The more modern games get, the less likely they are to be lost and gone forever. Or, so one would think. Strange things happen in the video game industry, and companies come and go all the time. Nowhere was this sentiment more prevalent than during the Dreamcast era. Not quite old enough to be retro, but not quite new enough to be considered current, Sega’s little white box that couldn’t brought us some truly fantastic games, some of which can still only be played on the console they were designed for. One of those was a humble little game about toys, destruction, and the limitless joy of a child’s imagination.
The sole US release from developer No Cliche, Toy Commander is a brilliant little game. It boils down to a vehicular combat title with tanks, helicopters, planes, trucks, and more. They all have their own control schemes, and work very well once you get the hang of them. It’s got a slew of missions, great multiplayer, and pretty decent graphics for the time. On paper, this type of game seems like it would be a dime a dozen, but in practice, the development team succeeded in making one of the most charming games the Dreamcast had to offer.
The premise of the game revolved around under appreciated toys rising up to take over the house. Think of it as a riff on Toy Story. (The protagonist’s name is even Andy) However, the game leaves a lot up to the player’s imagination. Are the toys actually revolting, or is it all a game Andy’s head? There really is no definitive answer, and that’s half the fun. The weapons range from pencils, to cap gun ammunition, to thumb tacks, and the missions are all based around different rooms of a family’s house. Again, it could have been very cliche, but the dev team really lived up to their name. It all just works.
Another thing that sets this game apart is the rules of the environments. While it’s all based in reality, things like gravity can be altered to coincide with how a kid might play with a toy. For example, if you choose a truck as your vehicle, it will behave like a truck. If you fall off a ledge, you’ll fall until you hit the floor. If you drive into a wall, you’ll crash to a halt. Unless, of course, there’s a ramp. Much like a kid driving his toy car up a wall, if you come across one of these ramps, your vehicle’s gravitational pull will change to work with you driving up a wall. If you fall, gravity rights itself again, just like if said kid dropped the toy. It’s another one of those things that can be difficult to wrap your head around, but once you figure out the physics, it clicks, and it adds to the overall imaginative nature of the game.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the music. This game’s soundtrack is absolutely, completely, unapologetically awesome. Composed by a man named Philippe Vachey, it’s some of the most enjoyable, fun, and fitting video game music of the era. It sets the tone in a way that perfectly encapsulates where gaming was in 1999. It’s cool. It’s energetic. It’s the perfect music for the game it’s in.
As of this writing, Toy Commander has never been rereleased on any other platforms. No Cliche started work on a PC port way back when, but the company disbanded and hasn’t been heard from since. There was a sort of expansion pack for the game released in Europe called Toy Racer, but that’s as far as it went. It stands to reason that Sega still owns the rights to this game, but it’s seems likely that if it hasn’t turned up after all these years, it just might remain a Dreamcast exclusive.
If you’re lucky enough to have a functioning Dreamcast, this game needs to be a part of your library. It’s not too hard to track down, and since it barely even has its own cult following, it’s not very expensive once you do. That said, once you get your hands on it, it’s not hard to see why the people who like it are as passionate as they are. Especially if you get some friends together and play some 4 player matches. It’s a real shame that No Cliche didn’t stick around, because they were onto something special here. Either way, they made one heck of a game.