Developer: Blitz Games
Release Date: October 13, 2008
Imagine what you would consider to be a pretty bad day. Does it involve maybe locking yourself out of the house or waking up late for work? Maybe a really bad day involves some sort of car accident or even getting fired from your job. Well, our old buddy Tak is having a really, really bad day, and you're going to feel positively blessed by comparison.
Tak and the Guardians of Gross is the latest in the series of games based on the Nickelodeon cartoon that follows the adventures of a young, prehistoric shaman. On this particular occasion, Tak has been tasked with cleaning up the Spoiled Shrine, a task that he has little interest in completing. Like any kid, he decides to take a shortcut, but unfortunately his laziness and carelessness unleashes the ancient "Grosstrocities" (creatively named Gorgonzilla Slopviathan, Stinkolossus and Trashthulu), and now he's got to find a way to make things right before all that is good and clean in the world ends up destroyed.
The action in Tak is that of your basic platformer, with a few special moves thrown in for good measure. Tak can attack baddies with his staff, but it is more effective to flip over them and assault them from behind. This is accomplished by holding Z while running at a foe, and Tak takes care of the rest. It adds a nice wrinkle to a pretty simple combat system, but it's just as effective to button mash on pretty much any foe. As Tak takes out foes, he earns Juju power, which he can use to activate the Juju Nova when the meter is full. This attack wipes out all the baddies on the screen instantly, giving our hero all the breathing room he needs. Honestly, the title doesn't need the Juju Nova attack at all since enemies don't present any real threat, but this is a game aimed at kids, and if nothing else, the Juju Nova can help assuage any frustration they may feel when combat gets a little hectic.
When not taking swipes at bad guys, Tak can traverse the environment with a move set pulled straight out of the Prince of Persia series. Our little caveman can clamber up surfaces, jump back and forth between walls, and even bust out a handy wall run for those larger chasms. Tak is also granted a special Juju power at the start of each level, and these new abilities allow him to create paths across previously impassible terrain. Sometimes Tak will morph into a slime ball and follow a sticky trail to his destination; other times, he'll use a stinky wind to turn pinwheels and move platforms. In any event, the special level-specific powers add a layer of depth that you don't normally find in games like these.
Perhaps the title's biggest high point is its level design, with some truly clever and creative stages. Much like Shadow of the Colossus, the concept here is that every gigantic boss is a stage in and of itself, and most of Tak's trials will come in trying to reach the creature's head and engage the beast in a final battle. The first boss especially evokes memories of Team Ico's beloved project, as his mossy skin and the various tribal totems stuck throughout his body evoke strong memories of Wander's quest to save his beloved. Unlike Shadow, though, Tak's missions are much more lighthearted, so you can expect to see a whole lot more rail-grinding and pole-shimmying and much less absorbing of evil spirits.
While the level designs are great, they don't exactly wow you visually, and a lot of the time the scope of the task is lost by the choice of environs. Sometimes Tak finds himself out on a creature's arm or in some other exterior position that shows you what a long way down it would be, which in turn creates a great sense of scale. Unfortunately, more often than not, you'll find yourself inside the beasts, and the caverns you traverse look pretty much like every other generic cave level you've already seen dozens of times before.
Further compounding the graphical issues is the camera, which can cause headaches and nausea from time to time. Since the game's camera system is fixed, you're forced into whatever position it delineates as best, and sometimes this can lead to some bouts of dizziness. For example, in one stage Tak must go through a series of slime loops in order to reach a new destination. Instead of pulling back and remaining steady, the camera closely follows Tak on his journey, constantly shifting the scenery and leaving you to reach for a bucket. On another occasion, Tak was on a platform floating through the sky as the scenery around him spun and twisted, as if in a tornado. This sequence actually forced me to pause the game and wait a few more minutes before I jumped back in because it made me feel physically ill. I only mention these issues because I'm not normally a person susceptible to motion sickness or vertigo, and yet I found myself reeling. Therefore, be aware of these issues when you play, as it may also happen to you.
With its gross-out humor and tired jokes it's very clear that Tak was made with a specific audience in mind, and that audience is anyone under the age of 10. Younger gamers will likely find the title totally hilarious, while parents and older siblings will see it as groan-inducing. I'll admit, there are a few moments of physical comedy that had me chuckling, but the humor in the game is squarely aimed at those who still find fart jokes to be both hilarious and risqué, and those looking for a little more subtle comedy will be sorely disappointed.
As a kid's game, Tak and the Guardians of Gross works on many different levels. It's short, meaning that youngsters who don't normally finish games can wrap it up in a day or so; it's simple so they won't be overwhelmed by complex controls or in-depth strategies; and the title's humor is aimed squarely at their elementary school minds. The problem is that all the things that make this a great kid's game make it awful for teens and adults. The only real replay value comes from the game's collection of four mini-games that are surprisingly enjoyable, but each of them takes so long to complete that you likely won't want to play more than one or two rounds before calling it a day.
The bottom line is that if you have kids in the house who are fans of the "Tak" animated series, then they'll likely love Tak and the Guardians of Gross, and you can rest easy knowing that it's an all-around solid title. However, the game has almost no crossover appeal, so don't expect to be wrestling the kids for a turn at the console or booting it up late at night after they've gone to bed. Tak is a decent game, but that's really all there is to say about it.