Release Date: October 12, 2004
Saving princesses has apparently come back into vogue. Back in the day, every game out there had a captive princess at the end of it, whether she was in another castle or not, but modern platformers have gotten away from that. There’ll usually be a daring rescue in there somewhere, yeah, but it’s not a princess per se and it’s not the point of the whole thing.
Even in Tak II: The Staff of Dreams, saving the princess is just a side note. Tak goes to sleep one night and stays that way for sixteen days. While in the technicolor World of Dreams, he’s told by a mysterious orb of light that unless he rescues a captive princess somewhere within the dreamworld, he may get trapped there forever.
Tak II plays out in both the waking world, where Tak searches the jungle for a solution to his problems, and the dreamworld, a psychedelic wonderland that’s kind of like a tutorial map.
In either world, Tak II is a cartoony platformer with a sort of Claymation look to it, especially in its cutscenes. Tak and his friends walk around exaggeratedly, bouncing, flopping, and pratfalling; it’s pretty fun to watch.
When you start the game, Tak’s got a stick and a mission: find out what’s going on. The further you get, the more powers you unlock and the more techniques you get. Tak’s stick, his Thwack, begins as a simple bludgeon, but you’ll learn a variety of combos and new hits, like a spinning strike that clears out crowds and a jumping dive kick that works well against bosses.
As you progress through levels, following a trail of life-replenishing feathers, you’ll gradually unlock the rest of Tak’s arsenal, including his Juju powers. He can use magic to up his running speed, leading to long rolling jumps that can bridge chasms, or power up his weapons. Get a bit further, and you can get your hands on new weapons, like a bola.
Progressing through the jungle requires a mixture of problem-solving and combat. The evil Woodies, animated stick figures who seem to enjoy imprisoning animals just for the hell of it, are on the prowl, and there’s dangerous wildlife to contend with as well. You can sometimes use the animals to your advantage, either by scaring them off with stinkweed or skunk spray, or by tossing your flea sidekick at them. A squirrel will start throwing nuts at whoever it sees, a bear will usually lie down and let you trampoline off its belly, and a wild boar can be used to bust through obstacles.
Tak II also tosses you headlong into rushing rapids at times, where you and your trusty barrel will go careening down the river at a madcap pace. These levels, which are scattered throughout the stages set in the waking world, might be the most impressive of the lot; the water effects are pretty impressive, and there’s a real sense of uncontrolled speed. I’d play a kart racer based around the river levels, and I usually hate kart racers.
The dreamworld, on the other hand, is a place where a series of platforms float above an infinite drop. Tak’ll learn new moves here that he can take back into the waking world, but he’ll also face off against a wide variety of nightmare creatures: invisible Stalkers, Puffers that clamp onto his head, thorny vines that hold monster-generating portals, and a host of others. Tak II's greatest challenges are set in the dreamworld, whether they’re long jumping sequences or powerful boss encounters.
Finally, you can collect bugs, plants, fruits, and minerals as ingredients for Juju Potions, the recipes for which are hidden throughout Tak II's stages. A Juju Potion doesn’t actually do anything for you in the singleplayer game, but actually unlocks extras like movies, sound tests, and both single- and multiplayer Dinky Games. The games include Phoenix Fight (dogfighting on the backs of firebreathing birds), Snowboard Race (jungle-dwelling tribesmen are surprisingly adept snowboarders), Sandboard Trick Score (like Tony Hawk, but with more sand), and Mummy Shuffle (herd colored mummies into a lava pit to score).
It’s definitely targeted at a younger crowd, as Nickolodeon’s involvement would seem to indicate, but Tak II has enough challenges and gameplay to draw in older gamers. I was going to stick it with the “children’s game” label, but then the first boss kicked my teeth in. If you want a straightforward action-platformer comedy, for you or for your kids, then Tak II is the game for you.