I adore Pixar movies. I really do.
I love them so much, in fact, that I have played every single videogame based on every single Pixar movie that has come out. Yeah, I am not ashamed that my friends on Xbox Live still see me playing Cars to this day. NOT ASHAMED! I am a super fan!
But sometimes this super fandom can result in massive disappointment. Let’s be honest: movie to videogame adaptations are notoriously bad. And, sadly, most of the Disney/Pixar games are no exceptions. As much as I love exploring the sewers of Paris as Remy from Ratatouille, THE GAME IS TERRIBLE!
Going into Toy Story 3: The Video Game I was nervous. I had already seen Toy Story 3 multiple times in the theater (it is so good!), but was very concerned that the game would not even be close to as adventurous, charming, or exciting as the movie it was based on.
So, what did I think? Were the hours I put into the game as exciting as finding an old Snake Mountain in the attic whose “microphone” still works after all these years? Or was playing the game as disappointing as pulling out KerPlunk and expecting it to be as fun as it was when you were little?
Hit the jump for my review of Toy Story 3: The Video Game.
Toy Story 3: The Video Game (Nintendo DS, PlayStation 3, PSP, Wii, PC, Xbox 360 [reviewed])
Good news! While Toy Story 3: The Video Game doesn’t reinvent the (Hot)wheel, it does give me hope that videogames based on movies can be pretty decent, solid little packages. And that alone is worth celebrating!
Going into the game, I really didn’t know that much about it. I obviously knew it would follow the story of the movie, and I heard a lot of the buzz (no pun intended) that Toy Story 3: The Video Game was going to offer up much more content and creativity than your average adaptation, but I wasn’t sure exactly what any of that entailed.
And, admittedly, at first, Toy Story 3: The Video Game feels exactly like any other generic 3D platforming game on the market.
The game begins with you playing as Woody in a recreation of the movie’s awesome opening scene aboard a runaway train full of orphans. This stage serves as a tutorial, showing players how to jump, hang from ledges, use weapons -- you know, all the stuff you have seen before.
It helps that the graphics are surprisingly polished, but, other than the excitement of playing a scene from the movie, the opening stage of the game feels uninspired and, sadly, a little boring.
But once this initial level is over, Toy Story 3: The Video Game completely opens up and shows you exactly what makes the game so great!
At the conclusion of the first stage, players will have a choice to continue playing the game in Story mode or tackling the epic, shockingly robust Toy Box mode.
First, let’s talk about Story mode, as I want to save the best for last.
Story mode is exactly how it sounds: each (fairly linear) level in the game recreates a famous scene from the movie, continuing on until the story comes to a close. Simple as that.
Lucky for the game, though, this fairly straight-forward mode has two great things going for it.
One, Toy Story 3 the movie is full of set pieces that easily translate to an exciting, action-packed videogame. This is not an adaptation of My Dinner with Andre. Toy Story 3: The Video Game has levels set in a rollicking day care, in the ventilation shafts during a prison break, and even on the complex, scary conveyor belts of a deadly (at least, for toys) junkyard. Even when I saw the movie I kept imagining how cool some of these scenes would be in a videogame.
And, most of the time, the levels are successful. There are a couple missteps along the way, but overall, all the stages in Story mode are super fun, really well-designed, full of variety, and, most significantly, challenging. I wasn’t expecting to die as much as I did in a Disney game, but, as a fan of old-school, challenging platforming games, I was happy I did! Some of the levels are tough!
Besides the nice level design, the other thing that helps Story mode work is the implementation of three playable characters on most of the levels. By hitting a button, you can switch between Woody, Jessie, and Buzz Lightyear at any point in the game. Each character has a different specialty (Woody can swing on posts using his drawstring, Jessie can balance on small platforms, and Buzz can throw characters across the screen), so the strategy involved in getting through a level is a welcome addition.
The Story mode is a little on the short side, but it never feels like a wasted opportunity. There are also a lot of hidden collectibles on each stage -- some easily missed the first time through -- raising the game’s replay value quite a bit.
Once you are finished with Story mode, though, the real fun begins: Toy Box mode.
The easiest way to explain Toy Box mode is basically a Pixar-universe version of Grand Theft Auto. If you got a boner after reading that you are going to absolutely love this part of the game.
