Release Date: October 12, 2004
Take a landscape, punch a half dozen or so bottomless or near enough bottomless holes in it. Add some various creatures of evil intent and maybe a couple friendly helpers. Sprinkle with a dash of strange surreal flavoring and mix in a princess in distress. Make sure it’s half baked and TADA! you have your very own platformer. This recipe has been standing for as long as I can remember and is not likely to die anytime soon. The problem with the recipe is that like all things it can go stale. In general that time has passed and most platformer games seem to fall a touch short anymore just following the recipe and not trying to strive to make their own place. Enter Nickelodeon and Avalanche with Tak 2 a new platformer and on the Xbox no less! This offering follows the recipe to a tee and yet offers enough more to make its own place. The developers have had the foresight to use a healthy dose of humor. Humor which both makes light of the game itself and of the genre as a whole. Thanks to this humor the game was able to keep from growing tiresome and kept my interest locked on tight.
Juju smelling salts stink like bad Juju:
The humor starts off from the very first moments of the game. The first thing you see when you start playing is the bulbous nose of Jibolba the Pupanunu shaman right. He is right in your face and seems to be concerned that your taking a little nap (little is synonymous for 16 days when it comes to naps right?). In his attempts to wake you he is accompanied by Locke (Patrick Warburton, from the live Tick show and Jerry Seinfield fame). The dialogue throughout this little introduction had me laughing and genuinely amused. Without giving too much of the humorous dialogue away the end result of this little sequence is the main character in a dream world finding out about a princess whom he needs to save, agreeing to save her (after a little light persuasion on the part of a disembodied talking voice) and then awaking to some rather pungent smelling salts. This is the start of your quest, you have your goal and you have your fellow protagonists already lined up. The entire intro is chalk full of humor which I would hate to give away. This very same satirical and razor sharp humor spills out in to just about every aspect of the game.
This dream sequence handles like a dream:
Tak 2 handles nice and smooth, the controls are simple and yet have a few fairly advanced platforming skills built in. You have of course your standard double jump (including a glide on the second jump if you hold the button down). You also have your standard attacks and combination attacks. Jumping attacks? Check. Spinning attacks? Check. Ranged attacks? Check. Charged up power attacks? Check. Gigantic purple apes? Err no (at least not that I saw). Although there are some maneuvers that fall outside of the standard set attached to just about every modern platformer. These special maneuvers are performed through the use of Tak’s Juju meter (Well that and holding down the left trigger) and include things like; faster running, flying matrix-esque Juju kicks, super explosive projectiles and some other things. The specials are only occasionally necessary and generally I found myself primarily relying on basic abilities. Still it is nice to be able to play around with special abilities at times since they help to relieve some of the combat related tedium. There is another really cool thing they included, the animal forms which allow our hero to transform into an animal of sorts. Each animal form has its own unique special attack, however they are kind of secrets so I don’t want to spoil them. One other fairly cool thing is the ability to launch your little flea friend at various animals and then have him put them to sleep or bite them. It’s only useful in puzzles but it is fun to launch insects at things.
The majority of the time playing is spent solving puzzles. Puzzles which range anywhere from astoundingly easy to mind rupturing difficult (Be careful with these because when a mind ruptures its very messy). They seemed a bit random in their level of challenge as sometimes the most difficult puzzles would come before the easier ones. The times when you are not solving puzzles your generally making jump after jump or playing though a decently incorporated mini-game. One prime example of the mini-games would be the rapids in a barrel portion you experience early on. Basically through some peculiar and amusing events our hero ends up in a barrel floating down some rapids. Not just any rapids the most insane rock, tree, whirlpool filled rapids I have ever seen. That is not even mentioning the many waterfalls! This segment of the game had me in awe as the graphics were absolutely mind bogglingly good. Too good perhaps, I was having a hard time controlling my barrel due to staring at the background in admiration.
