While Sega’s Saturn console was home to Clockwork Knight, on the Amiga we were treated to Lollypop and Tin Toy Adventure in the House of Fun, each starring inanimate protagonists who somehow become sentient killing machines. All in a nice, kiddy-friendly kind of way of course.
Given this isn’t a Sega blog and I’ve already been there and sucked Chupa Chups, can you guess where this article’s heading?
What’s initially most striking about Tin Toy Adventure is that it was released in 1996, only on a platform with a DNR tag already tied to its toe, and courtesy of a solitary developer operating his own studio and publishing house.
It didn’t grace the shelves of John Menzies or Electronics Boutique – they wouldn’t touch Amiga games with a barge pole by this stage. Instead, under the umbrella of his own label, Mutation Software, Tin Toy was distributed by one-man-band, Adrian Cummings, from his home town in Portsmouth via mail order.
“I first started writing for the Amiga back in 1988, and had my first commercially released game published in 1990. After a few years working on other titles and platforms for various publishers such as Core Design, I eventually moved into the PC development side of things which turned out to be a nightmare to get together, in the end, to get my work published and make a living, I decided the only machine possible to publish your own work on, without a large investment of cash upfront, was the Amiga. After around seven years of games software development for other people, Mutation Software mail order was born, but it hasn’t been easy.”
Amiga Computing interview (issue 111, April 1997)
Bedroom coders were ten a penny in those days, what you didn’t hear so much about were bedroom publishers. Selling directly to the public at £14.99 a pop, with far lower overheads to factor into the bottom line and in spite of waning interest in the Amiga as a rostrum for modern gaming, it proved to be relatively lucrative, shifting a total of 3000 units.
“After coding on the Amiga for some years and then leaving the market, only to come back to it again, the first thing I noticed was that all the ‘Big Boy’ publishers had pretty much left the Amiga for dead. As a developer in say 1992/93 when everything was still going fine, to get a good publishing deal with a good publisher and make pots of cash was relatively easy compared to the situation now.
I would say the Amiga’s future is a completely different ball game now, and unless somebody buys the machine and puts it back on the high street shelves with new hardware and some heavy marketing, I feel this is the way it is going to stay for a while to come. If Phase-5 could come up with a cut down version of its A-Box machine for around £399 for the mass market, I believe we could be talking serious good times ahead.”
Amiga Computing interview (issue 111, April 1997)
Following a string of intriguing demo-ed, yet regrettably unreleased projects that Adrian chalks up to a lack of commitment and direction, as well as having to coordinate a team of friends with divided focus, in 1990 Adrian struck it ‘lucky’ with publisher Microtec/Big Shot. A bit naive to the harsh demands of such a competitive industry themselves, Microtec took under their wing Adrian’s platformer, Bug Bash, and horizontally scrolling shooter, Nucleus. Aside from conveniently forgetting to compensate him for his arduous toil, it was a fantastic, mutually beneficial relationship. So much so that for his next couple of releases – Doodlebug: Bug Bash 2 and Cyberpunks – Adrian turned to Core Design who he had made a connection with at the annual ECTS, and had agreed to handle the publishing duties on his behalf. They served him well, though Adrian knew he could take home a larger slice of the pie if he went it alone. So he did; Tin Toy Adventure would be his inaugural self-published title, and first release designed exclusively for A1200 systems.
“I have programmed on other platforms but consider the Amiga the only machine worth working on the at the moment because I can personally make money out of it as a small developer/publisher, I mentioned the possibility of working on the PC earlier, but the Amiga is a dream to work on and I can see Mutation producing a lot more titles in the future, as long as I can sell them.
It comes down to this: l love the Amiga, always have, always will and no other machine ever had that magic appeal for me. For a machine that is supposed to be six foot under, it’s still remarkably alive and kicking, shouting, ‘I’ll be back’.”
Amiga Computing interview (issue 111, April 1997)
Building on the cute, cartoony foundations of his previous fare that were quickly becoming his trademark, in Tin Toy Adventure you play as a magician ti… well it’s kind of in the title isn’t it. Before health and safety regulations were brought into force and a massive proportion of western manufacturing outsourced to China, toy figurines were often made from tin or lead, and didn’t do very much under their own steam. You had to supply the locomotion and imagination. Tin Toy Adventure harks back to this fondly remembered era when toys were toys, and computer games were an incomprehensible sci-fi concept.
