Toy Story Mania is the kind of game you want to like. It's overflowing with cheerful characters from PIXAR's wholesome movies. It's beautifully presented with rendered scenes that look like they could have come straight out of those films. And it's got the kind of gameplay that anyone can pick up and start playing right away, with little explanation -- it's the kind of game with the kind of production value that makes you think that it might, just maybe, end up offering a better overall experience than its competition here on Wii.
But, in the end, it's really just another collection of mini-games.
If you've had the good fortune to make a trip to either Disneyland or Disney World in the past few years, you might have come across an attraction there called "Toy Story Midway Mania!" -- it's a combination ride and shooting gallery that has you and a friend sit down in a little cart, roll through a set of rooms with huge screens displaying tons of targets to blast, and compete against your buddy by going for a higher score (using the big laser guns mounted on each cart). You also get a set of 3D glasses to wear throughout the whole thing. It's quite a fun little experience.
Toy Story Mania for Wii, then, is the living room conversion of that theme park ride. This disc holds home versions of the shooting gallery games first developed for the Disney park attractions, reworked to make use of the Wii Remote's functionality. Those shooting games are complimented by dozens of other, new mini-games starring the same Toy Story characters. And, again, you get a set of 3D glasses to make the whole thing more immersive.
It's a great idea, in theory. But it doesn't really work out, in execution.
The presentation falls off pretty quickly, for starters. The game boots up and showcases a scene of the toys who live in Andy's room setting up a carnival, and then the game's menu is also presented with a toy's-eye view, hopping and moving around that same signature location from the movies to get to the different game modes.
But many of the options aren't labeled, and you end up getting confused quickly -- trying to jump into Quick Play doesn't work, as it just cycles you through the pie-throwing practice round again and again. There's an option to Build your own lineup of mini-games, but the arrows and grabbing claw graphics meant to keep the Andy's room theme going just keep you from understanding what you're supposed to do.
And then there's the Story mode, which doesn't have a story attached. It just has you play through a dozen mini-games in a row, without the option to stop partway through, and bookends the string of games with some very brief, five-second clips of Woody and Buzz Lightyear talking to each other.
The gameplay itself is good, as the shooting galleries have been converted well from their theme park source material -- I've been to Disney World's version myself, so I can make the comparison. It's still enjoyable here to throw eggs at farm animals alongside Hamm the Piggy Bank, or toss baseballs to break plates while the Green Army Men Sergeant barks orders at you. The animation is spot-on, the physics of objects colliding with one another work well. It's a good conversion.
Except for all the non-screen elements, of course. You're not getting the sensation of moving along a track in this version, or seeing the animatronic characters around you, or getting the wind and sound and all the extra little subtle stuff that you take for granted when you're right in the middle of Disney's masterful attractions, in person.
And, worse, it seems that the developers here have tried to fill some of those gaps by introducing some new, Wii-specific elements into the games. (That means they added waggle.) You'll have to shake, spin and twirl your Remote like a madman to rack up bonus points and access hidden targets in pretty much every mini-game, and that just gets to be tiresome. I'd rather settle for a lower score than have to shake the Wiimote like a maraca for 15 seconds just to get Little Bo Peep to rain down some extra balloons to pop in her dart-shooting mini.
You get a break between the most vigorous rounds with lower impact mini-games like making Hamm breakdance and keeping track of a hidden chocolate coin in Bo Peep's version of the classic spinning shell game -- but then these can end up being a bit too long and drawn out, since only one player can take on many of these challenges at a time. And you have to wait for everyone, one after another, to take their turn.
Also, no more than two players can ever be playing simultaneously in any game -- even the shooting galleries. Toy Story Mania supports up to four players, but you've got to alternate. That's not so much fun, and could have been fixed for at least the half-dozen core games.
Finally, there's at least one game-ending glitch. Up until this point, most of these negative observations weren't too egregious -- Wiimote waggle is to be expected any more, some failings on the menus can be excused. But when you're in the middle of playing a round and the game glitches out, you know that you're playing a product that needed more care and attention before being released to stores.
This particular glitch made the game lose track of time, extending a round of Woody's Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' suction-cup arrow mini-game from two minutes long to, well, never ending. It just kept going. The game forgot it was supposed to end, and so the high score just kept getting higher and higher and higher -- so if you're over at a friend's place and he's somehow chalked up a score of 999,999 points in one round of Toy Story Mania, don't be impressed at his skill. Be depressed that the developers didn't quite complete their quality control.
Toy Story Mania will make a great souvenir. It'll be on sale in the little gift shop right after Disney park-goers get off the Midway Mania ride, and it'll help them recall the fond memories of their vacation when they take it home and give it a spin in their Wii machines. It'll be fun for them.
But a great theme park souvenir isn't necessarily a great game, or even a very good one in this case -- because if you don't have those same nostalgic vacation memories to help fill in for some of this package's failings, you're just going to be left feeling ripped off. Stay away from this one unless you're on your own Disney trip, or want to remember the last time you were. It's not worth it as a standalone game, because though you'll want to like it, you won't. It's just another collection of mini-games.