Video games based on films, especially family films, have garnered for themselves a well deserved reputation for wallowing in severe mediocrity. Every once in a while we get ourselves a serviceable entry like the overlooked Kung-Fu Panda, but most of the time these offerings are not worth the time of any self-aware gamer. It is due to this genre’s notoriety for sub-par titles that I felt a bit of trepidation as I put D3 Publisher’s Rise of the Guardians into my Xbox. I’m happy to say though, that after my time with the game I can see that the people behind his title were determined to give us something a little different than the typical third person platforming tripe that we usually get from these kinds of games.
I haven’t yet seen the film that this game is based on, but from what I know of it, the Rise of the Guardians game seems to follow the plot of the film for the most part. Players are charged with taking control of one of five different mythical characters: North (Santa Clause), Bunnymund (Easter Bunny), Tooth (The Tooth Fairy), Sandman, or Jack Frost. These iconic heroes must join forces to defeat the villain Pitch, or Boogeyman as he’s sometimes called. Pitch has unleashed his dark forces all over the place and the only way to keep the kids of the world believing in our heroes is to rid the world of Pitch and his evil minions. Not exactly a Game of Thrones level of story complexity here, but story takes a backseat to gameplay for this title.
Right when I began playing Rise of the Guardians I was immediately transported back to my days of hacking and slashing my way through waves of bad guys in Gaunlet with a few of my buddies in the corner of an old arcade. The set up for Rise of the Guardians follows the same basic concept as some of those classic titles. Supporting 4 player co-op and easy drop-in-drop-out, you and three of your friends can play through the entirety of the game together, and playing together is where this game really shines the brightest. Going through iconic levels such as Santa’s North Pole or Bunnymund’s Easter egg laden green glades is far more exhilarating when you have some real life friends on the couch with you to strategize. If you don’t have anyone to play with, you will definitely be missing out on the biggest strength of the game, but it won’t be a complete waste of time as the AI for your partners is surprisingly good and you will rarely feel like you’re baby-sitting.
Gameplay is streamlined to allow for the least amount of complexity possible. Your basic attack is relegated to the A button while the other three buttons are reserved for special attacks. There’s also a co-op attack you can unleash with your buddy by tapping one of the bumpers. There isn’t a whole lot else to figure out and while it may seem on paper to be overly simplistic, the gameplay scheme actually benefits the experience quite a bit. With the constant influx of attacking enemies and the persistent showering of magical explosions on screen, you’ll be thanking your lucky stars that the mechanics are not more complicated than they are.
As easy to pick up as the mechanics are, they are also tied directly to the game’s largest setback, which is repetitiveness. Whatever gameplay mechanics you might come across throughout your first level of play (which could be any level as they are all unlocked from the outset), you will see them repeated over and over again as you progress through each level. Every world looks different and will throw different enemy types at you, but you’ll still be going through the same basic motions until you clear all the worlds of evil and reach the final boss battle. Every level you come across will have a large amount of optional secrets and objectives, but they are all pretty much the same from level to level. That’s not to say that they aren’t fun, because they are for the most part, there’s just not enough variety in the objectives to make you want to go back and do everything. There is a horde mode type of mini game included, but it’s nothing terribly special. It is a good opportunity to try out your stable of combat moves though, and that list of moves can get quite extensive.
The game looks pretty good too. The cutscenes are animated in a style which resembles a children’s story book. I was surprised to not see any clips from the film in this game, but the story book style take on story telling actually fits the fiction rather well. The actual gameplay graphics are not ugly by any means, but they are also nothing earth shattering. While I wasn’t overly impressed with anything I saw graphically, I was impressed by the amount of on screen mayhem I was able to witness without an ounce of slow down, screen tearing or drop in frame rate.
There really isn’t a whole lot more to say about Rise of the Guardians. I commend the developers for trying something different with this title that other film-to-game adaptations typically don’t do. It will probably not be a mainstay on the shelf of many gamers years from now, especially releasing during the busy Christmas season, but if you want an easy to pick up hack and slasher to waste a few hours on with your buddies or kids, you can do worse than Rise of the Guardians.
Review based on a copy provided by D3 Publisher