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December 23, 2016

Rise of the Guardians (Wii)

Christmas is in two days, so how about a little Holidays-themed review? Hm? There’s that Wii game in my collection that I’ve barely played ever since I bought it. Maybe it would be time for me to take a better look at it, huh?

If you’re a Dreamworks fan, and even if you aren’t, you probably know about their 2012 film, Rise of the Guardians. A beautiful CGI-animated film about Jack Frost being called to help other icons of holidays and childhood in their fight against a villain who’s basically the Boogeyman. Of course, it is a lot more complex than that – the film contains dozens of little touches present in the original oeuvre, William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood, for which this film can also be considered a loose sequel of sorts. The film covers a lot of ground, discussing the relations the Guardians have between each other and how they feel about their appointed role in the mythology of children’s beliefs. It ties this all together into a compelling story about friendship, beliefs, memories, dreams and kicking ass. Because kicking ass they do. If you’re given the task to protect the children of the world as long as they believe in you, and you’ve got the superpowers to back it up, surely you’re not gonna be shy about jumping into action as soon as a major threat appears.

Also, I never thought Hugh Jackman would have been given an even hairier role than the one he usually plays.

As an example, here's the DS version.
Looks too similar to the others.
And of course, as with many major feature films, a number of video game adaptations were made. Gamers in general don’t have a soft spot in their minds for licensed games, because of the usual quality of the resulting titles. Combine a studio having to build a game out of a film that’s coming out in many months in theaters, with the rush of completing the damn thing so that it’s out when the film is released, and you’re gonna end up with a lot of duds. It’s inevitable. Thankfully, not every game that comes out of such a business practice is inherently terrible. There are some good licensed games out there. On the very early days of this blog, I reviewed a licensed game for How to Train Your Dragon. Wow, this place changed a lot since. Oh, I was so hopeful in 2013… Life sucked less… I was less angry, the world at large was less angry and hateful… Anyway, I thought it was a pretty enjoyable game. The Wii game adaptation of Rise of the Guardians may suck, or it may be good enough to try. Today, I’m telling you about this.

And for those who tell me that Rise of the Guardians is technically more of an Easter movie… Let me show you something. See this empty shelf over here?

This is where I store my damns, when I have any. As you can see, I’m all out. 

Nice artstyle, though I wonder why they went with it.
As the game starts, we are treated to a quick recap of the first part of the film. North (Santa Claus), Bunnymund (the Easter Bunny), Sandy (the Sandman) and Tooth (the Tooth Fairy) are the Guardians, tasked with protecting children everywhere. However, Pitch (the Boogeyman) is already at work, and has started eroding the children’s belief in the guardians thanks to his nightmare sand, an evil knockoff of Sandy’s dream sand. The Man in the Moon tells North and the others to hire a new guardian to face this new threat – and that new guardian is none other than Jack Frost! We’re thus brought to the “tutorial” of the game.

"Hey! Let go of my scepter! If you don't, I'll put it on you
where the sun doesn't shine!"
"So it would be on me..."

And of course, the game never gets close enough to let us
get a good look at the CGI models. And of course, the
Guardians fight, but nobody can hamr Pitch right now.
Yet, it should be so easy!
We learn about the combat system in the game: You can control any of the five Guardians at any moment, switching between them with the directional pad. Each guardian moves around with the Nunchuk’s control stick, has a main attack with A, can defend with B. When weakened by the lack of belief (AKA, losing all HP), a guardian can no longer attack and becomes transparent. This can be corrected by using Sandy’s dream sand abilities to bring some good dreams back in the world and restore some belief into the Guardians in kids’ dreams.

"Ack! We all gone invisible! We need expert to help!
Call Griffin the Invisible Man!"
"We can't, he works at Sony Animation.
He's not at DreamWorks!"
We learn about that second ability because Pitch proves to be too strong for the group, turning them all transparent in a single swipe. The bad guy leaves, but some of his lackeys stay around. So many boring black creatures… I feel like I’m back in the ink-ridden lands of Drawn to Life! It’s also rather easy to defeat these creatures: Just bash at them repeatedly. Yeah. Aside from the shield ability each Guardian has, and the possibility to switch from a guardian to the other, this is pretty much all the complexity of combat in the game. The hub level that follows has the heroes smash some more monsters, after which we reach a portal that can miraculously restore belief in the Guardians, taking them out of transparency, and allows them to fly off to any of the Guardians’ five realms. Yup, we’ve got to wash away the black sand from every Guardian’s realm.

Hey, I know just the guy who can help with that! He’s used to cleaning up the messes left in weird places. He just needs to grab his cleaning machine.

