The platforming genre has always enjoyed a nice warm spot in the gaming kiddy pool. Predominantly populated by little boys and fuzzy animals, the target market for these titles has rarely been in question, and the Nickelodeon-backed Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams is par for the course.
Tak is back and ready for his closeup as the Great and Mighty Warrior prophesied during The Power of Juju. This time he’s a little older, a little wiser, and a little reluctant to always do the right thing. Still under the apprenticeship of Jibolba, shaman of the Pupununu village, Tak has been off in dreamland a lot lately and things are getting out of hand. The Staff of Dreams was broken in half and stolen from the Dream Guardian causing rifts to open up into the real world and leak the stuff of dreams between the two. The unnamed adversary’s plan calls out the cynical boy wonder to foil the nefarious plot. Weighty responsibility for a pre-adolescent, but Tak has the thwark-bashin’, bola flingin’, double-jumpin’ ability to match the fun level of challenge.
The subsequent spillage transports Tak between two realms that are soaked in the serene and the surreal--the no-holds-barred color palette and stunning visuals even one-up the art direction from award-winners like World of Warcraft. Tak 2 is an extra helping of the tasty illustrations that made the first Tak such an aesthetically pleasing feast.
The bulk of gameplay is a feather strewn collect-a-thon, serving as a progression marker and as a guide to the unexplored regions of the landscape: simple and effective. Taking it for what it is, this Everyone-rated game isn’t meant to bump heads with the likes of Jak and Daxter, Ratchet and Clank, or even Conker. There is some light puzzle-solving here, some dexterous maneuverings there, and a difficulty level that is sensibly paced to keep frustrating roadblocks to a fair minimum. Tak may lack a bulbous arsenal or a mindlessly meandering set of GTA backstreets, but the low-stress adventure is compelling enough to keep you swiping that next feather, thwarking the next pack of gibbering woodies, and smirking through some chuckle-worthy cutscenes.
The mildly cerebral puzzles segue seamlessly into the action, avoiding the cold monotony of box-sliding and switch-finding. Instead, Tak might have to figure out how to reach a distant cliff’s edge when provided with 1) a prancing skunk, 2) a honey-hungry bear, and 3) an industrious beehive--all very organic elements.
Adding to the collection agency are groupings of bugs, crystals, and fruits that combine into recipes for unlocking extra content. Several open up various characters and levels in the “dinky games” section of the main menu. This short-lived set of mini-games range from mummy shuttling (?) to chicken beating, none of which are terribly captivating with the exception of the sand and snowboarding tracks (which, at this level, won’t be giving SSX any run for its money.)
A special treat is the return of funnyman Patrick Warburton as the voice of Lok (instantly recognizable as The Emperor’s New Groove show stealer, Kronk) who churns out a good number of the laughs during Tak’s misshapen adventures. The humor throughout The Staff of Dreams is juvenile, to be sure, but manages to avoid reducing itself to mere fart jokes.
Some game-stopping bugs wormed their way into the final product, however, which is a shame in this otherwise fun-based effort. Far from nitpicking, these are bugs that cause cued events to not occur (i.e., killing all the enemies in an area did not open the next doorway) which served as permanent roadblocks to progress. More than once I was required to reboot to the beginning since my saved games had the bug permanently embedded into the gameplay’s framework. Unforgivable.
The platforming genre continues to be overlooked by many, with the definition of “fun” in gaming constantly grasping toward newer and grittier forms of interactive realism--as in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, or even mystical realism, as in God of War. Barring the few (but detrimental) bugs, Tak 2 provides hours of well-balanced fun and entertainment. Even for those not willing to hop into gaming’s “kiddy pool,” come on in: the water’s fine.
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