We’d be lying if we said that heading up the road for a Hands On session with Toy Story 3: The Videogame at nine in the morning was an appointment that we’d been relishing.
Licensed games have a chequered history. Far too often, they appear to be little more than an “also” cog in the franchise machine – another avenue to vacuum dollars from pockets, or, more often, the pockets of mum and dad who can be sure that this game won’t feature in Michael Laws' next Alamo-esque rant about the erosion of morals.
And, frankly, we had no reason to suspect any different here. Nor would you call a game like Toy Story 3 something that might fall under our typical readership’s interest. Nonetheless, it's still a morning spent playing videogames, which is better than a morning doing pretty much anything else.
Our hands on session consisted of four story mode missions and a romp in the Western themed "Toybox". These two interrelated facets are accessed via an interactive menu, a kind of old-fashioned play mat with various buildings strewn about it.
The story mode missions mimic the plot of the movie, transitioning from worlds of childish imagination to the reality of Andy’s home and back again. The first such mission was an eye candy spectacle starring returning hero Woody as he races to save a train of orphans from the wiles of Dr. Porkchop – otherwise known as the affable Hamm. Hey, someone has to play the villain, and if you've ever downed a few drinks and been overly ambitious at a wedding buffet you'll be aware of just how evil an oversized, agitated mound of pork can be.
As Woody races through each level, hopping from one moving spectacle to another, he can use a variety of environmental objects to thwart the machinations of the aforementioned swine. From throwing balls to hit triggers, to physically throwing enemies from moving trains, he's endowed with all the moves you'd expect in a vibrant platformer. It's obvious too that humour plays a big part in this title, with the cast of the motion picture recruited to voice the characters (excluding Tom Hanks for reasons unknown) fans of the films will instantly relate to Woody's antics.
The story mode will undoubtedly keep kids (and grown-up kids) busy for hours, as tracking Woody through multiple scenes and carefully ascertaining the best methods of beating the environmental puzzles really delivers the core entertainment value of this title. Even those who struggle will be given a leg-up with the dynamic difficulty setting, which provides geometry assistance to lagging players. Once you clock this however, you can move on to the freeform sandbox "Toybox" mode where events transpire in a much more relaxed fashion.
We were advised that there are currently three Toybox modes scheduled to be included in the final game - a Western, a Fantasy Forest and a Construction Site. We spent about an hour messing around in the Western setting, and from what we've seen there's extensive content on offer.
The Toybox places your chosen character in the middle of a lightly populated town, and requires you to accept missions from various townsfolk in an attempt to increase the prosperity and therefore population of the locale. These missions vary wildly from simple find-and-fetch tasks, to hunting down criminals and throwing them in jail - you can even visit "Al's Toy Barn" to build town structures with money acquired from these missions, each of which can be further customised with various in-game painting tools.
Citizens too, can be customised - Hats, haircuts and clothes can be changed, and new citizens unlocked and "bought" to add a cosmopolitan flair to your budding empire. The items on offer work together to reward the more experimental gamers, and despite our limited time with Toy Story 3, it was obvious that we barely scratched the surface of the content on offer. Particularly as various areas, structures and citizens are only unlocked once later missions are completed.
For purists, or those with multiple consoles, it would appear that the PlayStation 3 version of the game is the one to get. Slightly unusually, Sony have the heads-up on additional content, as the ability to play as Emperor Zurg will feature on PS3 copies only. Not only that, Zurg gets his own stack of missions, primarily designed around his desire to eliminate Buzz. As if that wasn't enough, there's rumours of PlayStation Move motion controller compatibility, although we'll have to wait until after E3 to really see what sort of an impact that will have.
It's obvious that Avalanche Studios have nailed the formula on this one. Games specifically designed to release around the same time as the parent movie have a woeful track record in this industry, however Toy Story 3 could be the exception to the rule. This is likely due to the family-friendly nature of the title, but it's also owing in no small part to the sheer attention to detail bestowed upon it by the developers. Definitely one to watch out for in the first week of July.
Our thanks to Disney Interactive NZ for the hands-on session..