I didn’t go into playing Rise of the Guardians expecting too much. After all, it was the dreaded movie tie-in game based upon the recently released film and those are a hit-and-miss proposition on the best days. Fortunately, what I got was a pleasant surprise that provided a lot more enjoyment than expected, even if its movie tie-in roots did show at times.
Rise of the Guardians is billed as an action-adventure game, though it feels more like a stripped-down action role playing/hack and slash title. It plays like Skylanders in one sense, but also adds some RPG elements, not unlike Diablo, though not nearly as rich as that game. However, enemies do have level numbers and health indicators above them, and as your character levels up you can assign skill points to different characteristics and purchase passive abilities. It’s an interesting design choice, and one that actually works.
There are a lot of family-friendly game characteristics that Rise of the Guardians gets right. You can play with up to four players with drop-in, drop-out co-op. It doesn’t take much effort to learn the controls as you have one attack button and three special attacks that unlock slowly. The game is somewhat linear, though each world is more like a circle, so you do have some choice of how to navigate it. Of course, you can’t overlook the amount of violence in the game. Jack and the other Guardians spend large amounts of time hitting Nightmare enemies with weapons, though these enemies simply disappear into the ground when defeated. The game can get a little scary at times with all the darkness courtesy of antagonist Pitch.
In the game, you and up to three other players have your choice of playing as Jack Frost, or the other Guardians consisting of the Tooth Fairy, Sandman,
Santa Claus Nicholas St. North, and the Easter Bunny Bunnymund. All five characters are always active, and the AI-controlled characters actually hold their own for the most part, a rare treat in co-op games. Combat is fun and mostly satisfying, especially the unique abilities of the characters. It is basically a button-masher, though, and this gets kind of repetitive and grindy after a while. True, hack and slash games are repetitive by nature, so you can’t totally fault the game for this, but the levels are always the same combination of battling enemies, depending a target against enemies, and treasure searching.
Speaking of the levels, the five main worlds are beautifully imagined in Rise of the Guardians, with each playable character’s “home base” being represented. The game looks quite good, though the storyboard-esque cutscenes don’t really fit in. Presentation overall is solid with a few hiccups, especially the noticeable framerate drop when you’ve cleared a challenge or found an item. That should never have made it past QA, but it did.
The GamerPops Recommendation
Rise of the Guardians is a fun companion game to the film that actually feels almost fully realized. That’s a rarity with movie tie-in games, though there are still some tell-tale signs that the developers ran out of “polish” time. At $40, it’s a bit short in length for the money at 4-5 hours, though completionists will get a bit more out of it as 100 percenting the game will take a couple more hours. Plus, a challenge mode opens after you’ve beat the game where you just keep battling enemies until you run out of health. Still, fans of the film both young and old can enjoy playing this game together, so long as you don’t mind the sometimes mind-numbing button-mashing aspect of it.
A review copy was provided to GamerPops.
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ESRB Rating Summary
Content descriptors: Fantasy Violence
Rating summary: This is an action-adventure game in which players assume the roles of various childhood legends (e.g., Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, Jack Frost) who must prevent an evil spirit from harming the world. From a 3/4–overhead perspective, players explore fantasy worlds and use various weapons (e.g., swords, whips, boomerangs, magical staffs) to defeat waves of “nightmare” creatures that resemble wolves, birds, monkeys, and bats. The somewhat frenetic combat is accompanied by impact sounds, battle cries, and colorful light effects; enemies dissolve when their “belief meter” (i.e., health) is depleted.