Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole review
You might know Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole as "that new 3D movie about owls". If that is the case, I advise you to ignore the undying urge to pass off this particular licensed game as a total dud. Legend of the Guardians succeeds as a flight-combat game in some legitimately surprising and satisfying ways.
One of the best parts of this flight title is, well, the flying part. Controlling one owl - in this case, the movie's protagonist, Shard - always feels smooth and precise. Diving sharply into a nose-dive and then pulling up at the last second is very exciting, and soaring through the valleys and over mountaintops evokes a feeling of freedom appropriate for the simulation of flight.
Combat is also intuitive; Shard's main attacks can be thrown together for some spectacular clashes with his avian adversaries. Using a simple targeting system, you can lock onto enemies and literally fly circles around them, swooping in to attack whenever the cursor turns red. Using the throw attack is a real treat, particularly when you heave enemies into the water or a burning tree. The dash attack is also powerful and sends enemies staggering backward, meaning you can literally pound them into walls or the ground. If you time your presses correctly, Shard chains his attacks together and tears apart the opposition.
Flying well, collecting shiny gold coins, and taking out enemies rewards Shard with "prowess". This essentially translates to "owl style points" that are used for wingman directions and Shard's special corkscrew attack. The powerful corkscrew ability uses some prowess points and sends Shard rocketing forward, which is helpful for covering a lot of ground. Ordering your wingmen to attack also uses prowess, but is helpful for taking out larger groups of enemies. The only problem comes from running out of prowess when you need to suddenly close in on distant enemies; the system is effective otherwise.
Unfortunately the missions and the objective types are generic and lack inspiration. I grew tired of the simple escort, race, defend, stealth pursuit, and attack missions before the final area opened up. Although Legend of the Guardians is an easy game to blow through in a couple of hours, the lacking mission variety makes it all seem to take a lot longer. Also, reinforcements seem to be excessive at certain points in the game, and these moments feel like they exist to add minutes to each level.
Legend of the Guardians looks particularly nice for a licensed game, but I still feel like the gap between animated films and their licensed products is still too wide. The trailers for this 3D film were stunning, even on 2D television, and the game's lack of visual detail is comparably disappointing. For starters, the in-game sequences are miles behind anything seen in the movie, which makes me feel like real clips should have been considered instead. The voice acting is awful, and the repetition of certain lines of dialog drove me to the point of muting the game several times. The combat animations, character models, and enemies are generally too distant and appear to be too small on the screen, which can make it difficult to enjoy the subtle details from up close.
It is not all bad - to be fair, the environments are particularly impressive, and they all boast some impressive sights. The various areas include a desert, forest, and snow-capped mountain, just to name a few. Legend of the Guardians also runs smoothly - there are rarely issues with the frame rate, even in some of the heated battles. Finally, the camera is manageable, even when you quickly cycle through targets.
Replay value is difficult to come by in Legend of the Guardians, but there are some incentives to keep playing. Upon completion of the game's five main areas, you unlock "bonus missions" for each of the five main environments. In each hub-like area, you are allowed to fly freely at your leisure. Perks to these additional missions include collecting gold pieces, completing side-quests, and searching for hidden collectible scrolls. Each hidden scroll unlocks a piece of concept art in the Gallery, but searching for them takes a lot of time and patience. Using the wonky "Gizzuton Radar" to track down each scroll is often frustrating.
All of your collected gold pieces in the game are used to purchase "battlesets" from the Armory. Each battleset is unique and affects Shard's abilities - attack power, health, speed, prowess bonuses, etc. Putting thought into your equipment is not required for every mission, but it is encouraged: choosing a speedy suit makes a big difference when you prepare for a race, but you will need the extra armor for combat missions.
With its short story mode and lack of multiplayer support, Legend of Guardians is a tough sell for $50. There almost isn't an excuse for multiplayer being MIA; I recall four or five separate occasions during my time with the game that a friend asked to join me for a race or free-roam session, and couldn't. It's too bad, because I can think of at least two flying games released in 2010 - Top Gun and HAWX 2 - that would have been better if all their unique game mechanics worked as well as Legend of the Guardians's. The lack of depth will not be so much of a problem for the younger target audience, but there is not enough content for an experienced gamer to spend time with.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is one of the better licensed products in my recent memory. Even if it is not a mind-blowing experience, this game effectively captures the freedom of flying without causing much trouble. Even with its boring mission objectives and grating voice acting, Legend of the Guardians is still a treat for kids who loved the film, or gamers with a particular passion for owls.