Time makes liars of us all, and I knew I was tempting fate when I wrote that LEGO Harry Potter would likely be the best kids game of the year. Playing Toy Story 3, there were times I worried I'd have to retract my rash prediction after only a couple of weeks.
That's because in its best moments, Toy Story 3 perfectly captures the innocent imaginative appeal of play. Not play as in gaming, just play: tipping the toybox on the carpet and making up an adventure without caring about things like plot or scale or common sense. In those moments, Toy Story 3 is delightful, and a vast improvement over the recent games to bear the Pixar brand.
Up was blandly passable, Wall-E was irritating and repetitive, and Ratatouille was, quite frankly, the worst children's game of the last five years. From that low ebb to this cheery peak is quite a turnaround, and it sees developer Avalanche graduating from the pleasant-but-inessential likes of Bolt and Chicken Little in style.
At least, for most of the time. While the highs of Toy Story 3 are lofty indeed, the lows are close enough to previous missteps to cast a shadow over proceedings. This is, in every sense of the idiom, a game of two halves.
The first half, sadly, is the worst. It's the story mode, which takes Buzz, Woody and Jessie through eight levels drawn from the movie, and it's not good. It's not awful either, but it feels obligatory and rushed - included because games-of-the-movie need to follow the cinema template, not because the story actually lends itself to gaming scenarios.
It at least opens strongly, with one of several levels that take place in the imaginary realm of play. Woody is racing to stop a train commandeered by the evil Doctor Porkchop, and his race against time is presented in slick cinematic style, vaulting over obstacles on Bullseye, then battling along the train in true Western style.
From there it's back to reality, and a quick clamber and scramble around Andy's house, where the game squeezes the last drops of fun from the "small things in large environments" formula. Then it's into the Buzz Lightyear videogame, as seen at the start of Toy Story 2, for a level that starts out fantastically as you hurtle into the screen, dodging rocks, then make your way across floating asteroid platforms. It all falls apart once you reach Zurg's fortress, however. Jumps become distractingly fiddly, the camera becomes uncooperative, and irritating tasks are repeated multiple times for no good reason.
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