Tak and the Power of Juju was one of the first games I reviewed here at Gamecell and looking back, have I improved as a writer? No chance! But luckily Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams has, adding a nice level of originality and fun into a quite concentrated and samey genre.
The game stars the hero of the last game: the pint-sized tribesman with an attitude, Tak, this time facing problems both on Earth and in his “Dream World”. The shamen Jibolba and bumbling idiot Lok also make a second appearance, but apart from a few references to and areas from the original, the game has a lot of new content and style.
The world Of Tak 2 looks bigger and better than before, which is certainly impressive for a children’s platform game. Everything is smoothly modelled, but with a cheery caricature feel to it all. This feel is contrasted with the unsettling (even for me) atmosphere of the dream world, where dark environments and dodgy shadow monsters are the order of the day. These images are made even more sketchy with a camera effect that blurs and swirls around the edges of the screen, giving a slightly disorienting effect. At times the game slows to a halt, but only when there’s loads of action on the screen, or the water effects, which are worth it.
Tak 2 has improved on the graphics and level design front (as things are a bit more linear and structured now), but the one glaring problem that needed to be fixed and sadly hasn’t been is the camera. It still doesn’t follow behind Tak tightly enough, so enemies and sudden drops are seen a split-second too late, and sometimes not at all. The camera can be moved manually using the right analogue stick, but that also frequently gets stuck, which is a damn pain.
The story arc on Tak splits into the two worlds - the dream and real world, but most time is spent in the real world, which is arguably more fun. Tak 2 has the standard ‘collecting tokens and bashing people on the head’ parts that any platformer should have, but also has plenty of other game modes and mini-puzzles built into levels. For example, to get down the river Tak has to navigate a barrel down a series of rapids that are treacherous and pretty damn fast, not to mention pretty. You also get the chance to operate a catapult in the dream world and even transform into different animals in later stages in order to advance, all done with the tongue-in-cheek humour that will appeal to pretty much all ages.
As mentioned in the last review, Tak has a rare gift, and that is to actually make scripted dialogue in a children’s game not sound hammy. The trick? Hiring real actors with comedic timing and voice characterisations, a thing that has been called for in many games but rarely delivered. One voice that I recognised straightaway was the voice of Joe Swanson from “Family Guy” (he does the voice of Lok in Tak 2). The voice went perfectly, and every line made me smile, despite this being advertised as a game for kids, and I’m clearly not a kid. There’s just something about the humour in Tak 2 that just clicks, and that’s what won the game for me.
As well as having some fun running and jumping etc., Tak 2 also has some pretty challenging puzzles. These suckers aren’t simply “take A to B” like other simple platformers; they frequently have three or so parts to them, all to be done in sequence for everything to work. At the beginning the puzzles are fairly simple to do, and you get plenty of help, but the emphasis is more on timing and skill than brainpower, so anyone could theoretically do the puzzles. I say ‘theoretically’ because some of them can be hideously frustrating, especially for a kids’ game. One puzzle requires you to run along a corridor bashing chunks of gunk off a power cable so you can flick the switch at the end. The only problem is there are floating bug-things around that spew out more gunk soon after you knock off the old stuff. You can kill them, but since they’re in the air, by the time you’ve killed one, they’ve all regenerated and you’re back to square one… let’s just say words were exchanged with the TV before hurling the controller.
Like parts of the recent Spongebob Squarepants game and many other platformers before it, Tak 2 suffers from the question: “what age group is this game really for?”. The gags and looks, although appealing to most ages, are definitely geared to snag the younger gamers, but some of the puzzles and tricky jumping sections are testing for even the most seasoned of gamers.
Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams does what the original did, but bigger, better and more varied. The game would have scored higher, but the dodgy camera is still present. Combine this with unrealistic problems in places and stiff competition from the big guns of platforming, who have also rejuvenated the genre, and Tak 2, although a fun and compelling game will find it hard to compete with the big boys.