reviews\ Oct 21, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Tak and the Guardians of Gross - WII - Review

It seems like every time I turn around a new Tak game is being released. But that feeling isn’t quite accurate – in fact, Tak and the Guardians of Gross is the first Tak game since 2005. Can you believe it!? Is that that really possible? For whatever reason, this mojo-modifying, jungle jet-setter took a break from gaming, leading everyone to wonder: has the three-year hiatus paid off?


An Aging Friend

Tak and the Guardians of Gross has a few distinct qualities that, for better or worse, will get the player’s attention. First, most of what you know about the series has not changed. Tak has been given an all-powerful staff to attack and conduct magic (and solve puzzles and give us an excuse to shake the Wii remote), but the game generally plays like the rest of Tak’s adventures.

Second, Guardians of Gross makes navigation easy – likely too easy for most players – by dispersing blue orbs all over the screen that, when collected, will guide you in the proper direction.

Third, upon looking at the graphics on a standard television, players might wonder why the visuals aren’t any better than they were three years ago. And when playing the game on a high-def set, they’ll wonder why the game wasn’t properly configured to run in progressive scan mode.


All Staffed Up

If you’ve been following our coverage of the PS2 version, then you’re already aware of Tak’s powerful staff. This magical weapon combines the pillar-removing, platform-adjusting ability of a magician with the enemy-bashing, big boss-destroying power of a warrior’s club. Tak is no wiser he was in his previous adventures – he’ll still run straight into danger, knowing that there’s likely a trap set or an enemy waiting to catch him. But he’s now able to perform special enemy-abolishing techniques that, with the press of a single button at the right time, will make Tak victorious in one swift move. Think of it as Tak’s way of saying “Thanks” to God of War for showing him the way. (A finisher just isn’t a finisher unless you’re pressing a button as it appears on screen.) Of course, he might as well thank a million other games since many others have included a similar feature.

Tak’s staff is also good for mini-games, such as a vehicular stage where Guardians of Gross transforms into an on-rails shooter. This kind of mini-game is great for Wii. In the PS2 version, you’re aiming with a thumbstick – tolerable if you’re old enough to remember playing shooters that way on the Genesis or SNES. But it’s hardly acceptable, especially today.

On the Wii, however, you just aim the remote at the screen and shoot wherever you like. The mechanics are a tad stiff (this isn’t a full light-gun shooter, just a mini-game), and the stage is a tad long, but plays well for the most part. The goal is to shoot various targets – literally targets, bull’s eye and all – as well as enemies to prevent them from attacking. In looking around the screen, you’ll notice that a portion of Tak’s face can be seen, along with his hand gripping the staff, creating a more personal perspective.

Motion controls are also used when using the staff to progress through a stage. In many situations, you’ll see a bright glowing circle on the screen. When that appears, hold the C button to slam Tak’s staff into the ground. The screen will start to tilt, the glow will intensify, and the level will begin to change. To complete the transformation, shake the Wii remote while holding the staff in position.

Guardians of Gross also features a puzzle mini-game, and with it comes another way for motion controls (or in this case, the Wii pointer/cursor) to be utilized. Differing from the crop of Tetris clones, this puzzler is played by firing rocks at several columns of colored faces. Doing so will cause the faces to spin around and change color from gold to blue – or blue to gold, if you hit them again. Line up four or more blue faces to score a few points. Since you’re playing on the same board as your opponent, players can kill each other’s success at any time by throwing rocks on opposing faces.


Where Creativity Lies

In addition to Tak's handy staff, Guardians of Gross tries to implement other magical elements in the form of special powers. Stinky Magic gives Tak the power of smelly wind. Slime Magic allows Tak to roll himself into a green ball of slime, which is highly sticky and clings to slimy surfaces. This enables him to roll along the environment, a la Super Monkey Ball, and stick to walls and spirals that gravity would normally prohibit.

Cheesy Magic lets you manipulate the environment in real-time by changing the type of cheese from green to blue and vice versa. There are specific parts of this level, a giant cheesy monster who Tak is crawling around inside of (most of the levels take place inside a monster), that apply to both cheese colors. When green is activated, for example, small green blobs will turn into large platforms. The opposite can also be effective. If your enemy is wearing green cheese armor, switch to blue cheese. The green armor will then disappear, allowing you to attack.


Where’d His Power Go?

Tak’s first adventure was titled “The Power of Juju.” Though any game can claim to be powerful, Tak wasn’t lying – his journey was exciting, memorable, and worth playing regardless of your age. His sequels, The Staff of Dreams and The Great Juju Challenge, were also compelling games.

But while those titles tried to stand out by being a kiddie game that wasn’t childish, a game whose success came from its variety, and a series that vied for engaging content, Guardians of Gross is a by-the-books jumble that lacks the fundamentals of a successful action/adventure. You can’t control the camera, all but killing any chance the player has of backtracking. Most of the time you won’t have a choice at all – the game won’t let you go back, period. The orb navigation system makes it easy to find the level’s exit but consequently turns the series into a game where you feel like that’s all you’re doing – searching for the exit. There are enemies to bash, but isn’t that true of most “action” games, whether the word “adventure” is applied or not?

And really, the enemy encounters are so frequent and so repetitive (battle one, you've battled 'em all) that it detracts from the adventure portion of the game. The boss battles add a tad more variety but are too easy and too common for the genre. Only the youngest of gamers will find them amusing (yet still not as amusing as the boss battles in, say, the latest Crash title).

Guardians of Gross may find some happy new customers, but it may very well be too easy and too childish for the crowd that popularized Tak when it began in 2003. The 10-year-olds who loved the series then are now 15. Without any reason to come back, it’s unlikely that they will on their own accord. And if they do, they’ll be sorry that they did.

As for the six to eight-year-old crowd, Guardians of Gross could provide some enjoyment, albeit with tedious moments, unattractive visuals and a quest whose gameplay mechanics can be found elsewhere and in a much better form. Kids and parents are urged to stick with the previous Tak games instead (all available on GameCube, and all GameCube games are playable on Wii):

Tak and the Power of Juju

Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams

Tak: The Great Juju Challenge

Review Scoring Details for Tak and the Guardians of Gross

Gameplay: 5.5
Tak was once a series to look up to – now it's a semi-annoying action/adventure with dated problems (no camera controls? What year is this, 1994?) and tiring gameplay mechanics. The controls are far from seamless, creating tricky (and frustrating) moments when Tak should jump but winds up falling down a pit. Wii motion controls don't improve the situation when their inclusion is not unique, interesting, or overly helpful beyond improving an on-rails mini-game.

Graphics: 2.0
This is sad. Guardians of Gross looks like a PSone game. When played on a widescreen television, you get ugly black bars on both sides of the screen. But that's not the worst part. The real horror comes from how mushy and washed out the whole game looks when running on a high-res screen. It's the kind of effect you get when running a PSone game on an HDTV. At one point I seriously wondered, "Could my TV be dying?" But after exiting my game and trying another, it was confirmed: Guardians of Gross' visuals are just plain gross.

Sound: 5.0
The average kiddie collection.

Difficulty: Easy
Guardians of Grossly Overestimated Enemies.

Concept: 3.0
The fourth game in the series and the third rehash.

Multiplayer: 5.0
Silly mini-games that use basic Wii motions but require zero skill to play.

Overall: 5.3
Guardians of Gross is nothing special.


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