When the first Toy Story movie came out, it completely changed the way we look at our animated films, as it was the first feature length movie completely made using computer-generated 3D animation. When the first Toy Story game came out, it didn't really change anything, delivering an uninspired platformer with the pseudo-3D character models already made popular by games like Donkey Kong Country and Clockwork Knight.
The inverse however can be said for the third installation in the series, with the final film serving to neatly wrap up the trilogy, sending Andy off to college and saying goodbye to the characters we've come to love in pretty much the same way they were introduced to us. On the other hand, Toy Story 3 the game offers up an experience far greater than its other licensed incarnations, and is the best game to date to come from the staple Pixar franchise, thanks mostly to the game's vast, open-world Toy Box mode.
After helping Woody save a runaway train in the introductory level of the game, the player is exited to the Game Map, an overworld of sorts from which they select a level to play through. Here players can progress through the story of the game, which coincides somewhat with the film. Separate from these regular levels however is Toy Box mode, which unlike the story segments of the game forgoes a linear level design to opt for a more free-roaming experience. Set in a dry, dusty Western town, Toy Box mode has the player interacting with townsfolk to take on various missions, earning gold and unlocking new areas. Gold can be used to purchase new toys and buildings, which in turn open up more missions, which can then be completed to earn more gold. You get the idea.
What keeps this design from getting stale is the variety offered up by the Toy Box missions, which range from target practice to races, finding hidden objects and more. It's all this diversity that keeps you motivated to unlock more missions, and since you can take on and complete missions at your leisure, you can simply ignore tasks that do not interest you and score your gold elsewhere. Whether locating missing cows for Slinky's farm or racing through hoops on your trusty horse Bullseye, there is always something sure to peak your interest. You can even spruce up the town's dilapidated buildings and structures to your liking, spending your hard-earned gold on a fresh coat of paint for the town hall or some new windows for the bank. There is even "goo" to be bought, which can be used to warp and resize the town's various toys.
While Toy Box mode can be played through with three characters (Woody, Buzz, and Jessie), exclusive to the PS3 version is the addition of Zurg as a playable character. Though not available from the get-go, players who delve deep enough into the Toy Box mode will eventually unlock the ability to buy a Zurg transformation device, which allows players to set up a kiosk in town that can transform their character into Zurg, opening up a series of missions that are tailored to his evil nature. Blasting away at battery crates with your arm cannon, shooting townspeople for no good reason, cruising through the landscape in the Zurgmobile: this is truly the stuff gaming greatness is made of.
It would have been nice to see Zurg outside of Toy Box mode as well, but the game's story mode is a rigid experience, and each of the eight levels are very easy, many of them walking you through with simple tutorials. These levels are a bit tepid, but thanks to the fantastic graphics and superb voice acting they stay enjoyable throughout and never outstay their welcome. These story levels have you playing though scenes inspired by the film, and the gameplay is heavy on platforming. Thankfully there is enough puzzle solving and shooting segments added to the mix that keep the levels from getting too monotonous, and besides, you are likely to finish the story mode long before you become tired of it. Still, the fact that the freedom and diversity found in Toy Box mode so outlasts the short-lived story driven levels leaves one to wonder why the two modes couldn't have been combined.
Also a little underwhelming is the game's other PS3 exclusive content: Move support. Toy Story 3's Move patch adds little content to the game, as the Move controls cannot be implemented in any of the main missions or Toy Box mode. Instead, the patch adds one more location to the game map called the Shooting Gallery, predictably a short shooting minigame that sadly only offers one stage. Still, the singular experience offered up by the patch is fun, and the graphics are composed completely of cardboard cut-outs, much like LittleBigPlanet. You start off blasting away at targets from a stationary view, and once you've depleted the scene of all its targets the level moves onward to the right until you reach the end. To keep the game from being too plain or easy, players can boost their scores by activating a multiplier target, located in the center of sun. Once hit, all your scores will gain a 5X multiplier for a limited time, and once it runs out you can activate it again, this time only scoring a 4X mulitplyer, with each consecutive use dropping the multiplier by one. This mechanic creates moments that allow you to score some big points, and really gives you some incentive to replay the stage, as it takes time to learn when exactly to activate the sun bonus to maximise your score. If you can't find the Shooting Gallery level on the Game Map, turn on your Move controller. The level doesn't appear unless the Move peripheral is detected.
This is as close as you'll get to feeling like you are playing an actual Pixar movie. The game does a great job of translating the charm, wit and wholesome fun that the studio's films are known for, complete with gorgeous animations, a funny script, high-quality voice acting and, of course, Randy Newman songs. The game's Move implementation is an afterthought however, and to say the game has Move support is really overselling the meaning of the word "support": there is only one Move-enabled minigame offered up, and while it works well it is painfully short. It would have been nice to see the Move used in the main missions as well, as aiming to shoot and throw things is an oft-used mechanic in the game. The overall package however is still a lot of fun, and even though the story mode doesn't really do anything new, the familiar platforming and shooting are done well. Even after the short story mode is over though, players can turn to Toy Box mode to extend the life of their game, taking on missions, buying new toys and customising the world to their liking.