In 1995, digital animation studio Pixar and Disney produced a ground-breaking first fully animated movie, aimed primarily at youngsters. Starring Tom Hanks and Tim Allen, this spawned several hit sequels, cartoons, theme park rides, movie tie-in games and of course, the obligatory Christmas toy rush. Toy Story Mania is the Xbox 360 version of the Wii title of the same name from 2009 and is apparently based on the Toy Story Midway Mania! attraction in the US.
The premise is roughly the same as an old fashioned arcade alley. You have various booths to choose from and within each booth you have various types of game to play. There’s a campaign mode and a free-play option, just for quick blasts of the gaming fun. It’s clear from the start that the graphics lend themselves well to the Toy Story franchise. Each character is animated well and all the original voice actors have signed up for the game thanks to Disney’s involvement, apart from Tom Hanks, whose character, Woody, is voiced ably by Tom’s brother Jim Hanks.
So, you start off with a choice of controller. You can use the standard Xbox controller or if you’re lucky enough to own the Kinect, you can be the controller. I’ve tried both and I have to say, the tag-line “better with Kinect” has never been more apt than with Toy Story Mania. Without this to keep the player engaged the game would be nothing short of dire. The opening scenes introduce you to the menu well, but after that, there doesn’t seem to be anything that holds the game together other than they’ll be all loosely Toy Story themed.
So, onto the actual games themselves. The games are digital renditions of various fairground favourites, based in 5 character themed booths. For most of the games you have a “turret” of some description and you control this to fire projectiles at targets to earn points. These projectiles could be plastic rings, balls, water or sucker-darts, depending on the themed booth you’re playing in. You basically place your hands in front of you and guide the target that constantly fires the projectiles over the target. Roughly around the middle of each game, which are timed, you are attacked by a series of pies. You can avoid these pies by mimicking the body movement on-screen. There are a few other types of game mingled in with these, a bowling style game, bat and ball and a curious mix of Fruit Ninja style swiping and meteor boulders. These games are surprisingly easy, but they do become very, very repetitive. You find yourself groaning inwardly at yet another turret game, and you’re tempted to spice it up a bit by using your feet instead of your hands.
This, of course, wouldn’t have worked as the Kinect wouldn’t be fooled by such buffoonery, and the Kinect is actually utilised very well indeed. The targets on-screen react very well to your movement and everything points to where you ask it to. Every now and again the menu hand tends to shoot off in the wrong direction, but this doesn’t seem to happen in the games themselves. There is no speech recognition in this game, but that’s not surprising as the title is aimed at 3 and up, and Woody gives you a handy commentary on the menus you’re choosing, just in case you weren’t sure. Once you’ve finished the booth you’ll get a little scene, a score and if you’ve done well enough, a collectible sticker. Achievements are plenty and you’ll be racking your gamer points up at a fair rate as they’re easy to grab.
The music is pretty standard Pixar-fairground stock, with encouraging comments from the characters mingled in, thankfully not a Randy Newman track is to be seen anywhere near this game which is a good thing in my opinion. The noises the games make are all fairly standard, well executed, but standard nonetheless. The comments from the characters seem somehow disjointed though, as if they were part of a conversation but have been edited and then thrown together into a random sound generator and spat out in no particular order. Sometimes it’s hard to hear anything in the way of a coherent sentence in the mid-menu states. There’s gentle background music during the loading phases of the game, which, taking into account that most of the games are the same in nature, take far too long.
It’s hard to pick any one thing about the game that stands out in any way though. It’s a shame, this is obviously aimed at a much younger market than lives in my house, and I can’t help but feel that the younger kids will love it, even if the adults have gotten bored with the repetitive gameplay and slightly annoying Kinect glitches that happen on the menus. Even then, I have a nagging suspicion that even the most avid Toy Story fan will become distracted after another turret game is presented to them and they find that treading barefoot on Lego is a much more exciting prospect than yet another 2 minutes of standing and pretending to point something with your hands. The Kinect feature does make the game much better and other games could learn from how the developers have utilised the device to accurately track the player as they seem to have this down just right and it makes you feel much more a part of the experience, but the games repeat themselves far too much. Ultimately though, it’s going to be one of those games that initially, the kids love, but will quite quickly become consigned to the back of the games shelf as another candidate for trade-in.