Toy Box mode is a massive open world area set in the Wild West.
In this mode, you can play as Woody, Jessie, or Buzz Lightyear, but, unlike in Story mode, all three characters have the same controls. They only differ aesthetically.
In Toy Box mode, your character is tasked with completing missions assigned by random characters that live in your town. I say “your town” because, in addition to walking around and completing a ton of missions, you can build up and customize almost anything in your town, making it feel a little bit like cult classic ActRaiser at times.
You can build new buildings, dress up all your townsfolk however you like -- you can even drive around in a variety of toy cars or hop on the back of your trusty steed Bullseye (my favorite character in any Pixar movie).
Even cooler, each of the buildings you purchase using gold coins collected around the world functions exactly as is really should. If you build a barbershop, for example, you can throw townsfolk in it and customize their haircuts. If you build a jail you can use it to imprison convicts causing trouble around the town for a hefty reward. Toy Box mode starts off feeling rather simple, but quickly expands into an absolutely huge, entirely customizable open world. It’s pretty impressive!
As far as the missions go, there is a large variety of different things you can do. Some are overly basic, tasking the player with simple fetch quests. Others, though, are wildly creative and really take advantage of the fact that you are playing a game starring a bunch of different toys. At one point in Toy Box mode you find an old View-Master. When looking through it you can scroll through many different snapshots from around town. These snapshots will include a familiar place and usually a few characters with specific outfits and accessories. Your job is to perfectly recreate the image in the View-Master to complete the mission and earn valuable gold coins.
Another set of missions takes place on a giant stunt track. By hopping in a toy car, you can perform tricks and challenging maneuvers to score points and earn medals. The stunt track alone is huge and could have easily been an entirely separate mode on its own.
And this is the overall feeling I got as I played Toy Box for hours and hours and hours. Everything just feels so massive for, what could have been, a throwaway Toy Story tie-in game. While Toy Box mode never reaches the heights and scale of the Grand Theft Auto games, it impresses with elaborate, intelligent, and most importantly, really fun gameplay.
And I didn’t even mention how this mode is a Pixar fan’s dream come true. Besides being full of Toy Story characters from all three movies (you were an evil bastard in Toy Story 2, Stinky Pete, but I have to admit you charmed me in this game), Toy Box mode contains a ton of references to other Pixar movies. You can collect Finding Nemo outfits for your townspeople, run into old characters from A Bug’s Life, collect toys and cards referencing all the movies in the Pixar universe. Just when you think your smile can’t get any bigger, you will collect a hidden Dory hat from a mine shaft and think to yourself: “Um, this game is kind of amazing.”
So, yeah, the game is kind of amazing.
It is not without its problems, though.
Actually, I shouldn’t really say “problems.” Toy Story 3: The Video Game is a solid little platformer, and what it does it seems to do really well. I guess there were just some things I wished had been included, more than anything.
If you have seen Toy Story 3 the movie, you know that all the characters are important and each has a pretty great moment in the spotlight. I wish the game took advantage of this and let you play as more characters other than Woody, Jessie, and Buzz Lightyear. Imagine a stage where you play as Slinky Dog. Or how about Mr. Potato Head and the tortilla! MY GOD THE TORTILLA SCENE MAY BE MY FAVORITE PIXAR MOMENT OF ALL TIME! There were so many opportunities for the game’s designers to really be creative with the stages in Story mode. The current ones included in the game are fun, but they could have been so much more.
All in all, though, Toy Story 3: The Video Game is a really good game -- I can easily see it appealing to almost anyone that plays it. Most of the time these Disney movie games only appeal to a younger audience, which is a shame. Toy Story 3: The Video Game has enough sophisticated design and true challenge that even hardcore gamers (and hardcore Pixar fans) like myself can find stuff to love. The Toy Box alone makes it worth checking out.
I wanted to end this review with some play on “to infinity and beyond,” but realized that might come across as being really cliché.
Instead, I leave you with my favorite line from all the Toy Story movies:
Thank you, adorable shark toy. You (and this game) are pretty awesome.
Score: 8.0 -- Great (8s are impressive efforts with a few noticeable problems holding them back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.)