Rise of the Guardians is a computer-animated film from DreamWorks Animations about various mythical characters (“Guardians”) including Santa and the Easter Bunny, which was released at the end of last year (to fit with the holiday season) to mixed positive reviews. Unfortunately, Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game is exactly what you'd expect from something clearly produced for the sole purpose of cashing in on a property like this: sadly lacking in depth, so much so in fact that you can literally play most of it with your eyes closed.
The plot of the game echoes that of the film, in that way echoes have of feebly imitating the source material. The bad guy – Pitch, also known as the Bogeyman – wants to destroy belief in the Guardians, which will render the heroes invisible and powerless. You must explore the realms of each of the Guardians carrying out chores that will somehow restore this belief, thus thwarting these plans and inevitably defeating Pitch himself. Of course, this is a kids' game and we're not expecting Shakespeare, but the film has much more depth that the game doesn't bother taking into consideration.
It might not be so bad if what story there is was revealed through sequences of engaging computer animation, but the intro is little more than a picture book, still images overlaid with a narrator detailing the task ahead. And don't make the mistake of assuming this is just a quirky style decision and that it'll get better from there. Once you're into the interactive part of the game, you might even be forgiven for thinking you'd accidentally bought the PS2 version. The camera is fixed from above, the isometric-style worlds are bland and bare, the characters blocky; as a whole, the graphics give the impression of a rushed job. The most visually attractive thing in the whole game is the globe through which you can view the increasing belief in the Guardians and choose which area to explore next.
While each of the five areas of the world – the workshop at the North Pole, the tooth fairy's palace, and so on – is thematically different, they're much the same when it comes to content. In each you will roam a low-res space, occasionally passing into another that is essentially identical, carrying out the same list of tasks. Apparently, belief is restored by the finding of treasures, the rescuing of (clone-like) friends, and the vanquishing of many, many shadowy foes.
You'll have to do the latter so many times your vision will start to blur, which makes its unsatisfactory nature that much more unfortunate. Wave upon wave of black creatures will swarm the screen, and the Guardians must fight them off, each in his or her own way. But with the fixed camera and isometric style of environments, and with five Guardians on screen even when you're playing alone, things get pretty confusing. Luckily, you'll quickly learn that the game is not difficult enough to require tactical play, and button mashing is the way forward. If you want, you can even play without looking at the screen. Just make sure you're using a character with a ranged ability, and once a battle is triggered you can just tap away at the right button; the game will almost always automatically aim your attacks in the right direction. Depending on how many friends you've brought along to fill in the roles of the other Guardians, you may even find that you can do nothing at all and leave the AI to finish the job for you.
Once you've completed enough of the repetitive tasks in each world you will find yourself transported to a portal to Pitch's lair, which you must enter in order to challenge Pitch himself much as you battled his “nightmare” minions. Naturally, Pitch is sturdier than those various kinds of shadow creature in his employ, but he also does a lot of standing around. Defeating him in these preliminary boss battles is a matter of guessing when your attacks will damage his health and when they'll just glance off, with no real indication as to which it'll be. Presumably he's reduced to such listless behaviour from pure ennui, and your overarching job is to ensure he becomes so totally bored with going through the motions that he accedes to take you on in the more final fight that will end the game.
That's if you get that far. The developers have tried to bulk out this shell of a game – a basic levelling system allows you to upgrade your guardian's skills and unlock new abilities, which is especially interesting when you're playing with friends and each has chosen her own character with which to become familiar – but there just isn't enough here to really tempt the player on. Pitch is an unthreatening villain, and with nothing more than picture-book cutscenes and repeated (and totally random to the situation) one liners to endear you to the Guardians themselves there's little motivation to work through the mundane list of tasks that makes up each level.
Easygoing to the point of absurdity, Rise of the Guardians: The Video Game is perhaps appropriate for very young children who need a simple game in which you cannot fall off the edges of the map or die (falling foul of one too many nightmares will only render your guardian temporarily invisible, “silenced”). But for those who have any love for the film, don't bother with this interpretation that totally lacks the requisite heart. And for those who don't, well, there are plenty of other, better games to play.
Rise of the Guardians may remind you of your childhood...