There are several truisms about the gaming industry at large that simply cannot be argued with.
For example, it's safe to assume there will be a new Guitar Hero released this year. It's also a pretty good bet that Peter Molyneux will say something tragically embarrassing during his next media interview. Likewise, if it were revealed that Bobby Kotick actually does have horns, nobody would be surprised.
A more important truth however, is that almost without exception, games based on movies are terrible.
There's plenty of reasons why movie tie-ins universally suck, but mostly it's down to timing. The development of the game is always considered secondary to the importance of a well coordinated film release, so development studios are forced to produced a game within a specific time window, usually without any real creative guidance from the people who are working on the film. It's gotten to the stage where a lot of studios get their third or fourth tier developers to churn out these titles, simply because it's a given that no matter how they approach the design of the game, it's going to be awful and nobody is going to buy it anyway.
GoldenEye 007, an exception to this rule, went on to become one of the most successful action games ever made, owing in no small part to the fact it was released two years after the motion picture.
Toy Story 3, therefore, has an uphill battle.
The game consists of the same kind of madcap platforming action you'd expect from a game primarily targeted at the younger generation, yet strangely features enough in the way of entertainment to keep adults occupied too. The characters are big, bold and bright, and perfectly matched to their on-screen counterparts, despite the absence of Tom Hanks who clearly had something more important to do than read out a few lines.
It's best to start by exploring the Story mode, which is comprised of eight levels and can be clocked in a rainy afternoon. It's here you'll get to play as Andy’s toys - either Woody, Buzz or Jessie - in order to pass various platform challenges, many of which require you to switch between the characters. Woody can swing across gaps, Buzz can use his superhuman strength to throw the toys to new platforms, and Jessie can use her agility to pass through tricky areas. The levels are well constructed and genuinely difficult in some places, and despite the competent hint system, many would probably tax even the most patient of children.
Whether you're acting as a trio to scale bookcases in order to parachute army men down to a predetermined spot, or chasing down a train on a horse, or even jumping between asteroids in outer space, the Story mode is relentless and manages to inject Toy Story's trademark humour into the title. It's not in any way a faithful reproduction of the movie itself - more like a series of challenges based around characters featured from the movie, with a heap of props thrown in. Sure, it's a bit clumsy in places, but the overall strategy has worked well, even if the camera angles sometimes obscure your ability to accurately predict where that next jump will take you.
Controls, too, aren't as well refined as one might hope. You only really notice problems with movement when it costs you a life here and there, unfortunately this happens too frequently. It's not a game-changer, but a little more polish would have made a real difference to the overall experience. On the plus side, there's no penalty for dying other than being moved back to your last checkpoint, and as these are liberally scattered throughout each level it's easy to forgive a few gameplay flaws that would have otherwise seriously compromised the title.
The Toybox mode, on the other hand, is much more engaging. Here you'll be given free roam in your own town, which you essentially need to customize from scratch. You'll be provided with missions from the townsfolk, the reward for which usually involves additional content becoming available. There's a huge amount of content on offer - from new buildings and townsfolk right down to clothes and paint schemes for objects, and hours can easily be spent just trying to find as many of these unlockables as possible. There's even a two-player option whereby another player can join in at any time to assist via split-screen.
Once you've completed a few missions, you'll quickly start to pad out your town with new buildings and citizens, all of which are whimsically modelled in the manner we've come to expect from Pixar. You can choose to sit back and deal with the day-to-day aspects of the town, such as chasing down criminals and hurling them theatrically through the door of the jail, or opt to accept the increasingly varied missions from townsfolk. These missions range from simple exploratory tasks designed to show you the ropes, to all manner of vehicle racing, and even assisting Hamm to win a mayoral election though the clever use of t-shirt marketing.
There's an arrow indicator to show you where the mission objective typically resides, although it has a tendency to become inaccurate at short distances resulting in a bit of stumbling around from time to time. Overall though, the sheer amount of content on offer offsets any minor problems you'll encounter, making for a genuinely entertaining experience.
It's fair to assume that the game isn't going to prove to be anywhere near as popular as the movie, but that's not really the point. The fact that a movie tie-in title is actually as well made as this shows that it's possible to co-ordinate a film and game release without totally destroying the game in the process.
Toy Story 3 isn't without its problems, but anyone seriously considering purchasing it to expand their Toy Story experience this year won't be disappointed.
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