The game is also seeded thoroughly with un-lockable components each in the guise of a Juju potion. In order to make a potion you need a recipe and some ingredients which include bugs, crystals and fruit things. These potions will do a variety of things from changing the appearance of Tak to unlocking new mini-games for extra curricular perusal. Of course the formulas for these potions are hidden in strange out of the way areas of the game. In order to find these you usually have to go exploring and often have to solve special puzzles or perform death defying leaps in order to reach them. They do help to add some interest to the game giving you goals on levels you may have already completed and adding mini-games to the multiplayer component.
The temple of mini-games:
Everywhere I look nowadays there are mini games. Almost every game has them and some games are nothing but mini-games. The entire multiplayer component of Tak 2 is nothing but a pantheon of mini-games designed to provide hours of two player mischief. Games range from whack-a-chicken for feathers to snowboarding to riding a fire breathing ostrich beasts and trying to take out other people who are riding fire breathing ostrich beasts. Generally the mini-games were not much more than – mini-games and didn’t leave me gasping for air. I found them fairly fun especially with the right friends but otherwise the main game is the real draw. The mini-games were without question added to increase the replay value of this game and they did such to at least some degree. I admit they are kind of fun and it is cool that they added them I guess I just would rather play one of my other multiplayer centric games instead.
The stages are all pretty linear and the developers have even provided a trail of feathers which you can choose to follow (they lead you right to your goals). This is likely because the game is intended primarily for a younger crowd. Personally I kind of like relatively straight forward maps as wandering around forever just to stumble across my goal annoys me (I always feel like I wasted time). Despite the linear manner of them, they are all well designed and all of the puzzles appear right at home. I never really felt like a puzzle was forced into place or just there with no reason as I did in some of the other adventure games I have played. Even more important than the layout and design would be the graphical quality. Everything is amazingly beautiful in a very surreal way. A perfect and early on example of this is the dream stages full of bizarre creatures and platforms made of slimy glop. The slime platforms I found particularly cool as you leave very realistic (Realistic in that cartooned strange unreal way) footprints behind you as you go. It was not only the dream stages that looked amazing but every stage I played. The frequent water looked beautiful and reminded me of the beaches of Fiji (I have never been to Fiji and the water could be murky and black but it sounds like an appropriate term).
Character designs were also top notch in my opinion; each looking unique and creative, each being artistically crafted in a manner that keeps it from looking run of the mill or cookie cutter. I think this is likely thanks in part to Nickelodeons influence as their cartoons have had a history of interesting and creative character design. The main characters are fairly unique but the truly hilarious ones tend to be people and things you run into during the course of your adventure. Like the giant purple monster with a talking stomach and a pension for candy. The animations are also superb as each character moves like a Saturday morning cartoon, over exaggerated movements and all. The colors are all so vibrant that I wound up wearing sunglasses half of the time (that is a joke or exaggeration in case you were wondering). This is one of the most beautiful games I have seen on the XBox to date. Without questions it’s the most beautiful platformer I have seen on the Xbox.
Say something funny here:
The dialogue matches or even surpasses the quality of the graphics thanks in part to the brilliant scripting and thanks in part to wonderful voice acting. I really wish more games would shell out the extra couple bucks it takes to get talented voice acting as it really makes the game infinitely more enjoyable. Every single aspect of this game seems to be intently focused on humor. This has achieved some powerful results and the game is that much the better for it. The humor should appeal to both children and adults, even the least humorous individuals should get a chuckle here or there. The music is a touch repetitive but fits the mood of the stages and can easily be tuned out. The sound effects excel a bit compared to the music and each is sprightly and reminiscent of standard cartoon sounds. Really the music, sound effects and dialogue fit like well worn shoes when compared to the rest of the game (comfortable and like a glove… er shoe).
Tak 2: the staff of dreams is without much debate the best platformer on the Xbox so far. If that is the style of game your looking for you should not hesitate. Go try this one out! Even if you are not already a fan of the genre you may enjoy this title (as I did). Especially if you have kids or enjoy that specific brand of nickelodeon humor. On a side note my girlfriend even likes it and she is not a normal fan of video games she enjoyed the humor and also even just the gameplay. Normally she has a really hard time with games and either looses interest or gets frustrated this time she did not. This game is great for everyone from beginners to the platforming veterans. Check it out.