Can’t guarantee he’ll have time to help though, his schedule is filled to the brim with activities such as toilet unclogging, dragon-turtle kicking, brother-shaming and princess rescuing. And even then, he spends his free time go-karting or partying.

This is Santa's workshop. I'd say I should show a Burgess
screen instead, but all locations in this game are the same
damn deal anyway. In this  case, we are saving some
guys from dark cages - and since this is North's workshop,
you're saving elves.
There are many collectibles to find around each realm, such as Matryoshka dolls. In the first level I visited, the Town of Burgess (which happens to be Jack Frost’s “realm”), we get to see every other element of gameplay. Some kids are locked up in cages of black sand and the heroes must free them after destroying the nightmares guarding them. In one area, there's Jamie Bennett, who needs to be protected against the dangerous nightmares. The kid’s got a huge life bar, and the five Guardians have to face a huge wave of monsters to defend him. Gee, good thing the kid’s so tenacious! If he had as many hit points as the Guardians, he would be down quickly. There are also areas where tougher monsters attack in groups. Oh, and the portal is protected by monsters too, so if you’re in trouble and need to heal, prepare to fight first. Last but not least, there’s a bunch of treasure chests spread across each realm, and you’re invited to find them all.

The enemies also become stronger very quickly, so you should take your time in each part of each realm to fight and gain power. That goes for all of the Guardians, by the way – you should use them all as often as possible, switching out between them instead of keeping a favorite. Having an untrained Guardian means that Guardian will be less capable in battle later on.

Check this statement at the bottom. I swear, this game is like the entire
concept of Captain Obvious given a coat of codes, programs and CGI.
The Boogeyman lives in the shadows? Gee, I would have never guessed!
By the way, quick note. The loading screens contain no animation, but offer tidbits of information for the player. “Tooth is a cross between a human and a hummingbird.” Oh gee, I would have never guessed! Next you’ll be telling me that her prescription for Ritalin has expired long ago! “North believes Christmas to be the best holiday of all; Bunnymund disagrees.” Oh my God, that’s news! Stop the presses! Wipe that creepy Trump face off the front pages, we have some news material here: Santa Claus thinks Christmas is great! The Easter Bunny disagrees, thinks Easter is great! Mind-blowing revelations!

Second quick note about the cutscenes; I get that they were working with limited resources (I mean, the Wii would force the CGI to be pretty limited), and so they had to find a way to make these scenes interesting nonetheless… but the choice they went with is rather meh. Still images with a moving camera, pictures in a simple, mural-like style. Fits the mythology idea of the heroes, but… I don’t know I am not a fan of it. Plus, I believe that some cutscenes are used and reused from time to time, just to fill some time between important parts. Same cutscene, seen at least a few times. The one where Bunny tells Jack he’s not really “part of the group”, with North reassuring Jack afterwards.

The town of Burgess is split in five areas, in which the monsters get much, much tougher as you progress. This highlights the need to “level up” your characters so that they can face against the growing threats. At some point, bosses show up – large black sand scorpions. Once the bosses of the fifth area of Burgess are defeated, the group finds a way into Pitch’s lair – under a bed, because I suppose the monsters in the closets are too nice – and beat him to a black-bloodied pulp.

You don't see it all that well, but they're all around
Jamie. Easy to accidentally hit a kid that is standing there,
not moving out of the way, on a friggin' battlefield!
I do have to wonder as well what it’s like for Jamie, who’s always the one being attacked in Burgess, and protected by the Guardians who, with one controlled by the player and the other four by A.I., aren’t always the best to aim. “Ker-pow! Bam! Oh! Sorry, Jamie. I accidentally slashed you with sword. Boom! Oh, sorry! Bunny, look out with boomerangs, Jamie got one on head! Oh Jamie, I so sorry, I slashed you again! Why am I turning transparent?”

And so, with Burgess freed after an hour of two of killing black monsters of various kinds in swarms over and over and over again… we move on to any of the other realms, to spend an hour or two killing black monsters of various kinds in swarms over and over and over again. See the problem with the game? It’s beyond repetitive after a while, with no real incentive to keep playing to find something new to do. There is nothing new to do. Kill enemies, heal the Guardians, restore faith, save kids, collect treasure and symbols, and kill more enemies. No variety. Sure, the monsters get tougher as we go, but that’s not really variety, just normal progression in a game… I’m not even sure I want to beat this game, it just feels tedious.

Okay, who greyscaled the world again?
North’s workshop, Tooth’s palace, Bunnymund’s warren, Sandy’s ship? Same deal. Even the boss doesn’t change. It’s always Pitch. The protectors of belief change (in North’s workshop, it’s the stupid little elves). Admittedly, the five worlds are beautiful, very impressive to look at; but you’re not really encouraged to discover more. The level of difficulty stays the same pretty much in all of the realms, just that the final section of the first one is noticeably difficult because of the low level of the heroes.

