Toy Story 3 (the movie) looks promising, as all Pixar movies tend to. But Toy Story 3 (the game) was cursed from its outset with being two things: a game for kids, and an adaptation. And we all know how both of those things turn out, don't we?
But wait! For while this is indeed a game that will mostly be enjoyed by the young ones, it's not a complete train wreck. There is a lot about this game that is derivative, formulaic, and cliched, but there are also some aspects that I didn't expect to see in a movie-to-game title. So if you have a child at home looking for their next gaming fix, read on.
There are two main modes at the heart of Toy Story 3: the story mode, and the Toy Box. I'll get the former out of the way first, because it's not nearly as good. Unfortunately, the levels in the story mode make very little sense if you don't know the plot of the movie. You'll be shunted around from location to location almost as if you're expected to fill in the blanks yourself with snippets from the movie. I haven't seen the movie, and was left with the feeling that the developers were expecting to be given a bunch of cutscenes pulled from the film that never came. The result is a bit disconnected, but will probably be mitigated if you catch the movie first.
The gameplay itself cannot be discussed without mentioning the Lego series: they're the giant elephant in the room in this case. They've had years to perfect that mix of platforming, puzzles and collection mania that makes those games fun for a lot people — so you can perhaps hardly blame the Toy Story 3 developers for using them as a base. You'll be switching between characters with unique abilities to solve puzzles, doing your fair share of platform hopping, and taking part in a variety of quite different level types, from regular running and jumping, to horse riding, to soaring through canyons.
This is all well and good in theory, but the execution can be a little off at times. Too often, I found myself just missing a platform, tumbling down to the ground, and having start a laborious climb all over again. This made me a bit disgruntled, as did repeatedly jumping over moving lightning, blasting robot enemies, and leaping around trying to collect balloons. It's not that any of these things are bad, per se — it's just that they cropped up a bit too often. It was, in fact, very strange to swing between "Oh hey, lots of variety!" to "Oh no, not this section again!" in the space of a few minutes.
But that's okay, for the Toy Box mode is much better. Think of it as a small-scale, ultra-cartoony Red Dead Redemption. It's an open world full of simple quests and miscellaneous activities that will keep kids (and adults, I must admit) busy for quite some time. Older folks will perhaps get a bit bored of the (very) simplistic missions, but fans of the series will get a kick out of seeing all their favourite characters in a wild west setting.
Many of the gameplay elements seen in the story mode return here, but because you don't need to repeat the same move over and over, they become far less annoying. Besides undertaking little missions from a wide variety of characters, you can also partake in races riding Bullseye the horse, mine for gold, hunt for (plentiful) hidden items, construct new buildings, invite new inhabitants, and customise everything to your heart's content. Toy Box really is a good name for it — I can see kids getting a big kick out of organically growing their own frontier town.
It's also worth pointing out how good Toy Story 3 looks, for the most part anyway. It's so nice to see a game with actual colour, and not just a muddied selection of greys and browns. Both environments and — in particular — characters are very well-rendered. Some cutscenes really manage to capture that Pixar spirit, and impressive feat indeed.
However, while the audio is generally of a high quality, none of the major cast voices their characters. This is a lesser problem than you might think, simply because — as mentioned above — Toy Story 3 eschews a lot of the dialogue and character moments from the film. But of course, that brings its own problem: namely, that Woody, Buzz, and everyone else lose a good chunk of their appeal. If you want to see them interact with one another in any meaningful way, go and see the movie. But if you just want to inhabit their world, then the game is the way to do that.
The other big plus for Toy Story 3 is the drop-in multiplayer. I can see this coming in extremely handy when your son or daughter is stuck and you need to lend a helping hand — or indeed, if you simply want to spend some quality time together in the world of Toy Story. As is usually the case, playing with a second player can make things much more fun.
And that's about it! Got a kid who's into Toy Story? There's a lot here for them to sink their teeth into, and thankfully it's not all bad. There are definitely some rough spots, and it's a shame about the story mode, but overall this is one of the better movie games around. I know, I know, that's not saying a lot, but I really do mean it as a compliment.