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'Toy Story Racer' Is Hot Rod and Lemon

April 26, 2001|AARON CURTISS | aaron.curtiss@latimes.com

Juliet was on the right track. What is in a name?

In the case of "Toy Story Racer" for Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Game Boy Color, the answer appears to be not much. Despite sharing a name, the two games are about as different as the Montagues and the Capulets.

First, some context.

Video games frequently launch simultaneously on multiple platforms--often with the same name and packaging. This makes sense because games then have the potential to reach far more people than just, say, those who own a Sega Dreamcast or a Nintendo 64.

These games usually are clones of one another--tweaked only to the specifications of the various machines for which they are intended. Sometimes, various versions will have special features such as extra characters or levels.

The one realm in which this doesn't hold true is games shrunk down for hand-held units such as Game Boy Color. Then, even though the title and box art look identical, odds are you're getting a completely different game.

That's how it is with "Toy Story Racer."

On the PlayStation, "Toy Story Racer" is an enjoyable kids' game that offers atypical racing action. The game features 22 modes of play across 18 tracks, making it the sort of title that can be played over and over before it gets dull.

Players race as any of 12 characters from the "Toy Story" movies, although initially only Buzz Lightyear, Woody, RC and Bo Peep are available. Other characters--such as Rex, Hamm and Mr. Potato Head--can be played later in the game.

Many of the courses are simple but nicely rendered trips through scenes inspired by the movies. The fun of "Toy Story Racer" comes from the challenges each race throws down. For instance, some races feature knockout rounds in which the player who finishes each lap last gets yanked off the course. So a race that begins with four cars will quickly be down to three, then two, then one.

Other events require racers to knock competitors out of action with various power-ups scattered around the courses. These range from a zapper that shorts opponents' cars to sheep that explode on impact.

Everything moves at once and players have to take advantage of the game's smooth control to fight off attacks and stay on course. Even though they are toy radio-controlled cars, the vehicles in "Toy Story Racer" zip along nicely. Although designed for younger kids, "Toy Story Racer" offers some fun and excitement for older kids and adults.

At least, that's how it is on PlayStation.

On Game Boy Color, we're talking a whole different experience.

For starters, there are about half as many tracks. That's to be expected, given the limited power and capacity of Game Boy Color cartridges. But also gone are nearly all the various modes that make the PlayStation version such fun.

In tournament mode, racers can still get knocked out of the running if they come in last.

"Toy Story Racer" on Game Boy Color is just what it says it is: a straight racing game built around the "Toy Story" franchise. So players tool along tracks that cut through Andy's house, Pizza Planet and the neighborhood.

Despite some nicely drawn courses, the driving on Game Boy Color is tedious. The cars putt along and players try to either dodge or grab power-ups that range from a brief spell of invulnerability to reverse steering, which makes it practically impossible to stay on course.

My beef here is not that games on a portable machine should look and play as well as they do on consoles or PCs. That's ridiculous and impossible. Hand-held games will always look more primitive than their console namesakes. Look to "Road Rash"--a gem on consoles and PCs but a dog on Game Boy Color--for a perfect example.

But when games are fundamentally different, they should be packaged and marketed differently. Activision and Disney Interactive are not the only ones guilty of this. Nintendo's "Perfect Dark" on Game Boy Color was a third-person, top-down action game, but "Perfect Dark" on Nintendo 64 was a first-person shooter. Big difference.

Knowledgeable game players know that identical boxes can contain vastly different games. But kids and parents may not.

For players who enjoy the PlayStation version of "Toy Story Racer," be warned that the Game Boy Color cartridge is not a nice portable substitute. It's just another plodding racer. And for those with the Game Boy Color version, trade up to the PlayStation version and see what the game is really all about.

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The Skinny

*

"Toy Story Racer"

Genre: Racing

Price: $40

Platform: Sony PlayStation

Publisher: Activision

ESRB* rating: Everyone

The good: Lots of variety

The bad: Not much

Bottom line: Worth a spin

*

"Toy Story Racer"

Genre: Racing

Price: $30

Platform: Game Boy Color

Publisher: Activision

ESRB rating: Everyone

The good: Nice environments

The bad: Repetitive and dull

Bottom line: Don't bother

*

* Entertainment Software Ratings Board

*

Aaron Curtiss is editor of Tech Times.

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