Kids games are generally about as well made as the cheap action figures I used to get from the local market - the ones that looked like the real deal, but more often than not didn't have movable joints and fell apart within a week. Toy Story 3 bucks the trend. It's the still in original packaging Generation One Optimus Prime of the kids video game world. With impressive production values, varied gameplay and plenty of content, Disney Interactive's family friendly movie tie-in is easy to recommend.
Rather than taking the obvious route of building levels that re-tell the story of the movie, here you're given a series of stages built around general themes seen in the latest Pixar film and throughout Toy Story's history. Things kick off with Woody running along a moving train, rescuing orphans as he goes and fending off a saucer-flying Ham the pig. It's explosive, action-packed fun, and just one of the variety of levels and gameplay styles on offer.
Each character has a unique set of moves. Woody you can run, jump, ram, and shoot a sling shot, while Buzz can fly and shoot his laser. Some Buzz stages feature on-rails flying, in which you need to shoot obstacles and navigate a narrow course, whereas others combine platforming with third-person shooting in a similar style to the Ratchet & Clank series. There are also elements of the different characters working together to solve puzzles, so Buzz might need to lob one of the gang up to a high platform in order to progress.
For the most part Toy Story 3 walks the path of fun, forgiving gameplay without a problem, but some context sensitive actions make things unnecessarily awkward at times. Woody can lasso onto objects if the game allows, while Jessie can perform a pirouette to land on certain parts of the environment. There's no continuity to these actions at all, which could well make for some confusing moments when the game is in the hands of the younger gamers it's clearly targeting.
These are really only minor blips though, with help for novice players always available. You can get advice from handily placed question marks dotted around the stages, which when triggered display a hologram depicting what your character needs to do next. Death isn't an issue either, with unlimited lives at your disposal and generously placed checkpoints. All in all, Toy Story 3 doesn't patronise its audience, which is something very few kids games manage.
Outside of the sadly quite short main campaign, hidden away on the side of the overview map is Woody's Round-up Toy Box. While it's got a very small presence, it's actually a surprisingly content-rich game mode that throws everyone's favourite characters into a free-roaming environment. Challenges are dished out by NPCs in the town and everything can be customised, from the colour of walls to the hats the inhabitants wear.
Initially the challenges handed out are run of the mill stuff that introduce you to various gameplay mechanics, but before too long things become much more interesting. Gameplay feels like a mixture of Animal Crossing and a free-roaming 3D platformer, and two-player split-screen means you can tackle missions with a friend. It's all simple stuff when compared to the big hitters in the genre, but it's perfectly pitched for gamers under 12 years old. With tons to collect and plenty of unlockables, kids will be playing Toy Box mode for a long time.
Visuals can only help so much when it comes to overall quality, but there's no getting away from the fact that the excellent character models and movie-inspired levels help the game make an excellent first impression. Toy Story 3 doesn't just look good for kids game, but as a game, period. Environments are fairly sparse in terms of detail, but the stylised look of the films has been captured superbly. No other video game has so accurately resembled the movie it's based on.
Toy Story 3 isn't a title that's going to have huge appeal to hardcore gamers, but it's one of a rare breed of kids games that can genuinely be enjoyed by everyone, much like the movie it's based on. There's an overall sense of quality throughout that isn't seen very often when it comes to movie licenses, and the various gameplay ideas work well for the characters available. For once you might actually play the video game of the movie and not feel that ever so familiar sense of disappointment. Disney and developer Avalanche should be commended for such an accomplished effort.