Rise of the Guardians is guilty. Its crime is unforgivable condescension to children, leaving even the youngest child offended by its patronising.
A licensed tie-in to the recent Dreamworks film, the game loosely follows its plot and pits you as Earth’s mightiest heroes. No, not Marvel’s Avenger’s, but instead the even more famous and impressive ensemble of Santa (or North as he’s here known), The Easter Bunny (or Bunnymund), Jack Frost, Sandman and The Tooth Fairy.
Tasked with restoring the world’s belief in their legends in order to stop the villainous Pitch, you control the Guardians as they explore their magical domains, save critters and fight nightmare creatures. The emphasis is on drop-in/drop-out co-operative play, based on simple one button combat with the occasional special move thrown in. Putting so many magical characters into a gaming context sounds like a wonderful opportunity to adapt such a colourful and exciting world into the format of a family game, but it becomes dragged down by its lack of enthusiasm to challenge and inspire. Combat is unimaginative, level design monotonous and the repetitive mission structure turns the excitement of North’s Grotto into a grey Monday morning job seeker’s queue for Elves.
Likewise, its voice acting is about as passionate as Alan Rickman reciting Dylan Thomas, with illustrated stills for cut scenes that come across as a cheaper alternative to lifting footage from the film itself. They also sound dreadful, like the voice acting is a pirated mp3 recorded by the development team on the sly at the film’s premiere earlier this year. Even more peculiarly, the scenes, whether from a glitch or just poor design, seem to repeat themselves very often – appearing each time you beat a boss or enter a new world. In one play-through, I must have seen the same interaction between North and Bunnymund at least three times. This occurred at a narratively inappropriate time to the actual gaming – as if the illustrated cut-scenes exist in a parallel universe where it is wholly acceptable to butt-in rudely while I’m trying to save the world. In spite of poor mannered story-telling and ambiguous world navigation, the levels actually look pretty beautiful. Bunnymund’s Easter world is as green as life, while North’s Grotto is all the warm red’s that we all want to see from a Christmas themed level.
Still, correct colours that look nice in HD is about the extent of Rise of the Guardian’s merits. There is the obvious family touch of co-op gaming, as well as a light-levelling system, but the game falls short of any depth or particular value. It’s an innocent enough little adventure, that might entertain some with its simple gaming and bright colours for an afternoon. However, whether it’s because developer Torus Games expect the family audience to be somewhat sub-human in their ability to game, or they simply can’t be bothered, Rise of the Guardians exceptionally shows the pitfalls of this genre and ultimately succumbs to the poor reputation of licensed titles. When you compare this to Rayman: Origins, another game that employs co-op gameplay in an accessible family context, it leads you to the already obvious conclusion that it’s not the genre, but simply the game that’s rubbish. As J.R.R Tolkien once cried, it is wrong to doubt the intelligence of children, which is especially true in today’s world where two year olds know how to work an iPad.
Version reviewed: PS3