The Land Before DLC: Toy Commander

Toy Commander is one of the Dreamcast's best games in my opinion. Not only is it an original take on the traditional 3D shooter in that you fly toy aircraft and drive ground units around a fully realised 3D house (toys which are actually being played with by a kid - the titular Toy Commander), but it really is an enjoyable experience. Missions are well balanced and varied in design, and on top of all that it has a great sense of humour. Oh, and it looks bloody fantastic even by today's standards. Yes, No Cliche really did pull a rabbit out of the hat when they put Toy Commander out as a launch title. It looked like something that was truly next-gen and played a mean game as well. Sadly, Toy Commander never recieved a true sequel and it remains a game that was born and died on the Dreamcast; the semi-sequel Toy Racer was little more than a mini game and was only playable online anyway, so those of us who either couldn't afford the dial-up tariff or simply weren't allowed to hog the only phone line in the house to play online games (like me!) missed out on the full experience. 

Interestingly though, and the reason for this post, is that Toy Commander received some interesting pseudo DLC (that's Downloadable Content, EA fans) in the years following its release. I say 'pseudo,' because it wasn't really DLC at all, and didn't even require the original game to play...but it's another way in which the Dreamcast was well ahead of it's time. The 'DLC' I'm referring to is in fact the special 'add-on' demo levels that were released exclusively on the Dream On demo disks that came with the Official Dreamcast Magazine in the UK and US. One of these was a special single-level Christmas-themed demo (titled Christmas Surprise) in which you played as a rocket-pack enabled Santa whom, with the help of a fighter plane and a heavily armed Jeep, was tasked with tracking down errant presents and returning them to their rightful place under the Christmas tree.
The second such exclusive demo, called Summer Special, was released on Dream On volume 11 in the UK and featured a brand new stage in which players were given the task of clearing a beach of rubbish, sharks and cockroaches so Barbie and Ken ( and Jenny for obvious reasons) could go skinny dipping without the worry of either having their heads chewed off or cutting their plastic feet on shards of glass...presumably left in the jacuzzi by the 8-year-old Toy Commander's alcoholic dad. It's a fun level and allows full exploration of another section of the house the main game is set within, and you can either take to the sky in a bi-plane and just blow the hell out of everything with biro-lid missiles, or you can play a slightly more tactical game by using the truck to transport the rubbish to the trash compactor in the kitchen. Which is located behind a mini bar, adding further fuel to the theory that the Toy Commander's dad likes a bit of a drink. Either that, or the Commander himself has been at the brandy...which would explain all these outlandish war games with his Matchbox toys. The other variant on the Toy Commander formula included on Dream On 11 is a race around the house with toy cars, but this is pretty forgettable due to the twitchy controls...and is clearly the original blueprint for the later (and yet aforementioned) Toy Racer.
While these single level demos are quite short lived in practice, they do a great job of showing off the mechanics and visual splendour of the full game. But more than that, they are a fantastic glimpse of what was to come in the future. Extra content for titles we already own is a relatively normal part of gaming nowadays - all of the major franchises have multiple extra mission packs and levels released as DLC on an almost weekly basis; and while these demo missions are hardly comparable, it shows that Dreamcast developers were looking at the bigger picture. The Dreamcast was by no means the first system to offer this kind of content (even the SNES offered true DLC, with the likes of F-Zero 2), but I can't help but imagine how far this could have gone, and if the Dreamcast had managed to weather the onslaught of the PS2 and the cold shoulder of EA...and the broadband adapter had been a mainstream add-on given a proper release; we might have seen new maps and skins for Quake 3 Arena, new tracks for Daytona and even extra characters for Soul Calibur. As it is, these Toy Commander missions serve merely as a taster of what could - and should - have been.


B# Major General said...

Toy Commander was always my second favorite Dreamcast game (after Sonic Adventure, because of nostalgia) and I knew about Toy Racer and the Santa mission, but not the others! Cool stuff.

I too wish it had survived, to at least a real sequel. Oh well.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any idea of how I can get a hold of these demos? I would love to play them

Tom Charnock said...

Hman - you can get the demos on Dream On volumes 11 and 16 in the UK/Europe, if that helps. Not sure about the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

Thanks those are hard to find, I can't even find a download for them