“Saddle-up and let’s hit it!”
“The following is a contributor post by the Purple Prose Mage.”
It is the 23rd March 2001. “Pure and Simple” by Hear’Say is the UK No. 1 single. Heartbreakers, produced by John Davis and Irving Ong, opens to number one at the Northern American box office. Space station Mir becomes the largest spacecraft to reenter the atmosphere, breaking up over the South Pacific Ocean. Member of the Canadian Parliament for Calgary Southwest Preston Manning announces his retirement from public office. Activision publishes Traveller’s Tales’ Toy Story Racer to the PlayStation in Europe.
The focus of last week’s piece was Crash Nitro Kart, in which I covered three main things:
Firstly, that the kart racing game is such a simple formula to follow that it’s a much safer way of attempting a tie-in video game and attracting a preexisting audience.
Secondly, that these factors have led to so many franchises attempting kart-based tie-in video games that only those which still attempt something different within it will be a success.
Thirdly, that only Mario, Sonic and Crash have ever achieved this.
It made sense that Toy Story would attempt one, at least. After all, Toy Story at this point had already released two financially successful films that had reached unprecedented critical success. A kart racing game was inevitable. The characters were beloved yet also gimmicky enough for them not to need any kind of introduction or development. Culture knew who Buzz Lightyear was.
Unfortunately, that was also part of the problem. Toy Story’s popularity was so great that there was more at stake for them. The Toy Story films were loved for how they represented the feeling of being a child in a way that was unlike anything before ever had (and arguably, still ever has). It was a film which told the story of a cowboy doll and a spaceman action figure going on an adventure together, yet became a phenomenon. If the Toy Story kart racing game didn’t make itself different enough from the typical format of the kart racing game established by Super Mario Kart, it would be too formulaic or derivative of its contemporary inspirations – and that would be damaging to the Toy Story brand for the simple reason that it would be a Toy Story product instead representing, rather than the above, but the kind of manufactured corporate templates that the Toy Story films had specifically not been.
There was a lot to lose – but can you think of another Toy Story kart racing game?
In fact, had you even heard of this one Toy Story kart racing game at all? True, the sheer might of the film series may have overshadowed any of its adaptations, but, at least in my experience, no one seems to be aware that there is such a game as Toy Story Racer when they still remember the far superior 3D platformer Toy Story 2: Buzz Lightyear to the Rescue! Poor Toy Story Racer, we hardly knew ye.
Another set back, of course, is that Toy Story started in film, not video games, and therefore Toy Story Racer already faced an uphill struggle that Mario, Sonic or Crash didn’t: how long can it be played before making you want to stop playing so you can just go and watch the original films again? Even I – someone who writes a weekly column on (often obscure) racing games – struggled to not pull myself away. The ultimate problem with a film franchise too big to fail is that any tie-in media can be, in comparison, too small not to fail.
And fail it did. I do believe that. As much as I enjoy playing it, I do still admit my own declared bias to racing games, as well as the way it tastes too much like a somewhat bland starter for a main course of actually watching the films proper. In revisiting it this week, I realised something: in spite of the interesting progression structure and use of graphics, none of what makes Toy Story Racer interesting is in the gameplay.
Even the initial excitement of playing a kart racing game with Toy Story characters wore off eventually. That’s going to happen in any tie-in game, but usually it doesn’t matter because the rest of the game is interesting enough for the familiar elements to eventually be able to take a back seat; to be something recognisable taking you somewhere that engages you in its own right. That has to happen, it’s important, because a marketing stunt will only take you so far. If there’s nothing beyond it, that’s boring. And Toy Story Racer becomes boring after you’ve played through the 11 races and 7 smash arenas as the 4 initially available characters. Which is a problem, given how many events there are to win compared to how many tracks are in the game.
12 of the Toy Story film characters are playable, and each of them have their own series of events arranged as a tower of wooden blocks. In total, each tower collectively comprise 200 blocks. That’s 200 events combining 18 tracks and 12 characters. While it may be at least interesting enough to take each character around each track, the remainder of each character’s events are going to be repeats of previous events that don’t become any more difficult, which means the gauge of player interest will plateau after each character’s been around each track once – assuming that changing character will even be interesting for you, which is at least a possible variable, but even then, each track will become gradually become less interesting each time you go around it, even if it is with a new character.
- 18 tracks * 12 characters = 216 events before boredom
If each race lasts about 3 minutes for each lap – which, in kart racing games, they almost always do – then that’s:
- 216 races * 3 minutes = 648 race minutes
And there are 60 minutes in an hour, so
- 648 minutes /60 minutes = 10.8 hours
That’s less than 11 hours of game-play before boredom sets in. Assuming your Christmas morning starts at 07:00 hours, and that you like your kid to be in bed by 22:00 at the very latest, and that your local school’s Christmas break ends on 6th January, then between Christmas morning and going to bed for their first school night of the year, your kid’s awake for 12 15-hour days, which is 180 hours. If your kid also loves Toy Story and video games, then they’ll probably play with Toy Story Racer before anything else. But by 18:00 they’ll have already used up all its fun and moved on, possibly never to go back. It’ll serve about an 18th of their Christmas-New Year period until they forget about it.
Sure, I like Toy Story Racer (to an extent), but for the same reason I like the film Bohemian Rhapsody – because I was already a fan of the thing it was based on, and it gets me in the mood for experiencing the proper version.
Yeah, the thing they’ve got going on below is pretty cool, but I stopped paying attention to that when I realised the hit boxes are way too big:
The Purple Prose Mage is the author of the Racing Game of the Week column and is currently working on a documentary about the Driver series for its 20th anniversary on 25th June. He also likes reviewing the latest book he’s read on his own blog, covering the World Rally Championship and generally posting about what he’s been playing, at alexsigsworth.wordpress.com.
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Categories: Racing Column