Tuesday, April 23, 2013

One Hour Playthrough: Toy Story 3 (game mode)

I'm playing through my vast game collection one game at a time, one hour at a time.

Game: Toy Story 3
Developer: Avalanche
Publisher: Disney Interactive
Published in: 2010
Genre: Action
Rating: E10

One of the most anticipated kid's games for 2013 is Disney Infinity - a Skylanders-esque title developed by the creators of a game that just happens to be on my shelf: Toy Story 3. Will Toy Story 3 give us some clues to whether Disney Infinity will be any good? Who cares! We're here to play through my game library.

Buzz and Woody appear on the cover ('natch) and a full-color manual is inside. Keee-hrist. Was I the only developer who worked for a publisher who wouldn't publish full-color manuals? Sheesh. Oh well, we don't read manuals here on One-Hour Playthrough, so let's game up!

Really? This is the most exciting screen you could come up with?

After the Pixar and Disney Interactive logo, we're given an autosave option. Ironic that a system that saves automatically has to be enabled? Maybe I'm overthinking it. The title screen is very plain. Almost no animation and Randy Newman's "You've got a friend in me" playing in the background. I hope you like that song, 'cause it plays over and over and over again. If you wait too long, the game goes to an attract mode - showing all the different ways to play... and it looks like there's a lot of them. Flying levels, shooting levels, gliding levels, chase levels, platforming levels. Too bad we're only playing this for an hour. It looks like we're going to be missing some cool stuff.

After selecting a new game, I am given the choice between several locations on a board game: Andy's House, Al's Toy Barn, Sunnyside Daycare, Buzz Video Game and Woody's Toy Box. We're going to be looking at the main game in this playthrough and Toy Box in a seperate one since I hear they're very different experiences. I select Sunnyside (since it was the location from the 3rd film) and a loading screen (with some hints and a massive Woody head) appears. Buzz, Woody and Jesse arrive at the daycare where Lotso, the strawberry bear, welcomes us. He tells us that there are many games to be played including a scavenger hunt.

Ride like the wind, Bullseye! (wait, that's the wrong way)

The first game requires me to pop balloons while riding Bullseye the horse. The jumping didn't feel very good and moving at a full gallop while having to move the camera around (all while being timed) was challenging at best, but mostly frustrating. Without any sort of navigation system, trying to figure out how to get up onto tabletops where the balloons were, was also frustrating. It didn't help that the grey bucket platforms I need to climb blended into the environment as I whizzed around. I just wanted to ride a horse fast, I didn't really want to do any precision jumping. Despite this, I manage to qualify, but just barely.

Getting the seatbelt on was the hard part

The next game was another timed racing game - this time on a miniature car. I'm already sensing a theme here. The driving game ends up feeling squirrelier than the horse riding. The car over-corrects too much making driving in a straight line too much of a challenge and the triangle button used to flip the car around takes so long for the camera to catch up that the player misses the ramp they're aiming for the in the first place. After a few tries, I am able to smash enough blocks to progress but it was a frustrating experience.

Where is the claw when you need it?

The third game was a shooter where I had to keep little green men (OOOOOOH!) from crossing a line. Various types of LGM marched towards the camera as I shot them with rubber balls. I admit, this game was more fun because there was only two things to for the player to control - a reticule and a fire button. However, the floaty targeting reticule made for an unpleasant feeling experience. It's a good thing I wasn't judged on accuracy as my "technique" consisted of spamming the playfield with a constant stream of rubber ball projectiles. I managed to pass with a high margin, but I didn't feel very skillful for the experience.

The coffee level is just... bizarre

After proving my "worth" to Lotso, I went to Bonnie's house where Woody was shrunk down (I guess being a 12" doll isn't small enough?) and the room filled with coffee that I had to outrun. Seriously, WTF? I guess this level was the developer's caffine-fueled nightmare when faced with a tight deadline. Not only was theme of this level baffling, the platforming in this level was hard. Not challenging, just hard. The player is told to outrun the coffee filling the room, but has to wait for platforms to appear in order to progress. The controls were inconsistant - sometimes I was able to grab and climb a platform with no problem, other times I would inexplicably bounce or fall off when I thought I had purchase. The camera sometimes got in the way of seeing where the player had to go. At this point, I hit the one hour mark and to be honest, I was grateful.

So, should the toys of Toy Story 3's game mode be collected or thrown out with the trash?

What I would do differently? Camera and controls are the most important thing to get right in a platforming game (or any game for that matter) - if they don't help the player they will most assurdedly cause them to fail. It isn't that Toy Story 3's controls and camera aren't bad, they just could have used a little more time and attention to make them great. Too often a developer decides that the camera and controls are "good enough" for the player to play the game. Don't settle. Strive for greatness, especially with these critical elements of your game.

Would I keep playing? Debateable. If the platforming in the coffee level is any indication, Toy Story 3 will end up being a frustrating gameplay experience. And I'm sure the timed racing games will only get harder (shorter time limit, more elements required to be collected) and to be honest, racing games are not my cup of... ahem, coffee. Like I said, from the attract mode movie, it looks like there's lots of neat content in Toy Story 3's game mode but there are other platformers I'd rather spend my time playing.

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