Toy Racer Retrospective: Dreamcast Online Gaming

If you ask most Dreamcast fans what their favourite games are on the system, it’s not unusual to hear things like Soul Calibur, Sonic Adventure, Phantasy Star Online, Crazy Taxi, and so forth. One answer you don’t hear very often is Toy Racer; a budget Toy Commander spin-off focusing primarily on online multiplayer racing.

For me, Toy Racer is one of my favourite and easily most played Dreamcast titles - not because it’s necessarily a fantastic game - but because it genuinely changed the way I enjoyed video games forever by fully opening my eyes to the world of online gaming.
Released in 2000, Toy Racer was developed by No Cliché and published by Sega themselves. It only ever saw the light of day on store shelves in Europe, as a planned US release never ultimately materialised. Toy Racer enjoyed chart topping success in the UK thanks mostly to its insanely budget price of just £5 (approx $6-7 today, but more like $3-4 back then) - the same price as a Dreamcast demo disc - and this was certainly a huge reason why I took a gamble back in the day.
Being a student at the time, new gaming purchases were a rare occurrence. But how could I resist at such a low price for a new racing game promising endless multiplayer fun!  Up until this point, I’d been intrigued by online gaming but had never really invested any significant time into it. I didn’t own a gaming PC and my free copy of Chu Chu Rocket (thanks to being an early sign-up to the Dreamarena) didn’t really have any lasting appeal for me beyond the initial novelty of playing against other real people via the power of the internet...

But I always loved playing racing games and so Toy Racer offered me the potential excitement of racing against other human players across Europe. That evening I plugged my 33k modem cable into the phone socket (after running about 15ft of cable across the landing to the study, much to my mum’s ongoing delight) and I’m pretty sure I clogged up the phone line all night as I went from one online race to another.  Whilst the race options were limited to only four different tracks, I just couldn’t stop playing. I always wanted just one more race.
The host could also select a championship mode, which allowed each of the tracks to be raced in order and points were awarded at the end of each race. Unknown to me at the time, winning multiple championships online actually awarded you with two secret vehicles to use online, which also turned out to be the quickest available: the Toothmobil and the Trahktor. It was pretty exciting to unlock these at something like 2am in the morning when I didn’t even know they existed. Even more exciting was lining up on the grid for the next race in your new car, with other players looking on and wondering how you managed to get it!
Fast forward to 2018 and thanks to the wonderful DreamPi, Toy Racer is back online and kicking. Playing Toy Racer online for the first time in eighteen years was a wonderfully nostalgic experience for me, and I’ve barely been able to stop playing it since. What’s made it even more appealing for me is that the team over at dreamcastlive.net have even integrated the leaderboards into their website. Luckily, I still had my record lap times stored on my VMU from back in 2000 and so was able to upload them all to take a clean sweep!
Record lap leaderboards are back online thanks to dreamcastlive.net
Think you can beat any of my times from 2000? Bring it on.

Toy Racer is a game which offers very little in the way of solo action. You can run practice laps on each of the four tracks to perfect your lap times, but that’s about it. Toy Racer was heavily criticised in reviews at the time because of its lack of single player options (CVG magazine were particularly brutal, giving the game a stinking 1/5 rating), but in my opinion, they completely missed the point. There is local multiplayer available for up to 4-players but the fun really is in the online action. And that’s why it’s so fantastic that it’s back online today.
So there you have it; hopefully a little insight into my slightly odd fascination with a pretty basic game. Nostalgia is such a powerful drug when it comes to videogames, and Toy Racer really does pull me back to the early 2000’s and my first real online racing experiences. The only bad part about playing Toy Racer is just how much it makes me wish that No Cliché had released Toy Commander Online as well. But we’ll save that for another article.
I might be just a little biased, but if you’re looking for something new to play on your Dreamcast, you’d do well to hunt down a copy of Toy Racer and invest in a DreamPi to recapture the magic of racing online again on a Dreamcast, just like all those years ago - you'll almost certainly see me online waiting in a lobby somewhere.

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4 comments:

Anthony817 said...

Wow you were able to upload your original 2000 track times? Damn that is pretty impressive!

James Harvey said...

I'll admit that I was more excited to be able to upload my 2000 track times when I found the VMU they were on than I really should have been!

hoogafanter said...

Never played this one. Did play toy commander and it felt so cheap... but more importantly it was fun! I'll have to check this out...

James Harvey said...

Give me a shout if you're ever going online - I'll be up for a few races!