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Tak and the Guardians of Gross
Score: 80%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: THQ
Developer: Blitz Games
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Platformer/ Adventure/ Action

Graphics & Sound:
While the PS2 may be a bit over the hill in terms of a console's lifespan, there are some games with visual styles that can still hold their own. THQ's Tak and the Guardians of Gross is one of those games. Even though the graphical content may be in the realm of being cartoony in nature, Tak looks great with all of the vivid colors that make up the screen. Unfortunately, there are some times where elements of the levels blend into each other, making it hard to necessarily distinguish the correct path to take upon a first look.

The character models also look great, especially in the cut-scenes where you'll see pre-rendered versions of our hero and his friends. The only annoyance here is that their mouths animate pretty poorly, and as a result, the spoken words don't necessarily match their mouths. With that said, the voiceovers in Guardians of Gross are excellent, both in-game and within the cutscenes. In-game, most of the voicework is Tak talking to himself (in order to give the player feedback), but there are also Non-Player Characters (NPCs) that speak up once in a while.

The music and sound fx in Tak and the Guardians of Gross are equally good. The background music has an upbeat mix, especially during the end battles, and it will keep you energized throughout. The sound fx are ever-present and bring the battles straight into your living room, but they also take advantage of the cartoony nature of the game, especially with things like oozing the baddies in a kind of mid-adventure mini-game.

Tak is back at it as the adventure begins with him needing to clean up the tribe's sanctuary, but instead of doing so normally, he tries to use his powers and accidentally destroys a large red crystal that protects against colossal beasts from inhabiting the world. These giants stand to release turmoil unless someone can stop them. Since Tak feels responsible, he is determined to save the tribe from this evil that he unleashed in the first place.

Tak and the Guardians of Gross begins with Tak taking a shortcut through the jungle instead of the following the safe path, and this is a great opportunity for the player to learn all of Tak's moves. As such, there is a nice little hint of text that pops up when you get near interactable objects, and it will continue to pop up until you toggle this feature off. Once you get comfortable, running around and killing bad guys (like my personal favorites, the "Woodies") is relatively easy, and you will make your way through the jungle and into the temple.

After unleashing the giant beasts, Tak finds himself on a mission to destroy them, but will get the help of fellow Shaman on the way. He will need to learn different types of powers, beginning with Lumpy Magic. Each of the fantastically-named magical abilities will be used to take on the colossal beasts, each with their own humorous names in theme with the game's title, Guardians of Gross.

Tak will essentially have to work his way through levels that are on the beasts, which is a great effect since the background is always moving. In fact, the levels themselves are moving, so at times, it can feel a bit distracting as you are trying to jump around in this platformer due to the moving screen, even though it doesn't add any true difficulty to these leaps of faith. The entire way, you will have to solve small puzzles and keep fighting different types of baddies, eventually finding your way to the top and disabling the giants. You'll also need to collect Juju Magic, which can (when full) be used to defeat all on-screen enemies at once. This can be very helpful when the number of baddies gets high, or when a more difficult foe crosses your path. Be careful though, because while Tak doesn't actually die, he will lose his entire Juju Meter contents upon re-spawning from a fall.

While the gameplay itself is very fun, there are a few elements that distract. The biggest is that it often feels like you don't have precise control over where Tak is aiming (more on that in the Game Mechanics section below). Another distraction is that the levels, while fairly well thought out, lack contrast sometimes, making it non-intuitive in deciding where to go a small percentage of the time, though the levels are very linear most of the time. The third is that the game is a bit repetitive and will be easy for veteran gamers, but it will likely be a nice challenge for rookies and youngsters. Fortunately, the gameplay is broken up at times with some interesting mini-games, which may feel a bit out of place as far as the story goes, but they are fun nonetheless. It is also possible to play two-player games as well.

Tak and the Guardians of Gross will be a relatively easy game for most gamers, but may be a mixed bag for younger fans, who I believe to be the target audience of this title. Defeating the baddies is easy for the most part, although some of the bigger enemies and the colossal giants have a bit of a puzzle element to finding their weaknesses. Once you do exploit them, however, they too are fairly easy to defeat.

One of the greatest features as far as difficulty is concerned is that Tak and the Guardians of Gross displays on-screen text with hints and directions for interacting with objects. At first, this is a valuable learning tool, but admittedly I got a bit annoyed with it after a while until I found a toggle in the Pause Menu. It was then that I realized it wasn't going to go away by itself, as in most games, but that this is a great feature because younger gamers (that can read, anyway) will find it valuable when they don't know what to do.

In addition (or as an alternative if you've turned the feature off) to this on-screen hint text, Tak and the Guardians of Gross also features visual and voiceover clues to help you on the journey. With this help, you will be able to see and hear when to perform certain moves, like running on the wall over a gap or using your magic to trigger some crystal that will change the path and allow you to continue.

Game Mechanics:
The game controls of Tak and the Guardians of Gross are quite easy to learn, especially with the tutorial-type initial adventure and thanks to the on-screen hint text. You can basically jump, use a couple of buttons for striking enemies with your stick, and perform skill moves with the shoulder buttons. In fact, for many things you can use either the jump button (X) or the vault button (R1) interchangeably, like when you want to shimmy up a cliff or vault and enemy before striking him in the back. The one problem that I did have was with aiming Tak's strikes against enemies. As I was running around, I felt like I had pressed the direction toward an enemy in conjunction with swinging my weapon, but I often hit the ground next to them. This got to be a bit annoying, especially when multiple baddies were around. After learning to slow myself down, this got a bit better, but still wasn't perfect.

Some of the mini-games that are mixed in are fun and addictive, while others are just downright silly (yet still fun). I can actually see that younger gamers may have a problem with some of these that require quick thinking and may even require the use of tactics to win. I do feel that a few of these games were a bit overly involved for the game's target audience, and may require some adult help to get by and continue on with the story. Even the directions to play these quick mini-games were too long in some cases.

Tak and the Guardians of Gross is a fine game with great presentation. Aside from some small issues that I had with the game, this title was enjoyable and I would definitely recommend it to those younger gamers or parents looking to steer clear of the violent games that clutter the market. For those looking for an entertaining title, Tak and the Guardians of Gross may just be what you are looking for.

-Woody, GameVortex Communications
AKA Shane Wodele

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