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Disney/Pixar Toy Story 3 (PlayStation 3) artwork

Disney/Pixar Toy Story 3 (PlayStation 3) review

"The experience resembles what it might feel like to walk into a room with a huge chest, dig through it and yank out a bunch of my favorite toys, then toss them together and relish the crazy results. Players are presented with a virtual sandbox—a desert town with just a few buildings and a handful of citizens—and then are let loose to have fun. Even just running around the world, trying out magic wands and ray guns is a blast."

Maybe someday gamers will stop being surprised when a license-based game is actually worth playing, but today is not that day. When I say that Toy Story 3 is an enjoyable experience that makes good use of a beloved license, I know full well that most core gamers won't be inclined to believe me. They'd be more likely to take me seriously if they saw me stepping out of an outhouse and I remarked that I'd just been somewhere that smelled like vanilla.

Yet Toy Story 3, the game based on the recent theatrical release that has been cleverly credited with "reanimating the summer box office," is good. It's not fantastic to a degree that will prompt you to ponder the future of the medium or anything grandiose like that, but it's a lot of fun and it stays true to its source material's themes. There are times when playing it reminded me of the exuberance of childhood. For those reasons I heartily recommend it to any parents with preteen children or grandchildren, to anyone who just wants to kick back and goof around for awhile.

The Toy Story 3 video game experience is divided in two parts. Some might call "Story Mode" the main attraction. It walks players through eight large stages that follow along the same general track as the theatrical release. The adventures begin with Woody riding his horse along a canyon trail as rocks crumble around him. He catches a ride on a train, climbs along the top of its cars while dodging overhead obstacles, then finally goes head-to-head with the villainous Dr. Porkchop in the duel of the millenium: cowboy versus pig-in-spaceship. Subsequent stages include a carnival of fun at a daycare center, an escape from a guarded complex (finally, a stealth sequence that doesn't suck), a battle with massive baked goods and even a trip into the Buzz Lightyear video game. There are definitely moments where things feel like they were pulled from a generic video game of one sort or another, but available activities feel true to the adventurous protagonists and all of the action is presented with a pleasing graphical style that will probably look as good five or ten years from now as it does in the present.

Story Mode actually isn't the main attraction, either. As much as I enjoyed it, that particular mode is over in just a few hours even if you factor in the time that you might spend searching for the numerous collectible items. Unless you're going back through missions with a friend (cooperative play is as easy as pressing the 'Start' button on a second controller), there's not much reason to repeat most stages. The game could have consisted of nothing more than that diversion and it would have been an acceptable product, but then the developers did something to push things to the next level: they created the Toy Box mode.

Toy Box mode makes me remember what it was like to be six years old. The experience resembles what it might feel like to walk into a room with a huge chest, dig through it and yank out a bunch of my favorite toys, then toss them together and relish the crazy results. Players are presented with a virtual sandbox—a desert town with just a few buildings and a handful of citizens—and then are let loose to have fun. Even just running around the world, trying out magic wands and ray guns is a blast. There's unexpected joy in snapping pictures of your citizens doing crazy things, too, and I'd be lying if I suggested that I didn't enjoy hopping on the back of a dragon and breathing fire at everything in sight. For every moment of insanity, though, there's order. Citizens offer missions and you'll rush to complete them because when you do, you'll gain access to new buildings and characters and costumes. Out of the order comes chaos and the chaos is beautiful.

Mayhem is what makes the Toy Box mode so much fun. Here children can make a mess and they don't have to worry about parents yelling at them to clean it up before supper. Even kids at heart such as myself can find a lot to like. I couldn't help but grin the first time that I grabbed ooze from a faucet, threw it at my horse and watched him double in size, then jumped onto his back and raced around the streets and rooftops of my growing town. I loved picking up citizens, leaping into the air and kicking them through cactus goalposts. There are a bunch of little fun things to do all over the place, whether that be tossing bandits through the jail windows or sticking a plunger on a citizen's head and beaning him with rubber balls. Even some of the zany stuff that's been done in other games feels fresh here, like when I was climbing some mountains and I found an afro hairstyle that I later attached to my surly pirate, or the time I gave one of my characters a bushy beard and a hideous dress to match.

Maybe not all of that has been done before... but it should have been!

Toy Box mode isn't perfect, of course, and the sheer joy that some of its attractions have to offer can't entirely excuse the infrequent lapses in quality that somehow seem beneath the game itself. I'm glad that the developers included stunt tracks and speedy little cars, for instance, but I'm not sure why every vehicle controls so poorly. If I can't fly over the ramp and do flips in the air, that should be a result of my ineptitude, not a car that has trouble just moving in a straight line. I don't know many kids who like floaty controls, and I certainly don't! The developers also lose points for failing to include labels on the garments that you gather when you're viewing them at the Tailor Shop while trying to customize your citizens. A little bit more text here and there could have removed some of the trial-and-error gameplay that occasionally gets in the way.

I'm nitpicking, though, because such irritants make up a relatively small part of a remarkably exciting picture that should keep most players entertained for hours on end. For every comment like "It's good, but..." that I might be tempted to make about this game, there's the memory of two or three fun moments that left me smiling without the need for any qualifiers. I went into the Toy Story 3 video game experience expecting a rather generic adventure. Sometimes, that was exactly what I got. Those aren't the moments that I'll recall when I think back on this game years from now, though. I'll be too busy remembering the Cow Launcher and the malicious muffins. I might even remember some of Hamm's trivia about submarines.

The industry has a long way to go before the new crop of license-based games can hope to erase from our minds the decades-long bastardization of the characters and environments that we love in other media. Perhaps such a day will never come. Toy Story 3, though, is a definite step in the right direction. Consider me surprised.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (June 24, 2010)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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