IGN Review of Tak and The Guardians of Gross
Before we can really dive into Tak and the Guardians of Gross, a short history lesson is in order. The Tak series began on the Gamecube and PS2 back in 2003 with Tak and the Power of Juju, receiving two sequels in as many years following the original's release. Each of the titles was received relatively well critically, but it became clear as the third game in the series rolled around that a sabbatical might do the young shaman some good. Fast forward three years and you get Tak and the Guardians of Gross, a new adventure that sadly fails to push the franchise forward despite its extended break from retail shelves.
Our titular hero is tasked at the beginning of Guardians of Gross with cleaning out the Spoiled Shrine but is too lazy to complete the work himself. Attempting to use magic to expedite the process, Tak inadvertently releases the four "Grosstrosities" – Trashthulu, Slopviathan, Gorgonzilla and Stinkollosus – upon the world. Players take control of Tak as he meets and befriends four new master Jujus in an effort to reseal the rampaging titans within the Spoiled Shrine before they can consume all that is clean and pleasantly fragrant in Pupununu Village.
The story is on par with the Tak television show on Nickelodeon, complete with humorous cutscenes and a well realized supporting cast. The humor is skewed towards a decidedly younger audience, aimed primarily at those who find fart jokes and stinky cheese inherently funny. Like any decent animated series, however, the wit manages to work on several different levels at once, allowing older kids a few chances to laugh along as well.
Thankfully, the light-hearted sense of humor extends beyond just the cutscenes into the designs of the actual levels. Guardians of Gross manages to shed the shackles of less inventive action-adventure titles and offer level themes beyond the cliché ice and desert worlds. Instead, each environment relates directly to the "Grosstrosity" being tackled. By the end of the game, players will have traversed levels built around trash, slime, offensive odors and even cheese. Sure, melted cheese works exactly like lava and the Stinkollosus level is basically a jungle world with green wind swirling around, but Tak deserves props for simply attempting something vaguely original with its environmental designs.
Guardians of Gross plays out in a linear fashion, moving from one level to the next in a strictly predetermined order. This is a far cry from the quest structure of Tak: Mojo Mistake for the Nintendo DS, and frankly after playing through both titles I must say I would have preferred Guardians of Gross shared the same hub world design as its handheld cousin. As it is, the game flies along at a pace that will likely push the average gamer through to completion in less than four hours. It's just one platforming challenge after another, broken up by inter-level mini-games and all-too-frequent enemy encounters.
The platforming mechanics borrow from some of the best games in the industry but add up to less than the sum of their parts. Tak now has the ability to run along walls in a manner strikingly similar to Ubisoft's Prince of Persia and the Slopviathan level in particular borrows heavily from the rolling ball mechanic in the Super Monkey Ball series. There's even a hint of Shadow of the Colossus' epic level design thrown in for good measure as Tak scales the giant "Grosstrosities" to reach the weak point on their heads. While this all sounds great on paper, the mechanics don't translate perfectly to Tak's world, and while it's great to see the franchise try new things, none of these new features is fleshed out enough to be considered anything more than a passing homage to the gaming classics Guardians of Gross draws from.
The game's combat likewise has its moments, but ends up too shallow for its own good. You see, Tak is a nimble fighter able to easily flip over enemies, destroying them from behind after only one or two hits. Flipping over enemies is as simple as holding one button – R1 on the PS2 and the Z button on the Wii – and running straight at them. There's no timing involved and no real skill necessary to dispatch these baddies, ultimately rendering combat in Guardians of Gross a tedious, mindless chore. Once you defeat enough of them, Tak's Juju Nova bar will fill up and unleash an attack that automatically kills all enemies onscreen, further simplifying the already too-easy battles. I acknowledge that I am quite a bit older and more experienced than the game's target audience, but you know there's a problem when you can clear the entire game having only taken damage two times.
The included mini-games are fun, but it was probably smart on the developer's part to only force players to complete them once in a single playthrough. There are four challenges total, ranging from the real-time Connect Four clone "Tiki Shoot" to the surprisingly decent "Skunk Slider," a curling game complete with rocket-powered skunks and explosive landmines. Gamers wanting to get a bit more out of Guardians of Gross can even participate in any of these mini-games with a friend, though the challenges are a bit too slow and lengthy to encourage multiple plays in a single session.
Frankly, Tak wouldn't be a 3D action-adventure title if it didn't have jarring camera issues, and Guardians of Gross doesn't disappoint in this area. It's not a game-breaking dilemma by any means, but I must have fallen to my death at least twenty times thanks to the frequent earthquakes apparently focused directly beneath the camera's lens. Luckily, Guardians of Gross offers a fairly forgiving checkpoint system, so you'll never lose too much progress, but it's still annoying to have to deal with this sort of problem in the fourth iteration of the franchise.
©2008-12-04, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved