I have no idea what in the world inspired me to go out and buy this game. I think I got distracted by the early praise being put on Toy Box Mode and the fact that Zurg was a PS3 exclusive. Perhaps it was just excitement for the film, as it had been more than a decade since Toy Story 2. It had to be something big, because after getting my hands on Wall-E not that long ago, I was reminded how awful movie tie-in games were.
Still, there was some hope. The Toy Box Mode was shaping up to be something special, giving you an open world full of Toy Story goodness. It also promised to let the player customize the experience to their liking. If it could be pulled off, it could be something great.
So, did it live up to the hype, or is this one toy you play with once and then toss in the pile with the rest of the junk?
There are two options for play this time around. You can chose the story mode, in which you play through some of the biggest set pieces from the movie, or you can take up the role of sheriff in Toy Box.
Story mode is your typical licensed game crap. It follows the plot of the film in the most bare-bones way imaginable. There’s no characterization, no exposition, and no heart to the script. You simply move from one scene to another, with only a brief explanation from Ham as to how the toys got there in the first place. The sets themselves do have some interesting qualities though. In one level, you get to play the Buzz Lightyear game from Toy Story 2, and another has you playing in the mind of a little girl who’s doll is a witch trying to drown the room in tea. That last one might sound silly, but it is pulled off pretty well. Were there any story elements to pull this all together, it wouldn’t be an altogether bad setup. As is, it can safely be passed.
Toy Box is the real star of the show. You can chose from either Woody, Buzz or Jessie and play as the Sheriff of a western town. You get missions from the denizens of the town, as well as the mayor. You can complete the quests at your leisure, and there are plenty of side quests to keep you busy. In addition, you constantly unlock new buildings, toys, and items to customize your town with. You can also unlock new playsets that give you whole levels to play through, as well a bunch of new missions. There are a smattering of boss fights and big moments, so there is a path you can follow if you so chose, but you can just as easily goof off with the stunt park, give all of the townspeople green spiked hair, or race around on Bullseye. The missions aren’t always exciting, and it feels like a kid’s version of GTA, but it works for what it is trying to do.
Basically, if you want to play the game, stick with Toy Box and avoid the story like the plague.
There’s not much to write about in this department, but that is hardly a surprise considering we’re talking about a movie tie in. Still, the game doesn’t look all that bad, though it is a bit rough around the edges.
Character models are simple and fairly well detailed for the most part. They don’t animate all that well though. Movements are stiff, and look nothing near as good as their movie counterparts. The framerate also dips considerably when the action on screen gets too heavy.
From an artistic standpoint, the game is very faithful to the movie series. Environments feature a lot of sharp edges and are full of color and detail. It’s far from perfect, though. Anything in space looks bland and there are a number of sequences with seemingly endless corridors, but overall the game looks good.
If nothing else, it looks as good as it needs to, but never goes the extra mile to leave an impression on the player.
With the full Toy Story soundtrack at its disposal, the game features some pretty good music. Of particular note is the awesome tune that plays when you’re soaring into space as Buzz. The game also prominently features “You’ve Got a Friend In Me”Â, which plays during the menu, on the game board, and pretty much every other place they could get away with it.
There is a decent amount of voice work in the game, mostly by John Ratzenberger as Ham. Most of the original cast returns as well, and they do a decent enough job. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the characters of Woody and Buzz are relegated to small voice clips for the majority of the game. The actors did a bang up job though. Buzz has to remind himself to speak in cowboy lingo while riding a horse, and Woody has that excitably pompous air to him that makes him so lovable.
If there’s one complaint I have about the game’s sound design, it’s that the effects are cheap and unrewarding. One would think blowing a robot up with laser blasts would deliver a satisfying explosion, but it comes off as tinny. You’ll also be bombarded by some of the worst hoof sound effects in recent games. What it seems to boil down to is that the sound effects were the one area the developer had to do on their own, and they didn’t put much work into it.
The gameplay is also split into two very different types, and not just in terms of modes.
In the story, you mostly play as Jessie, Woody, and Buzz all at once. Each character has attributes that make them different. Woody can use his pull string to swing from hooks on the wall, Jessie can balance on precarious objects, and Buzz is extra strong. Generally, there are several spots in each level that only one of the characters can complete. You can switch characters on the fly, and that aspect of the game runs pretty well.
What doesn’t work is the dodgy combat that has you throwing rubber balls at the enemy. You can press the shoulder button to zoom in, but there’s a delay from when you press it and when the ball is thrown. What also doesn’t work is the floaty jump mechanic that never feels right. The controls are also just a bit too loose, especially when driving vehicles or riding on Bullseye. It doesn’t add up to an enjoyable game playing experience.
There are several mission types, and they do add a bit of variety to the proceedings. Some missions are all about exploration, while others are about quick reflexes. Of particular note is the level where you play the Buzz video game from Toy Story 2, which has you using hover jets and shattering large crystals with your laser. There are also several sections where you slide down grind rails much like in Ratchet & Clank, but it isn’t nearly on the same level in terms of quality. The stealth mission is the biggest dud, with dumb AI patterns made up for by eagle vision that spots you from across the room. It was easily the most frustrating part of the game, even if it wasn’t hard in the normal sense.
When you turn on Toy Box, the gameplay experience is vastly different. You still have the loose controls and dodgy combat, but gone is the characters switching and awful aping of classic video game franchises. Instead, it only apes GTA, but for kids. There are a few themed levels that require you to purchase playsets in order to unlock them, but for the most part you’ll be completing missions. These run the gamut of typical fetch quests and buying new buildings, but also feature exploration sections, races, random outlaw raids and other such niceties that keep the mode far more interesting than it perhaps should be.
Somehow, despite the fact that on paper it looks like it reduces your options, Toy Box is easily the more enjoyable mode to play. You can safely goof around without time constrictions and explore to your heart’s content. If the controls and design were better, the mode would be something pretty special. As it is, it still manages to be a pretty enjoyable romp through the Toy Story universe.
Playing the story more than once is a good way to get yourself to hate the game, so your options for replay are mostly stuck with Toy Box. Fortunately, it offers a much longer and thoroughly more enjoyable experience that should help you get your monies worth.
However, if you bring in a friend, you can always play the two player co-op mode. I needn’t remind you that most games only get more enjoyable when more players are involved, and Toy Story 3 is no exception. All told, you can probably get more than a dozen hours out of the game, which is vastly superior to your average licensed game.
Down the road, the game promises to have support for the Move, but it is unclear exactly what that support will be, and I can’t really judge the game on that merit. However, it does mean that should you get the Move when it comes out later this year, you might be able to squeeze out even more time out of the game.
Most enemies are mindless. I’ve counted dozens of robots that stood in place and shot at me with horrid inaccuracy. They never try to gang up on you, corner you, or even really fight back. On top of that, you can’t really die in the game, though there are spaces where you can fail and have to start over.
This is especially annoying during the Toy Box mode. Enemies just knock you back, and without precarious platforms or time constraints, you can leisurely get up and take them out. Also, the game throws money and ammo at you so fast, that you’ll have everything purchased early on and never run out of balls to throw at people. Add on the fact that you can exchange extra ammunition for cash, and things get even easier.
It might be a great setup for much younger audiences, but don’t expect anything even remotely like a challenge.
I briefly touched on how this game borrows ideas from other high profile games, but let’s look at this in another light, shall we?
Compared to other licensed games, Toy Story 3 doesn’t steal from other genres so much as put its own spin on the concept. (At least when you’re talking about Toy Box.) More to the point, the idea of they toys all having personalities and playtime being a world of its own fits so snugly with the series that it just feels right. Thus, I never felt I was playing a clone so much as seeing something logical transpire.
It may not be the most original game in the traditional sense, but it does bring something new to its audience, which is always welcome. (It would also make a great gateway game for younger children to get into open world titles.)
Surprisingly enough, the game is fairly addictive, despite the control issues and bland story.
The reason for this is the collecting. Collectables, including alternate clothes, hair styles, building accessories, and the like litter the ground like peanut shells at most bars. There are literally hundreds of the things, and you usually can’t go far without finding one or two. And, since you can grab a toy, toss it in a shop, and edit to your liking, these collectables actually find use. Of particular note is the pict-o-matic missions that task you with recreating setups in pictures. For example, one picture showed a group of barbers gathered around, and I had to go about customizing a bunch of villagers until I met the required number. There are a ton of missions like these (most of them far more interesting than the one I described), and you can easily get lost in completing them all.
The addiction does taper off towards the end, as there are fewer interesting missions and the collectables are harder and harder to find, but the game does enough to get you hooked, which is more than you can say for most games of its ilk.
Toy Story 3 has made something like nine hundred million dollars worldwide so far. Toys of Woody, Buzz, and their compatriots flood stores like Wal-Mart and Toys R Us. Special editions of games like Yahtzee, Operation, Monopoly and countless others are all over the place. In other words, the Toy Story franchise is huge. There is a large, substantial built in audience for this game.
Even the doubters will find something of note in the Toy Box mode. I know that I wouldn’t have gotten the game without it and I know several other people that are actually interested in it. Compared to the interest in, say, the Iron Man 2 video game, this game might as well be a blockbuster.
Move support might also sway a few into buying the PS3 version of the game, but only time will tell on that one.
Overall, the game has a wide appeal because of the wide appeal of the movie, and because it features a mode people actually want to play.
I’ve pretty much already covered the things that normally go in this section, so I’ll just do a little recap.
The PS3 version has two exclusives to mention. Firstly, there’s the upcoming Move support that will add motion controls to the game. Secondly, this is the only copy of the game where you can play as Zurg. He might not be as cool as he could have been, but it is still amusing to shoot enemies with yellow foam balls while Zurg spouts off typical villain cliches.
Overall, the game is fairly decent, though it does suffer most of the usual trappings of a licensed game, it makes up for that with some charm and the Toy Box mode. With some tweaks to the controls and a few other changes, this could have been great. As is, it is still pretty darn good for a licensed game.
Story/Modes: Above Average
Replayability: Above Average
Originality: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Good
Final Score: Above Average Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
Toy Story 3 is superior to your average licensed title because of the Toy Box mode. It delivers an open world experience rife with collectables and customization options. The story may be typically bland, and older gamers will not get nearly as much out of the game as younger players, but it is still far better than you’d think it would be. If you’re a big fan of the movies, this is a pretty safe buy, especially for kids.