Nine times out of ten, games based on movies end up being lazy hack jobs that don’t deserve anyone’s money. If you want to narrow it down further and talk in decimals, that’s probably 9.9 times out of 10. But every once in a while, a movie tie-in comes along that’s actually good. Toy Story 3 is that 0.1. It uses the movie license to great effect to create a game that knows it audience, but is still fun enough for just about everyone.

You would naturally assume that a game created around a Pixar film property would be a casual game that didn’t require much skill or lateral thinking, but that isn’t the case with Toy Story 3. While its target demographic is kids, it isn’t the sort of “casual” game we’ve come to expect; there’s a fair amount of difficulty and lots of variety in the gameplay, which means there’s no danger of the game getting repetitive. The game is broken up into two modes – the story mode, and the Toy Box sandbox mode. The story mode is loosely connected to the premise of the movie, but no corners have been cut here. If you have seen the movie, there is enough new and different here to make it feel fresh, and though there are common environments, the various missions are unique to the game.

The story mode isn’t one continuous series, where one level ties into the next, but it’s instead broken up into an assortment of levels which are all drastically different from each other. While there is a lot of variety in gameplay, at its core, Toy Story 3 is an action platformer. Through most of the story mode, you will be able to play as either Woody, Buzz Lightyear, or Jessie, and though most of the time you can choose to play with whoever you want, each of them has their own special ability, and there are times when a particular mission or the level requires the expertise of one of the three. For example, climb up certain tricky areas might require Jessie’s agility. You can seamlessly switch between the three characters, and this mechanic ingeniously ties into the junkyard level, which is one of the highlights of the game. It is a timed level where you must constantly switch between Woody, Buzz and Jessie in order to be able to proceed through the level.

Another level that stands out is designed as a Buzz Lightyear video game. You only control Buzz in this level, but if there’s any level in the game that shows off its gameplay variety, this is out. You’ll start out flying in space, dodging asteroids and shooting aliens as you go. Then, in a fun platforming sequence, you’ll jump across asteroid belts as they crumble under your weight. Another indoor puzzle/platforming segment will have you evading traps and hazards as the camera perspective constantly changes from side-on, to third-person, to top-down. Finally, you’ll find yourself in a frantic arena gun battle with Buzz’s arch nemesis Zurg and his minions.

The controls are by and large pretty intuitive and responsive, but controlling vehicles and Woody’s trusty steed Bullseye can be a little clunky. Then again, these segments don’t come around too often, so the frustration is kept down to a minimum. Another aspect that may annoy you is the trial-and-error nature of the level design. Because there is so much variety in gameplay and level design, the way forward isn’t always clear, which can lead to many cheap deaths. To make up for this, the game has a very generous checkpoint system, so when you do die, you’re instantly taken to a checkpoint that is not too far behind where you died.

The story mode, while a lot of fun, is a little short. But seeing as how this is one of those rare movie tie-ins that are actually good, we’re willing to look past that. And being a movie-tie in, you would expect the game to end with this short story mode. But Toy Story 3 just keeps coming with the surprises. The open world sandbox mode titled Toy Box, is the ace up the game’s sleeve, and in some ways, it’s even more fun that the story mode. You’re thrust into this Wild West-themed open world, where you can talk to its many inhabitants and take up missions and activities given by them. These may include rounding up cattle, time trial races riding Bullseye, or just collecting items that are strewn around the place. The open world is wonderfully designed, making the activities within it a lot of fun to complete, and after the story mode, Toy Box provides many more hours of gameplay to keep you entertained.

In terms of presentation, the Toy Story 3 game does impress. Visually, it’s not quite as good as the movie, especially in the animations department, but it’s close enough. It would have been very easy for the developers to just lift the story and environments straight from the movie, but though there are definite influences (as there should be), the game does retain an identity of its own, thanks to its unique take on the Toy Story 3 narrative and levels based on environments that you won’t find in the movie. And, of course, the Toy Box experience is unique to the game.

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