I'll freely admit it; I didn't know what I was getting into when I took on the task of reviewing Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun. It wasn't until I stared at the cover art that it dawned on me: I've seen a commercial with these characters. Oh dear, it's a video game based on a cartoon. What sort of Faustian doom had I brought upon myself? I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, and I cracked open the case and slipped the game into my Wii with a decidedly pensive expression on my face.
Would you believe that it's not all that bad? It's not! But ... it's not all that good, either.
Secret Saturdays puts you in the role of Zak Saturday, who goes on adventures with the rest of his family to find and protect "Cryptids," which are supposedly mythological creatures that some people argue can't exist and some people argue definitely do. Think yeti, Loch Ness monster or other similar critters. There are villains who would use these creatures' abilities to nefarious ends, and it's the task of Zak and his folks (mostly Zak) to keep the bad guys from getting their evil mitts on the innocent monsters and to kick some evil butt while they're at it. It may not be the most original plot in the world, but it's something I haven't quite seen done before, and in this save-the-princess world, that's a much-needed breath of fresh air.
Gameplay is fairly straightforward, for the most part. Zak has a staff that can be used like a grappling hook, which is a very welcome addition to what is ultimately a run-and-jump platforming title. He can use it to reach new heights, snatch enemies and perform other miscellaneous tasks. In particular, the hook will come in handy during boss fights, which see your hero needing to use every tool and every Cryptid at his disposal in order to save the day. These aren't meek little mice you're rescuing, and they'll gladly help you put the smackdown on your enemies whenever you make the call. Some will also be very handy in solving the game's puzzle elements, which are a welcome deviation from what one normally expects of titles aimed at a younger audience. They start out easy enough but actually get tougher to solve as time goes on, with some of the later puzzles actually leaving me scratching my head for a few minutes.
Unfortunately, very little else can be said that reflects upon Secret Saturdays in a positive light. While it's true that the vocals were performed by the stars of the show, giving this game the authenticity that kids should (and do!) expect, the visuals are rather poorly done. It is almost immediately obvious that this is very much a Wii title, as neither Microsoft nor Sony would put up with shenanigans like choppy animation and mediocre cel shading. It is regrettable to note that this is not the worst visual offender, however; that dishonor belongs to the game camera. I lost track of the number of times I clenched my teeth because the camera appears to be carried by a 3-year-old child who's had entirely too much sugar. Attention, game producers: We want a camera that helps us, but if we can't have that, at least don't make it actively hinder us. The difficulty in a title should come from the game components, not from trying to work around a shoddy visual system that makes us crane our necks like we were stuck behind Michael Jordan at a movie theater.
The outrageously bad camera work is only one part of the problem. We can only assume that High Voltage Software, the development team behind this title, received this project at the last moment because the depth of content in this title is mediocre at best. Sure, you can spend your time wandering through the levels and scanning the various Cryptids (Gotta catch 'em all!), but the game is both short and repetitive. You can only do the same thing so many times before it gets boring, and doing that thing on different levels doesn't mask the disappointing lack of creativity that went into the actual gameplay.
Even the fights involve little more than a bit of button-mashing, with the bosses serving as the only respite from an otherwise fairly uninspiring influx of foes. In this sense, the fact that the Secret Saturdays is so short was actually something of a blessing in disguise; by the time I beat this game, I was very much ready to be done with it. Unfortunately for everyone else, you're likely to be shelling out hard-earned Christmas cash for this thing if you pick it up. Think twice about how much your intended recipient loves the show and how much time he or she is going to get out of the game.
Ultimately, those are the people at whom this game is targeted: fans of the show. If you have someone in your family who owns a Wii, is in love with this show, and has some interest in playing a game based on his or her favorite characters, then you might just have a winner here. With the times we're living in, the $20 price tag is definitely a big help in this regard, and it's also a decent match to the overall quality and replay value of the game. As cartoon translations to the video game genre go, Secret Saturdays: Beasts of the 5th Sun does a few things wrong, but it does very few things very wrong, and that puts it head and shoulders above some of the other examples of this type of crossover.
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