Reviewed: December 27, 2004
Released: October 11, 2004
Tak, that loveable little native from last year’s hit game, Tak and the Power of Juju took the gaming community by storm and single-handedly redefined platform games. Now, another year has passed and the inevitable sequel is upon us. Tak is back in an all-new adventure, Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams, only this time the competition is a bit stiffer.
Thankfully, Avalanche has risen to meet the challenge and crafted a polished sequel that raises the bar once again on presentation, gameplay, and even difficulty. Rather than simplifying the gameplay, as so many other developers seem to be doing these days, they actually realize that Tak fans are a year older now and ready for an even greater challenge; a challenge that will delight teens and adults, but possibly frustrate younger gamers.
Tak must once again save the day as he ventures outside the Pupunanu village to battle a great Evil that has invaded his land from the Dream World. You’ll get to explore wonderfully crafted landscapes like the Woodlands, Mountains, River, Swamp, a Planetarium, Temple, and several others including the Dream World itself.
Tak has a whole new set of moves at his disposal that makes traversing these levels challenging and great fun. Tak also has new potion mixing abilities to create new Juju magic and some interesting (and often hilarious) animal-morph abilities that factor into the gameplay and puzzles.
Best of all, Tak is simply fun to play, with delightful cutscenes that expand the excellent story while poking the occasional jab at the platform genre. Some of the humor is quite subtle making this a perfect game for young and old alike.
Tak starts his adventure in the Dream World, which also serves as the tutorial. Here, you relearn some old skills and get introduced to a few new abilities. Whenever new skills and abilities are available they are intuitively introduced into the gameplay with a short tutorial and a section of a level where you can practice and perfect that new skill. This keeps the game from dumping too much information on you all at once.
Borrowing from page one of “Game Design 101”, Tak learns he must rescue the kidnapped princess and save the world. Is there any quest as noble as this one? Of course in true Tak satirical style, our hero refuses the quest and only after much prodding and near-threats, does he agree to undertake the mission at hand.
Everything you loved about the original game is back, only bigger and better than before. The gameplay, the levels, the skills and abilities; it has all been enhanced and expanded upon to create a worthy successor and one of the few sequels to actually rise above the original.
You are still able to use the indigenous wildlife to solve environmental puzzles but now you have the added ability to actually morph into some of these creature offering even more challenging and humorous gameplay solutions. The potion and magic system has been greatly expanded upon and Juju magic now plays a much more significant role in the combat.
The puzzles in the game are totally logical (for Tak at least) and all tightly integrated into the environments and the creatures that live in them. There are several puzzles that require multiple animal interactions along with fast and precise level navigation, and while figuring out what to do is often fairly obvious, mastering the sequence can be very challenging.
Some of the best moments in Tak 2 were when I got to launch a miniature Jibolba at certain targets like a guided missile. You aim and shoot then you are shown a Jibolba-cam and can steer him toward the target in mid-flight. Admittedly, the thrill and humor wears thin after awhile but it still brings a smile to my face every time I get to do it.
At the core of the game is a solid platform engine that gives you excellent control over our hero with smooth analog movement and precise commands for jumping, swinging, and attacking, both with his Thwark or using his Bolas for a ranged attack. There is a simple but eloquent combo system that is easy to learn, challenging to master, and extremely useful in the tougher encounters.
The levels have not only been expanded in size, they are much more creative in their design. Perhaps the single-best level in the game is the white water rafting level that has Tak going on the barrel ride of his life down a twisting river, bobbing through treacherous rapids and over waterfalls. The speed of this level is insane and the excellent camera work gives this entire experience the feel of some crazy roller coaster ride. Similar to the river, ride but not nearly as exciting, is a driving sequence through the Dream World with crazy jumps and challenging navigation.
Tak 2 boasts some impressive level design, not only in sheer size of these massive environments but also in the stunning and often subtle details that bring them to life. The Xbox version supports progressive scan for an extra-sharp image that makes the game pop off your screen. The world of Tak is lush and colorful with a surreal design that blends fantasy with real-world jungle environments to create a universe as rich as anything you can see in games like Scaler or Rayman.
The characters all have a very stylish and unique design to them that maintains the flavor of the original game and the cutscenes remain as some of the best of the best in the platform genre. Character animation is flawless and often quite humorous and the detailed facial animation and expressions bring a lot of emotion to the presentation.
Special effects are in full use with real-time lighting, volumetric fog and smoke, and some exquisite particle effects that greatly enhance the magic spells and aftereffects. All of this ambitious design does come at a price however, and Tak 2 never reaches the fluid framerate we might expect from the Xbox, and there are a few instances where the game actually starts to crawl a bit. These areas are very few and far between and 95% of the game is still silky smooth and very playable.
Once again we have a manual camera control system that works most of the time but can prove troublesome in certain areas. The camera can get hung up on environmental objects and is even known to start shaking in fits of rage, or is that my rage? It never caused me to die and you can eventually tweak the angle to get around the annoying spots but I was hoping these problems (that plagued the original) would have been addressed in the sequel.
The music in Tak 2 follows the same pattern as the rest of the design, more and better. All of the themes are quite enchanting and fit with the visual style of the game. They songs change throughout to reflect not only the design but also the situation creating just the right emotional vibe.
The voice acting is topnotch and a few celebrities join the cast to bring these characters to life. You’ll certainly recognize the unmistakable voice of Patrick Warburton (Family Guy, Seinfeld, and countless animated Nick shows), but the entire voice ensemble comes together in a flawless presentation to tell this latest story. The humor and sophistication level ranges from childlike potty humor to some sophisticated jibes that will put a smile on the faces of the older gamers.
Sound effects are quite comical and suitably exaggerated to reflect the stylized action and blood-free violence in the game. Everything makes a sound whether it’s Tak running and jumping or the subtle sounds of the wind, river, or jungle wildlife.
My first trip through Tak 2 took just under 20 hours; a substantial number indeed for a genre that has seen their games quickly shrinking in size over the years. Expert gamers can probably fly through the game in few hours less and younger gamers might get upwards of 30 hours, especially if they simply get lost in the experience rather than try to race through the game so they can move onto the next.
Tak 2 also features some multiplayer opportunities with a series of mini-games that you must win in order to proceed up the pyramid ladder. Each time a player wins a game, they move up a tier to be the first one to the top. Most of the really fun mini-games are locked when you start but as you play through the story mode you will be able to unlock new ones. It's certainly not a party game by any stretch, but it does offer some additional gameplay.
And for those of you who like to collect things, there are plenty of secrets that you can locate and collect during the game to unlock bonus artwork as well as the aforementioned mini-games. Tak 2 is a very substantial offering and worth a full-priced purchase.
With Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams, THQ proves that quality sequels do exist and they can actually rise above their predecessors. Everything about this game is bigger and better than the original, and considering the original game was sheer brilliance that’s saying a lot. The designers have upped the challenge to reward fans of the original, but have still kept the game accessible to the younger target audience.
If you enjoyed the first game then you are going to love The Staff of Dreams, and if you’ve never played the original then this game will certainly send you on a bargain bin search for The Power of Juju. They are both, excellent titles that will delight young and old alike, and there is no limit to where our favorite little native can take us on future adventures.