Toy Story 4 game this summer to coincide with the movie's premiere. My dream would be to have Avalanche return to work on it again since they seem to still be in the business of doing that. Less exciting would be LEGO Toy Story, but that may be what we get this time. I like those games, but in this case I want something different, something that reminds me of the simple joys I had and still have for movie tie-in games. Maybe the game I'm dreaming of can't exist anymore in a world where many kids have left consoles behind in favor of smartphones and tablets, but it hasn't stopped publishers like Outright Games from building their entire brand around this exact kind of project. Regardless, I expect if a game exists at all, I think it could be great. So now I wait for a few months to see if a game is coming. It's either just about done being developed or not coming at all. I hope we get an announcement soon because I'll be very excited to reach into this generation-spanning toy box once more.
Check out our Best Xbox Platformer Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.
Get the biggest Xbox news delivered straight to your inbox every week.