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Reviewed for Sony PlayStation 2; also available for the Nintendo Wii
In 2003, THQ teamed up with Nickelodeon to release Tak and the Power of Juju, the first title branded by the popular children’s network that wasn’t based on an existing television show. It was a third-person platforming adventure and met with mild success, eventually spawning multiple sequels and ultimately a CG television series on Nickelodeon. Tak and the Guardians of Gross is the fourth adventure starring the eponymous guardian of the jungle-dwelling Pupununu Tribe, and the first to be directly based on the TV program. At its core, this is a fairly generic single-player action game, but it contains enough original and borrowed elements to make it worth a rental.
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Gameplay & Controls
The plot involves Tak unwittingly releasing four giant creatures while cleaning a Juju Shrine, and thus finding himself in the unenviable position of dealing with the humongous monstrosities. Yeah, like most platformers, it’s little more than a means to an end, setting up the gameplay. It is here that the game channels the PlayStation 2 classic Shadow of the Colossus to some degree, as each of the giant creatures is a multi-tiered level in and of itself. Players will find themselves scaling up these beasts (who have such names as Trashthulu and Gorgonzilla), defeating enemies and solving puzzles en route to a final showdown with the colossus itself. It may not be the most original concept in the world, but the developers implemented it well.
Controls are a little different this time around. Tak is lacking some of his moves (like the glide maneuver) from previous games this time around, but also has some new tricks up his sleeve. He can run up walls, do a somersault over enemies, and even unleash a fancy new Juju Nova attack that comes complete with Matrix-like camera effects and instantly wipes out most enemies on the screen. In addition, there are context-sensitive magic abilities Tak needs to use to traverse certain areas, such as using Lumpy Magic in some early levels to create new platforms. For series veterans, the controls will take a little getting used to, but ultimately they feel comfortable and responsive.
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While the game is somewhat fun to play, it definitely suffers from a "been there, done that" feeling. While it doesn't sport any noticeable gameplay flaws, Tak simply doesn't add anything new to the mix.
Humor has always been an essential component to the Tak games, but in this one, it falls a little flat. A large part of the problem is a serious lack of Lok, the dense oaf from previous games traditionally voiced by actor Patrick Warburton. Warburton’s comic genius has always been one of the better parts of the game, and his absence is quite noticeable. Without him, the game relies mostly on Tak one-liners and the gross-out factor involved with the guardians for laughs, and it just doesn’t work nearly as well. For one thing, Tak talks entirely too much, and while some of what he says is kind of funny, it definitely gets annoying and repetitive. For another, everything seems to be even more slanted towards juvenile humor (like fart jokes) than previous Tak titles, which is a little disappointing.
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Another noteworthy aspect of Guardians of Gross is the complete and utter lack of challenge, which can be a good thing or a bad thing, based on perspective. Tak doesn’t have a life bar, per se, only a Juju meter. Nor does he have a limited number of extra lives. When he takes a hit, it simply lowers the Juju bar a little bit, and he can be knocked down but never killed. Even if you fall off a cliff while jumping or wall-running, the game simply puts you back where you left off. There seems to be absolutely no penalty for falling or getting roughed-up, and there’s no possible way to really ever fail. Add to that the fact that the game includes help prompts, which essentially explain what players are supposed to do next and even reveal the patterns needed during boss fights, and you have one easy game. Fortunately, the help prompts can be toggled off, but that only makes things marginally better. For younger kids, this will be most welcome, but platform game veterans will absolutely abhor the way this game absolutely coddles them throughout.
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Tak and the Guardians of Gross (Wii, PS2)
- ESBR Rating: E10+ for Everyone 10 & Up
- Publisher: THQ
- Official Website: http://www.thq.com/games/gameinfo.php?id=1345&upc=30163
- Rating: Worth a Rental (55/100)
In the end, Tak and the Guardians of Gross is a fairly typical character-based platform game. It does a few things well, and it could have used improvement in other areas. It isn’t spectacular, nor is it abysmal. It has some cool moves, some clever puzzles, lots of jumping bits and an array of minigames such as an on-rails shooter, a bit that has you grinding down rails, and skunk curling. It strives for humor, most of which falls flat from an adult perspective but will probably elicit laughs from the youngsters. In the words of BBC Television presenter Jeremy Clarkson, of Top Gear fame, it’s "mild cheddar" -- a game that’s good enough to rent and play through, but not one that will leave a lasting impression.