Tak and the Guardians of Gross
Reviewed by Brandy Shaul
Review Date Platform Genre Rating Production
2008-12-04 PS2 Platform E10 (Everyone 10+) THQ

Even though I'm not one to watch many of Nickelodeon's shows anymore (with Spongebob and Jimmy Neutron as exceptions), I have always been a loyal fan of platformers, so even though my knowledge of Tak and his universe may be a bit lacking, my love for his gameplay genre is not.

Tak and the Guardians of Gross is a third person platformer set in Tak's home world of Pupununu. After being assigned to clean the sacred Spoiled Shrine, a task which Tak feels is beneath his shaman-in-training status, Tak decides to use his magic to make cleaning the shrine an easier job, and in the process accidentally releases four monstrous "Grosstrocities" who begin to create havoc throughout the world. It is then up to you to fix Tak's mistake, and put these Grosstrocities back where they belong by collecting various magical abilities that play to each monster's weakness, allowing you to eventually defeat them.

Guardians of Gross is a platforming title in the same vein as games like Wall-E, in that it combines both classic platforming elements like collecting bits of juju which allow Tak to unleash powerful magic blasts, with new level designs that incorporate everything from riding on the talons of a parrot while guiding yourself through the air, to firing at enemies through first-person shooter sequences.

Other level types come in the form of mini-games and puzzles, such as one that pits you against another character in the story in a challenge to see who can score the most points at a tiki head game, with points being scored by firing sheep at a wall to change the color of the tiki heads on it to match your assigned color.

For the most part however, the title harkens back to older platformers like Spyro and Crash by offering a linear path through each level, filled with gaps to jump over, poles to climb, switches to hit and so on, as well as a few randomly appearing enemies that can be easily defeated with the press of the circle button, which slams Tak's staff into their heads.

Other combat techniques allow you to leap over enemies' heads in an effort to bewilder them long enough to hit them from behind, and being able to leap into the air and blast juju down to the ground. After battling various enemies, more juju energy is released, which, once collected, helps fill up Tak's juju meter and unleash powerful juju nova attacks that can clear an entire room in a few seconds flat.

Aside from defeating enemies, juju energy can also be found in various breakable items such as pots that are scattered throughout each level. And with a large supply of these breakables in every level, it doesn't take long at all to refill your attack meter entirely, lessening some of the challenge to be had overall.

If however you do happen to die, there is no life system here, but rather checkpoints (think games like Ratchet and Clank) that let you start a level from a midpoint after dying, rather than forcing you to start over entirely, making the game easier on younger age groups and players with a less-than-masterful platforming skill set.

What does add challenge is the game's camera, which is lackluster at best. Gameplay is viewed from a mostly overhead vantage point, and while this view is fine in smaller corridors, in larger areas, or when making your way around sharp corners, the camera has a hard time keeping up, causing you to have to stop and wait for it to catch up so you can actually see where to go next. Unfortunately, there is no way to move the camera manually, so ultimately, you're at its mercy.

Likewise, while the game's graphics are fairly beautiful, and definitely representative of the Tak television show (including lush landscapes filled with large trees, scattered boulders and rippling brooks), they are really dark in places, especially in caves and other buildings where you have nothing but the soft flicker of a few in-game torches to light your path. So dark in fact, that I found myself turning the brightness on my television up to its maximum just to see that I wasn't about to fall off of a platform into the abyss.

The sound department does fare better however, with realistic sound effects coming from the natural landscape of most of your background environments, and mostly impressive voice acting that, surprisingly enough, tends to fit with the facial expressions of the characters as they say the lines.

In the end, Tak and the Guardians of Gross is a short, albeit enjoyable platformer that combines a variety of seemingly unlike gameplay mechanics and comes out better for it. And while fans of the television show will obviously appreciate the humor found in the game more than most, any fan of platformers in general (and who is willing to look past the game's technical flaws) should find that it adequately meets their needs.

Special thanks to Kristina Kirk and THQ for providing a copy of this title.