Toys Come Alive
If the game’s Metacritic page is any indication, Avalanche Software’s Toy Story 3 has been quite a hit with critics and fans alike. We’re here to be “that guy”: this game is highly, highly overrated. There. We said it.
True, Toy Story 3 stands head and shoulders above most other movie games. And yes, there are some moments of sheer genius here. But for the most part, Toy Story 3 is just like every licensed kids’ game: a series of easy and mundane tasks that keep children occupied for a few hours, but don’t serve much of a purpose beyond that. There’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s nothing to go crazy about, either.
This title gets off to an amazing start. You’re dropped into the middle of a fantasy sequence from the original Toy Story. Playing as Woody and riding Bullseye, you have to chase after a train to rescue some kidnapped orphans, avoiding various obstacles. Once you catch the train, you jump aboard in a cutscene, and proceed to fight your way to the front. This involves some demanding platforming, and even some third-person shooting (be sure to take cover!). By the time you get to the end of this brief sequence, it’s hard not to be excited for the game ahead.
The game ahead, however, is where the problems lie. The map screen is a board game, and there you can choose from a variety of options. You can re-play the intro sequence (Train Rescue), watch the cutscenes you’ve unlocked (Toy Story Theater), poke around in Al’s Toy Barn, or select from Toy Story 3’s various sub-games. The most substantial of these games is Woody’s Roundup, a sandbox-style Western that takes several hours to complete. You’ll explore your surroundings, accomplish missions for the people you meet, accumulate gold, and buy various buildings, vehicles, and items. It’s basically Red Dead Toy Story.
Some of these missions are fun. You have to rescue a mule from the top of a mountain, and reaching him entails some great platforming. It’s enjoyable to master some of the time-trial-style races, and to throw criminals in jail. Too often, however, the missions just make you go through various motions, adding to the play time without adding any actual value. All you do in one mission, for example, is buy the town a barber shop and get someone a haircut. In another, you paint some houses, customizing the colors any way you like. These tasks can be cute (the townsfolk look like Lego characters, and there are a lot of colorful customization options), but it’s hard not to get the sense that you’re wasting most of the time you spend.
Heading back to the map screen, you can play the other games, which add up to a campaign of sorts. (There’s no real story; it’s just a hodgepodge of Toy Story scenes that happen to lend themselves to the video-game setting.) Our personal favorite is the Buzz Video Game; in the opening cutscene, the characters sit down to play it, and then you take control of Buzz as he hunts down his arch-nemesis, Emperor Zurg.
This game-within-a-game is a stroke of genius. As the camera moves into different positions and you face new hazards, the gameplay shifts styles. By the time it’s over, you’ve played two-dimensional platforming, three-dimensional platforming, third-person action, Star Fox-style rail shooting, and even some top-down action. Many of these sections are reasonably challenging. The level design is a little repetitive in places, but the Buzz Video Game is definitely one of Toy Story 3’s highlights. If only the rest of Toy Story 3 had this much excitement.
Most of the other levels are as mundane as the sandbox game, though. Sunnyside Daycare is just a collection of minigames. In Andy’s House, you can switch between the three controllable characters (Woody, Buzz, and Jessie, each of whom has special abilities) to solve environmental puzzles. These puzzles are mind-numbingly easy, however, and the game gives you far too many hints about how to solve them. It reminded us a bit of Lego Batman for the DS, in which you spend hours maneuvering Batman and Robin into various positions without feeling particularly challenged.
It’s tempting to excuse the lack of difficulty on the grounds that Toy Story 3 is just a kids’ game, but if that’s the way the developers were treating it, why did they make the introductory scene and the Buzz Video Game considerably tougher? On the one hand, you have unlimited lives, the checkpoints are distributed quite liberally, and most of the game is so easy it’s ridiculous, but on the other hand, there are some adult-friendly hard parts. It’s not clear what they were going for with the difficulty.
The controls here are a mixed bag. Most of the game is played in the third-person, with a basic setup that allows you to run around, adjust the camera (sometimes), jump, sprint, throw projectiles, and use items. However, the vehicles can be hard to steer sometimes, and some sequences feature a fixed camera that can make it hard to see where you’re going. Trying to steer a car as Buzz Lightyear — who’s much larger than the car and sitting on top of it — was one of the most obnoxious things we’ve ever had to do in a video game. Trying to navigate Woody from one ledge to another over a room filled with coffee that could kill him in one hit, as the camera changed views erratically, was another.
To be fair, whatever problems the gameplay has, the presentation is top-notch. The graphics, both in the cutscenes and during gameplay, look drawn straight from the Pixar movie, and we noticed very few visual glitches. The voice acting is superb, featuring some of the original actors (not, unfortunately, Tim Allen or Tom Hanks, though Joan Cusack plays Jessie). Many of the featured songs are immediately recognizable to fans of the films (“You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” etc.), and the music always fits the mood of the gameplay. The whole experience captures the feel of the movies. It is clear throughout the game that the developers paid close attention to every detail of the way Toy Story 3 looks and sounds, and for that they deserve a lot of credit.
For parents with smaller children, this is a good investment, and even adults will find a lot to enjoy in Toy Story 3. However, this game is a lot more boring and repetitive than it’s been hyped up to be. Except for Toy Story fanatics, this is merely a decent kids’ game, not a must-buy for the whole family.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
This game looks great, and captures the realism and color scheme of the movies. 2.9 Control
A mixed bag. Usually they’re fine, but the vehicles are hard to steer, and sometimes the camera makes your life difficult. 4.4 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Great effects, music, and voiceover work, though the absence of Tim Allen and Tom Hanks from the cast hurts. 3.2 Play Value
There are spurts of brilliance, but most of the game is tedious and boring. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.