- Play as Buzz, Jessie, Woody or Zurg (PS3 only)
- Strong multi-player gameplay
- Fantastic free play with plenty of things to do and unlock
- Hints and help make it accessible for younger players
- Plenty of nods to other Pixar movie titles and Disney icons
- Some levels are overly frustrating to complete
Toy Story 3 Story Mode follows the basic plot of the movie, leading you from Andy's house to Sunnyside Daycare to Bonnie's House to the Trash Compactor. There are also a number of fantasy levels the mimic the playtime scenes in the movie, so you'll also help Woody save the orphans on the runaway train, blast through a Buzz Lightyear mission and grapple with the evil witch at Bonnie's house.
Each level in Story Mode plays almost like a separate game. The goals and game play vary from action to arcade to platform and the controls change depending on which character you're playing and which scene you're working on. On the one hand, it provides a lot of variety, but on the other it can be confusing to figure out what you're supposed to do. And by the time you get the hang of something, it's time to move on. I most enjoyed the basic platform levels where you are required to navigate a room and solve puzzles. The action levels were more challenging and more frustrating. The nice thing is that the levels are broken into segments so if you fail a segment, you don't start the level at the beginning. Unfortunately, you can't save a game mid-level. If you leave, you'll have to start at the first segment.
Toy Box Mode
Once you play through the first Story Mode level, you'll unlock Toy Box mode. This is far and away the best part of the Toy Story 3 video game. Choose your character: Woody, Buzz Lightyear or Jessie and head off into town. As the town Sheriff, you'll need to tackle missions, earn gold and explore the surrounding area. The great part is that you do it all at your own pace and based on your own interests. While my son, 4, is busy catching robbers and riding in his car as Woody or Buzz, my daughter, 3, is repeatedly dropping Jessie off a cliff into the water (which causes characters to "die" and regenerate on land). You can customize the townspeople (throwing them into the water is another favorite activity), paint the buildings, and ward off enemies who come to harm your citizens and steal your gold.
There are several themed areas to unlock (Lotso's Enchanted Glen, Sid's Haunted House, Zurg's Spaceport), so the game play continues to evolve as you progress. Some of themed areas also include extra game levels to complete and often introduce new characters into town. With new levels, you'll also unlock new customizations.
While this is going on, you'll rack up gold that you can used to purchase new toys in the Toy Shop. There are buildings, vehicles, townspeople, and outfits. There's even a stunt park for taking your car for a spin. My son would happily spend hours there alone. With all there is to lock and undo, Toy Story 3 Toy Box mode could be a game unto itself.
Controls and Multi-player Options
The game controls are fairly standard throughout the experience. Young kids will struggle in the Story Mode, but can be aided by a parent playing along. That said, Toy Box mode is an excellent opportunity for kids to learn to use a game remote. Since it is a free-play space, there is no pressure to meet a certain goal or perform a certain activity (until you unlock some themed areas which unleash pixies, gargoyles and Zurg bots on your town). They can start by running round, picking up objects and smashing things like barrels and hay bales. Once they become more familiar with the controls, they can perform more advanced tasks. My son went from never having touched the Playstation 3 remote to being able to play with ease and comfort in just a few days.
Both Story Mode and Toy Box mode offer a multi-player option. With the exception of some action sequences, the game uses a split screen, allowing each character to set off without feeling tethered to the other. This is especially nice in Toy Box mode, where you may be working together on a task or you may want to be on opposite sides of town. There are times when the split screen is challenging, as you have less real estate in your view, but for the most part it's a wonderful feature.
The other benefit of the multi-player option is in Story Mode. Each level is segmented so if your character runs out of health, you can return to the beginning of the latest segment rather than the start of the level. It also means that just one player needs to reach the end of the segment, so if you're playing with a child who is struggling, you can plow ahead and keep the game moving.
I can't say enough good things about this game as a family option. We have enjoyed playing it with each other, and even watching while others are playing. There is so much to do and so many things to explore that you'll find plenty of game value. Built-in hints and help throughout Story Mode generally keep frustration levels at a minimum and there are even a few places where the game shifts the difficulty level to aide a player who is struggling. Despite occasional glitches (challenging camera angles, wonky controls), Toy Story 3 sets a gold standard for movie-inspired video games.
Toy Story 3 is rated E10+ for cartoon violence and comic mischief. There are weapons, such as laser guns and magic wands, so it may not be the right choice for all families. If you've seen the movies, you'll have a good sense of what type of content appears in the games.