For reasons that aren’t elucidated, our particular lump of metal can walk and shoot projectile star weapons, so is in a prime position to defend his homestead from a despicably evil clown who has cast a dark spell over it, causing the inhabitants to dance to his ghastly tune. And by ‘dance’ I mean rally round to kick the living tin out of you.
Bobo the clown – or whatever he’s known as – can be found loitering malevolently upstairs in the attic, so to get there to give him a stern ticking off you’ll have to traipse through the garden’s ‘Enchanted Path’ and all the rooms of the house en route, lending some structure to your mission and a clear indicator of your progress towards the apex.
Entering the ‘House of Fun’, your second assault course is represented by the ‘Magic Kitchen’, followed by the ‘Toy Playroom’ and ‘Bubble Bathroom’, culminating in the final encounter with Ronald McDonald in the ‘Spooky Attic’. Each level incorporates theme-appropriate opponents and an oversized guardian parting gift. In the garden, a six legged, orange spider boss wearing a Comic Relief nose stands between you and the front door to your home sweet home, while the kitchen harbours an onion-hurling McWhopper burger, and the toy room a couple of pogo-ing ‘Eraserhead’ pencils. A bouncing tennis ball featuring a face, limbs and a hat appears to be what passes for a boss in the bathroom. Oh, ‘Mr Spinny Thing’ I see we’re calling him according to the stage clear screen. So even Adrian couldn’t decide what species he belongs to.
Standard foes in the garden include tomatoes, pears, and bees. In the kitchen, an army of baked bean cans, gas burning stoves, crisps, sausages, and pineapples pose your biggest threat. It’s no place for play time when you breach the toy room; once you’ve finished admiring the clever through-window parallax scrolling, you must tackle rampaging dragons, helicopters, jack in the box boxing gloves, and playing cards. Offering not an iota of respite, the bathroom is home to possessed toothbrushes, toothpaste, fish, and clamshells, while in the attic we’re harassed by walking candles, light bulbs, bats, and bugs.
Enemies are dispatched with a combination of upgradable throwing stars, the trusty head-bounce popularised by Mario, and certain limited capacity assault weapon spells you are able to cast at will. Pulling down on the joystick and selecting the desired option with the fire button you can:-
Inflate your normally scrawny body like a balloon to ascend and float to otherwise inaccessible platforms.
Set in motion a super-sized projection of your top hat and climb aboard to ride it across obstacles such as spike pits and water as it crushes anything in its path. It moves independently of yourself so can easily make a getaway without you if you’re not careful.
Transform into a furious Taz-esque whirlwind to hurtle across the screen wiping out any baddies that stand in your way, bypassing any environmental threats to your well-being in the process.
Unleash a dirty bomb from your top hat loaded with deadly magic rabbits to (hopefully) clear everything in the vicinity.
These are all well and good if you get chance to execute them before being interrupted by a rude assailant. Otherwise – as they’re not instantly accessible – your spells can be neutered mid-flow and your remaining stash still depletes. If you get hit too many times your oil-energy supply hits rock bottom and you become an ex-toy. Whenever that happens, as no checkpoints are offered, you’re whisked all the way back to the beginning of the level to try again.
Similarly frustrating, passwords aren’t provided to allow you to resume the last level attempted so when the fat lady sings, you’ve probably accidentally stumbled into the finale of an opera stage production. Oh, and it’s also game over… for keepsies.
Bumped off enemies respawn so that doesn’t help your cause, neither does the necessity for blind leaps of faith, or the old ‘up to jump’ cavil. Then it is an extremely short game with liberal oil can energy boosters littering the levels to ‘keep your motors runnin’. Before you ‘head out on the highway’ you also have the option to increase your life and spell count, so prior to diving into the thick of it, it’s worth ramping up those to maximum to tide you over.
“It’s a wacky, platty thing. Good fun to play and packed with ideas stolen from all over the place. Don’t expect months of excitement, but it’s a competent and a jolly good giggle to play.”
