Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game - Review
Review by Ian Abbott
It’s that time of year again, when cinemas across the UK fill up with excited families on their annual holiday animated comedy movie jaunt. Taking their inspiration from the beautiful series of books developed by William Joyce entitled Guardians of Childhood, Dreamworks offer up “Rise of the Guardians” and have licensed Torus Games to create and extend the filmic experience onto gaming consoles and handhelds for audiences aged 10+.
After being introduced to our fabled guardians (Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Sandman, Jack Frost) in the opening cut scenes, the adventure combat game offered us the illustrious task of defeating every ‘nightmare’ in the world, eradicating their dreaded leader and guardian nemesis Pitch and re-igniting the belief of children all over the world.
Sadly, for a game promising joyous multiplayer encounters based on a movie where the main theme is about working together to overcome evil, there’s very little sense of team or cooperation on offer from the outset. I felt like I was a lone rabbit up against the world with little pleasure to be had. The prospect of working together as immortal guardians to protect the hopes, beliefs and imaginations of children doesn’t materialise because the other team members operated as individuals rather than double or triple teaming up against larger nightmares. Mostly, I just button bashed until the nightmares were gone whilst the NPCs occasionally helped out. It mattered not if I unlocked additional talents like a snowball attack or summoning a swarm of miniature nibbling tooth fairies because I got the same result if I executed either those power moves or a basic repetitive attack. If I’m not being rewarded or encouraged to use extra abilities then there’s little point in designing and offering them.
Even when I cried out for my gaming buddy (Tracey) to save me from this solitary experience, we both found that things didn’t really improve the pleasure stakes; if anything the whole experience became even more frustrating. If one of us wanted to head NW to loot a treasure chest and the other wanted to voyage SE and unleash seven bells of hell on the next nightmare swarm, we found that on getting to either edge of the screen, neither of us could move any further and so we were stuck. One of us had to surrender and follow the other or be magically transported to the other’s location with no warning or choice.
The game allowed me to immediately and consistently rotate each of the guardians, which I imagine could engage young audiences straight away - especially if they’d taken a shine to one of the characters at the cinema. I found this quite an unusual gaming practice as I’m used to having to secure (through skill and proficiency) unlockable items and characters as I move through the game. I found that I didn’t value my relationship to any of the other characters as I’d not earned the right to play them and tended to stick with the Easter Bunny, thereby not utilising the other guardians or their talents. Upgrades, power ups and experience were gained through the absorption of the nightmare souls and can be attributed to characters automatically or individually. However, as is often the case with a levelling up offer, the enemies get harder as you get better and therefore any progress I made is cancelled out by their increased difficulty. The entire rewards and levelling system of the game feels a little tacked on without wielding any significant influence over proceedings.
Each character is equipped with either ranged or melee weapon skills alongside their own special moves (that recharge as enemies are smited) and can also combine forces in team attacks to create a mighty rolling golden ball of thwack to eliminate the nightmares that are unswerving in their ankle biting swiftiness and general pestiness.
Each of the explorable animated worlds (Workshop, Warren, Palace etc.) are dripping with rich and colourful detail with their own unique set of enemies (who’d have thought that a lobster could be nightmarish?) and the art direction is superb. They offer a clear and intuitive path that demands absolute investigation to ensure hoovering up of every last collectable and purging wave after wave of enemy nightmare. The discovery and stockpiling of gems is where I thought the game sang loudest because there was very little skill, just persistence, needed to despatch enemies and younger games may not have the patience to ensure progress. If things got too hairy in battle, we were able to retreat back to the Guardian Gate between fights which would replenish any loss of health, ensure confidence and probable victory as I marched ever forward to Pitch.
Sadly, this game has not been created to extend the narrative arc of film nor has it been created to offer a fresh perspective of the art work of the book or film (though you can unlock stills from the movie). Once again and unsurprisingly, it has been created as a movie/video game tie in to generate money rather than offer a thrilling experience. I’m sad that within our industry, we consistently deem this ok and are not striving to create something better for our young gamers. 12 hours of bashing a weapon and repetitive activities in simple maps, interspersed with some still animation cut scenes doesn’t seem an attractive enough offer to hold the attention of the 10+ market, many of whom are skilled gamers. It doesn’t seem aimed at the younger market either and struggles to match the wonder of the movie or the culturally rich read that awaits in the original books by William Joyce; for it is here where imaginations can truly soar.
Rise of the Guardians is out now in cinemas whilst the videogame is available for X360, PS3, Wii, 3DS.