Publisher: Disney Interactive Studios
Developer: Avalanche Software
Released: 16th July 2010
Other Formats: Xbox 360, Wii, PC
If you hadn't already been made aware, Pixar's crowning glory returns to silver screens this summer in Toy Story 3 (out in the UK on the 19th July, if you're interested), and with it of course, is the tie-in videogame- this time from developer Avalanche Software and Disney Interactive Studios. Of course, movie tie-ins are often, and unmistakeably, poor. However, it seems obvious how far Avalanche have come in delivering sufficient thought towards the game of the same name, with a rich and colourful visual style that sticks true to the franchise's heritage, whilst the platforming and puzzle mechanics at the heart of the game is deft in applying a good deal of challenge for all ages and being entertaining in equal measure.
Whether you choose to forgo through the story missions that interweave between the narrative of the aforementioned CG offering, (and thus, presenting many of the new cast of characters), or jump on Bullseye for a ride around the open-world toy box, the game very rarely fails to delight. The “ToyBox Mode” open world offering seeing Woody become sheriff of the Western-inspired toy-town, western strings plucking along to the rhythm of game play, as you complete missions and mini-games as you see fit for any of Toy Story's excellent characters. From clearing mine shafts for Stinky Pete, to sprucing up the town for Mayor Hamm and capturing criminals to throw into the town jail, the toy box represents a good deal of game play in only a tiny proportion of the overall package on offer. The area is large and intricately designed enough for the more mundane 'fetch' tasks to remain relevant and adequately challenging, whilst also familiar enough to alleviate unnecessary meanderings. Extra toys, whether vehicles or perfunctory buildings, can be bought from Al's Toy Barn for coins that are awarded for completing missions (each with a fantastic TV style ad to match), to add to the town. The vast weight of the game comes from the story missions that perhaps best demonstrate the game's effective and enjoyable platforming mechanics.
With many missions underwhelming and defunct of ideas in terms of contextualising such instances into the overarching plot, the lay-out of each are surprisingly well thought out for the game to flourish in delivering a superb single player, and even better co-op experience. Revolving mostly around 3D platforming, the controls feel sensitive and in-tune with the very best of platformers, even though the level design could perhaps be improved upon for the game to stand alone on its own terms- many of the levels being a split between 'find the item'/mini-game/platformer. The platform sections work best, infused with puzzles that handle the ability to switch characters (between Woody, Buzz or Jessie, using L1) effectively. Each of their own unique abilities (such as Jessie's ability to land on smaller platforms or Buzz's laser targeting), meaning many of the puzzles that break up the platforming sections are sufficiently challenging and ensuring the game's ability to co-op with other players exceptionally rewarding, with players working together towards the end of the level. Story missions such as 'Junkyard' expel all that is great about the game, with each character's abilities intertwined and interspersed between each other towards a conglomerate resolution of stopping Rex, Slinky and Hamm from entering the mouth of the junk machine- where Jessie landing on valves allows Woody to swing to the next mechanical button, thus allowing Buzz to knock down a piece of junk to Jessie for further progression, a prime example of the developer's quality. It's instances such as these in which the game really gives the shows the best qualities on offer, alleviating it above other movie tie-ins that so often, fail to excite.
Where it falters the most is within its fetch quests, where areas are often idly paced up and down to find something that has been hinted toward- shallow ideas denting the well crafted whole. Some of the missions are also drab and dull, especially where Buzz is involved, with the over-the-shoulder lock-on shooting mechanic poor, making the endless destruction of the waves of enemies forced at him a repetitive slog to the invisible timed marker, with the rich interpretation of Toy Story 2's opening scenes a particularly resonant and stand out moment of the game, but poorly realised due to the underwhelming combat that has been given little thought. It makes me question what could have been achieved had the developer been given enough time to balance and refine the part's of the game which have obviously been rushed towards its release date, where the fetch quests make sense to bulk out the game. Avalanche Software have demonstrated assurance and quality in many instances, with some excellent ideas thrown in.
Otherwise infused with enough replicated Pixar charm and sentimentalities from the films, the game stands up very well visually, retaining playful and insightful characteristics from each of its characters and thus allowing them to each stand out very well within the game, whilst delivering refreshing and delightful colourful sets and game locations. From the dusty plains of the toy box contrasting to the bright neon-lit swathes in space, the beloved Toy Story 3 franchise is expertly brought to screen, imbuing the essence of the game with enough uniquely designed settings to keep the game pacey and interesting for the whole of its stay. The sparsely used but surprisingly adept cut scenes also doing well to add enough humour for the audience, introducing us to new characters (Peas in a Pod a particular highlight), while stitching together a loose plot.
Hugely enjoyable for the most part, Toy Story 3 can be considered amongst the best of film to videogame tie-ins for sure. Demonstrating enough charm and exceptional visuals for fans of the series, with the puzzle and platforming sections of the game doing their very best in giving gamers reason to take notice. It's no classic platformer, but neither can it be considered cheap and defunct of ideas, this movie tie-in is worthy of the Toy Story name and can be appreciated singularly, aside from the film.
*This review can also be found on www.dpadmagazine.com