79% – Amiga Format (October 1996)
Hidden warps take you to bonus screens where a medley of goodies await, to be hoovered up for points or power-ups, as is the tradition for a platformer of this ilk. Attaching yourself to flying insects or biplanes to cross treacherous areas is more of a novelty, however. These must be immune to the Joker’s otherworldly sorcery. Unique to Tin Toy Adventure I’d wager is using ‘Cyber’ and ‘Doodle’ computer game boxes as platforms. No idea what they could be alluding to. 😉
“So Tin Toy’s a cutesie, fun platformer that’s nearly spoiled by the incredible blindness of the programmer to some of the most basic player-friendliness. I say nearly spoiled because despite these painful failings I still enjoyed playing Tin Toy. It is cheap and enjoyable and comes with a cautious recommendation.
There’s nothing startling or original here; we’ve seen it all before, but Tin Toy is challenging and amusing and therefore probably worthy of your attention.”
67% – Amiga Power (July 1996)
Before you find yourself asking, “are we there yet?” you will have already arrived. Our bete noire is Coco the clown, or did we decide he’s Pennywise? I can’t remember, they all float up here! Literally in fact – he’s a disembodied hovering head and pair of gloved hands that operate independently of one another. Whatever he is, he’s no more challenging than any other boss leading up to this point. Unload all your remaining spells and he won’t be laughing for long; it’s unlikely you’ll even have to fire a single star. Krusty goes down like a deflated balloon, making way for a final anti-climactic stage clear screen, complete with an admission of guilt from Adrian.
Impressively – as with Adrian’s previous published offerings – he pulled the whole thing together single-handedly. Music, coding, graphics, box design, distribution, advertising, tea and coffee brewing; all him. For that alone he deserves a golden joystick, and the game itself turned out above average too, if a tad dated for 1996 perhaps.
“But overall the execution is simply excellent for a new £14.99 game. Reading the press bumf (which I only did after playing the game for some time) I found out that the developer had previously done work for the likes of Core Design, and this experience shows. The overall feel is very, very professional. Mutation has managed to treat an essentially silly subject in such a way that it will appeal to games fans of all ages. Look how stupid the ideas of a hedgehog or a plumber are: but yet Sonic and Mario are major brand names. Tin Toy isn’t quite in this league yet: it lacks a truly great feel, but if Adrian Cummings continues its development I’m very much looking forward to Tin Toy 2. Keep ’em coming.
My game of the month. I’m charmed by it.”
84% – CU Amiga (August 1996)
Controls are responsive, yet Tin Toy remains quite a clunky character to navigate through the largely linear levels, artificially accentuated by the juddery tracking of the screen’s focus. Had this been smoother, the experience may not have been quite so disorientating.
‘By the numbers’ sums up the gameplay, although this is somewhat ameliorated – disguised even – by the sumptuous visuals and jubilant amiability of the soundtrack. In tandem they correlate impeccably with the childish sensibilities of the game, and hence would no doubt be readily embraced by the target audience.
Tin Toy Adventure made a comeback in 2003 tailored to run on Windows systems, sporting enhanced 640×480 graphics, published by Xing Interactive. A sequel was planned, yet failed to materialise due to a downturn in the market.
“Tin Toy 2… was going to be the usual follow up to Tin Toy AGA but sales were so poor towards the end of my days with Castle Kingdoms (I quite liked that game in a Spectrum sort of way) that it never happened either.
Tin Toy did very well though even though the Amiga was suffering bad by 1996 and we published it ourselves (albeit in a bit of a tin pot toy town sort of way – but hey that was half the fun !).”
Mutation Software continued to operate until 2005, at which point the eternally versatile Adrian switched his focus to ‘Mobile Amusements‘ and rebranded his company accordingly. Still residing in sunny seaside Portsmouth, he now develops software for third party publishers and web portals.
In 2011 Adrian officially declared his Amiga back-catalogue freely and legally distributable, on the proviso that no-one seeks to make a profit from it. Included in the line-up are Bug Bash, Castle Kingdoms, Cyberpunks, Doodlebug, Nucleus, Our-Type, Tin Toy Adventure, Tommy Gun, and Vac-Suit Jack. What a thoroughly decent, jolly nice chap. Top hats off to you sir!