You do unlock special abilities as you level up the heroes, and you can equip special hexagonal precious stones to them to give them bonuses in battle; but this doesn’t add much. You earn crystals when killing enemies, and you can use these crystals to buy the previously-mentioned hexagonal stones, as well as items in the game’s art gallery.  Because it’s easy to add content from development into the game. Thing is, there usually is a greater challenge to encourage players to chase down this content – as an example, Sonic and the Secret Rings demanded that the player earns medals on certain missions, or a certain number of silver or golden medals, to get the secret content. You could also check the world leaderboards for the game… back when the Wii still was connected to Wi-Fi, but even when it was, I don't know if it was even worth it.

After the five realms have been properly visited, and enough belief has been restored to the world, we get to that final fight between the heroes and Pitch. It goes… exactly like the previous fights against Pitch. Deplete its HP quickly, that’s all. As a surprise, Pitch then splits into many miniature versions of himself with plenty of HP, so those have to be destroyed… then Pitch is defeated for good. He flees, Jack Frost is accepted among the Guardians, at last one of them. Roll credits.

Gee, I didn't know Sandy had such a huge ship!
We never saw him in an actual ship in the film...
Bleh. This was a bad game, yes, but its main crime is to just be boring. Very boring. It’s not impossible to beat – in fact, it’s very possible to beat it in maybe 10 hours, at most, if you’re willing to put that effort. But it stays on the same level pretty much all the way through. Some difficulty spike at the beginning, if you’re going in a level and heading to the end without much leveling up. But the difficulty stays at that level afterwards, for the rest of the game. No difficulty, and the upgrades to each character make the game really too easy. Need I even mention that it becomes nearly impossible to lose since you can always rely on switching to another character if the one you were controlling is down, giving Sandy plenty of time to heal that downed character?

Tooth's castle admittedly looks great...
Too bad we spend all this time doing the same damn
things we've been doing everywhere else!
The very pretty environments do little to help, as all encounters are against monsters all in black – even Drawn To Life, which was all about deformed monsters made by the villain out of black ink, had at least some variety with the local wildlife! The very small amount of different missions doesn’t do much either to keep your interest. Free a portal from the monsters? Protect a believer for a minute against a huge swarm of monsters? Save kids and other creatures trapped in nightmare cages, by killing dozens of monsters? Hell, one of the mission is just being ambushed by a swarm and the heroes just have to fight their way through! Sure, there are collectibles, like the Centers that explain each character’s emotions, showing the deeper personality traits that makes them a Guardian, but those are not given any role in the gameplay, just being stuff to collect. Same goes for the 25 treasure chests scattered around every area, for a total of 125, or the various kids and creatures to save. Kick the monsters’ asses, find the bed, kick Pitch’s ass. That is all.

Not even the cutscenes are interesting enough to keep you going! It’s neat that the game uses some pictures from the film – mostly on loading screens and for some character icons – but this only contrasts with the Wii’s low CGI quality. I mean, compare the actual look of the Sandman in the game, with an icon practically taken from the film.

It's like these two were twins who were sent to families with different
levels of image quality!

Maybe that’s why they went for a minimalist style in the cutscenes! It’s another bad point for the game, because seeing those stills taken from the film is enough to make you wish you’d drop that game and watch the film again. You know what, don’t waste your money on this game. I liked the adaptation of How To Train Your Dragon because it had a fun concept that went past the plot of the film, with fun interactions to boot; the video games for Rise of the Guardians don’t measure up. Just watch the film, it’s a better experience all over.

Yeah... watch the film. Everything will be better in it.
even Pitch, the fighting, and everything else.
And this concludes my review. The last one of the year, in fact. Ah, this has been quite the year. The less we talk about the news the better, and we’re better off learning from the mistakes made this year. Unfortunately, I know all too well my fellow man, so I expect that a lot of people won’t learn a thing from the year’s misfortunes.

But it’s still early for end-of-year reviews and analyses. In two days, it’ll be Christmas. If you don’t celebrate it, I still wish you Happy Holidays, and I hope the last nine days of the year are filled with joy. For the others: Merry Christmas. I wish for you all to spend time with the people you love. Try to have fun – play with your family, party with friends, enjoy whichever gifts you’ll receive – and even if you don’t “receive” any, at least I hope that you can allow yourself to purchase an extra thing or two. Spread the friendship, spread the smiles.

As usual, Planned All Along will return next Friday. I’ll try to end the year on a happy note – we all need this.