When Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams showed up on my doorstep recently, I gave the game a quick once-over. Platformer…funny-looking characters, graphics on the screenshots on the back look decent…wait…what's this? A Nickelodeon logo?
Seeing that little orange splotch almost immediately killed any interest I had in the title. I know—you can't judge a book by its cover—but a Nickelodeon logo assured me that I was about to play a kid's game—one no doubt dumbed-down for a younger audience. Oh well, I thought to myself—at least I should be able to breeze through it in short order.
I was wrong on so many levels.
While Tak 2 may be a Nickelodeon property, this is most assuredly not a dumbed-down kid's game. In fact, it's one of the most entertaining pure platformers (and I use that term to sort of delineate this game from titles like Ratchet & Clank and Jak and Daxter—games that have moved away from traditional platforming in their popular sequels) I've played in ages. The beauty of Tak 2 is almost sublime—it manages to strike the perfect balance between being accessible to children yet entertaining for adults. Kids will love the characters and the silly humor (as will adults—the writing cleverly mixes in some jokes that work for multiple age groups) while grown-up gamers will appreciate the title's varied and challenging gameplay. This is, quite honestly, one of those games that people of all ages will enjoy.
In typical sequel fashion, everything in Tak 2 is bigger than its predecessor. Areas are larger, graphics are nicer, the gameplay is more nuanced, and the adventure itself seems much more epic. What's nice, though, is that developer Avalanche hasn't simply gone with the old "bigger is better" mantra. Each of the enhancements in Tak 2 seem like organic parts of the game, not just something grafted on to make the title longer or cooler.
When not platforming, Tak will be driving a mobilized catapult (and catching big air with it), dodging branches and rocks in river rapids, using the indigenous fauna to solve puzzles, and thwapping hordes of enemies with his club-like thwark. As he advances, he'll gain more and more juju powers to aid him in his quest. Like everything else, these powers are seamlessly woven into the very fabric of the gameplay. Take, for instance, Tak's speed boost. Some chasms will be impossible to clear even with the double jump and float techniques at Tak's disposal. However, running with a juju boost will provide just enough extra oomph to reach the next ledge. Moments like this abound in the game.
The graphics are impressive. Lush backgrounds are extremely reminiscent of games in the Rayman franchise while the character models themselves are nicely detailed. The only disappointment here is that a bit of clipping (wherein one object will seemingly pass through another solid object) turns up from time to time as does the occasional polygon seam. Still, though, these problems are minor and happen rarely throughout the 15 hour adventure.
My only other gripe with the game is that the camera can still be a real beast at times, jittering wildly or getting caught on obstructions around the characters. This invariably makes the game's platforming elements all the more challenging as players are occasionally forced to make jumps with the camera situated in a less than optimal position. It doesn't ruin the game, but one hopes it will be tweaked some more before a Tak 3 hits the market.
Any other problems are much more subjective. Some will complain the game is hard—and it is. I've been platforming since the dawn of the genre and there were moments in this game that tested my skills in ways I hadn't seen since the 8-bit days. Sweaty palms will be a regular occurrence as players advance through the game.
However, while it's difficult in spots, it never feels cheap. There is a reliance on the old "try-and-die" game mechanic (meaning players reach an area and die several times before figuring out the proper way to advance) but most of the game's puzzles are really quite clever, and the challenge allows the gamer to feel a genuine sense of satisfaction as each obstacle is overcome. Being stuck generally means the player is just focused in on the wrong part of the area. Stepping back and re-examining the surroundings will almost always reveal the proper path to take. Personally, anyone who whines about this game being too tough is doing just that: whining.
Perhaps the game's greatest element is its writing. While the gameplay, presentation, and graphics are all nice, what really makes Tak 2 stand out for me is the wonderful cast of characters and the often hilarious dialogue in the game's numerous cutscenes. Tak's bumbling buddy Lok is particularly funny throughout the adventure, and I hope he gets his own game at some point soon.
If nothing else, Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams serves as a solid reminder that you can't always judge a book by its cover. While the Nickelodeon tie-in hints at a game that's marketed toward children, dismissing it on that ground alone guarantees that gamers would be missing out on one of the most charming and challenging platformers to come along in recent years. It's not a perfect game, but it does so many things well that missing out on it would be a crime.