Fancy beating up shadow lobsters as ‘Santa Claus’?
Well, you’re in the right place! Rise of the Guardians lets you control one of five playable characters: Santa, Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost and Sandman. All in an effort to take down the villainous ‘Pitch’. These aren’t you’re typical festive friends however, Santa sports a thick Russian accent to go with his cutlass, whilst the Easter Bunny throws around a boomerang like there’s no tomorrow! Luckily, each character has some form of weapon/attack, hopefully making dispatching the shadow creatures a cinch.
Ultimately the story itself seemed a little bland and uninteresting, unfortunately lacking the charm and voice talent of its big screen counterpart was a large factor in this. Cut-scenes being presented via storyboard tiles did not help the sense of boredom encroaching upon me. Normally, accidentally skipping a cut-scene in a game would leave me distraught; forcing me to restart from an earlier save. The unfortunate time it happened here, I was almost relieved! I personally cannot stand storyboard cut-scenes, they feel lazy and lackluster as opposed to the intended ‘arty’ and original feel the developers were probably after.
I hope you’re X button works well as this game will really push your pad (and your thumb!) to breaking point. With basic hack and slash combat on tap; completely foregoing any kind of combo system, the combat will invariably get dull. Considering the small amount of enemy variation, with only an arbitrary level difference separating group from group, there is little reason to experiment. Even at a low level I found myself wandering into groups of enemies perhaps 10 levels above me and not struggling. There are special unlockable moves, which admittedly, are unique to each character, it’s just they aren’t even remotely necessary to progress through the game. In fact, in the meagre 4-5 hours it took to 100% the game, my most effective tactic was to utilize/spam the Easter Bunnies boomerang whilst revolving like a nutter in the centre of the screen. On occasion, when it took my fancy, pressing circle to launch a set of painted exploding eggs with a pretty devastating area of effect attack; yes I know how daft that sentence sounds!
As basic as the combat seems, there is some fun to be had here. It’s surprisingly addictive, add to this, the support for up to 4 players to jump in on the same screen can be entertaining. Just try not to pay too much attention to the frame rate drop if you do!
One annoying thing about this game, and many of this type to be fair, is that the evade/roll/dodge move is quicker at getting around the map than standard movement. It just looks daft rolling about all over the place as inevitably, there will be times when you want to cover a large distance. Then, unfortunately, you get into the habit; and never look back!
There is also a basic level up system in place here too. Points can be manually allocated into various categories such as speed and strength (which I would highly recommend!) Alternatively, you may let the computer ‘auto-level’ each character for you, as to why you would do that is beyond belief however, as some of the categories are clearly worse than others! With no obvious way to re-spend your points, there is a potential for screwing your character over but alas, at least there are others to choose from…
Hand in hand with the ‘RPG-lite’ levels are crystals to equip for each character, adding some interesting side effects to attacks, such as splash damage. Whether or not these made too much of a real world difference I don’t know however, still, it’s nice they’re there!
No, not really! Given that there is no difficulty setting; that this is primarily aimed at the younger generation of gamers, you would be right in assuming that this is not a hardcore game! Each objective, of which there are around five staggeringly repetitive variations, are all marked on both the main and the mini-map, making navigation a cinch; exploration an unrewarding and pointless experience. Even, somehow, taking your time, the completion time is low, very low! The boss fights appear after an arbitrary amount of objectives have been completed, locking you in the area with no choice but to proceed in the story. Not wanting to miss anything, I completed all the objectives in each realm before moving on. Oddly, because of the previously mentioned restrictive and confusing story progression system, I technically finished the game before reaching the last third of the games locales.
Graphically, this game isn’t great, even for a top down hack and slash. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is not a new game by anyone’s standards, however as a reference point, it looks and sounds superior to this. Some of the effects on the special moves look nice enough with bright splashes of colour and some nifty particle effects making a welcome appearance. Unfortunately, the overall artistic direction suffers from a case of ‘the blands’! Unoriginal locales such as a library, sand-dune or a cheerful meadow feel uninspired and a disappointingly unvaried palette doesn’t help. A bit of a shame really, as every now and again, it can look great. Player animations are fine, but with a very limited repertoire of moves, they still age quickly. On this note, the characters seem to not have any real distinguishing or outstanding features from one another, save for some ‘hilarious and witty’ comments every now and again. If you are new to the franchise and have not seen the accompanying film, this game will not draw you in; sadly nor will it give you any real background about the characters either.
Should you buy?
I cannot honestly recommend you purchase this game at full price. If you’re really into Rise of the Guardians, you will at best get around five hours of playtime. With no branching storyline or other such draws, the replay value is also low. Unlockable art-work is nice but not exactly a deal breaker. Performance wise, as stated earlier, co-op can lower the frame rate somewhat. Other issues made rare appearances, such as floating AI companions; occasional hit-detection mishaps were also present. I did encounter one full lock-up, requiring a hard reset but with generous checkpoints a-plenty, it wasn’t such a heartache. Having neither a mandatory install or patch to download did make a pleasant change however!
If you have a couple of kids who are REALLY into Rise of the Guardians, then the local co-op could prove some entertainment for a drizzly afternoon. However, there are many more viable alternatives for both children and adults alike, such as Little Big Planet or any of the Lego games. My advice? Rent it or wait for the bargain bucket.
Reviewed on the PS3, also available on Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U, DS and 3DS.