Review: Rise of the Guardians (Microsoft Xbox 360)

Rise of the Guardians
Genre: Action/RPG
Developer: D3 Publisher/Torus Games
Publisher: D3 Publisher
Release Date: 11/20/12

Let’s get this out of the way up front: Rise of the Guardians is the sort of game more developers should be trying to make for the “small children” market. That’s not to say that the game is very good, per say, or that the game does anything amazing or original with its source material. Rather, what Rise of the Guardians does is introduce a type of genre that not a lot of gamers would specifically gravitate towards immediately by way of a game that is accessible to kids, but offers just enough that adults can appreciate it. See, Rise of the Guardians is essentially a child-friendly X-Men: Legends or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance sort of game, featuring the sort of gameplay those games feature, but in a way that kids can appreciate it and not feel overwhelmed by it. Licensed games that are on a time limit tend to be undesirable, as at best they’re often limited and boring, and at worst they’re absolutely terrible, but Rise of the Guardians manages to avoid both of these fates by virtue of doing something novel in a way that’s accessible to everyone. It’s not going to entertain more skilled gamers for any length of time, but it’s generally better than you’d expect, and it’s pleasantly surprising in a lot of ways.

Rise of the Guardians basically attempts to relay the plot points of the film in the most simplified way possible, so as to not spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it. The existing Guardians meet up with Jack Frost as he’s being attacked by film villain Pitch, and the five join forces to save various people who have been accosted by Pitch from troubles of some type or another. Aside from an introductory sequence as you start each section of the game and some talking head sequences before and after battles against Pitch, there’s basically no plot to speak of in the game; the implied conflict between Jack and the Guardians is nonexistent here, and everyone just… exists, with no development to speak of. Jack joins early on, the Guardians save their allies, Pitch is defeated eventually, and Jack learns that he had the power inside of him all along even though he’s basically in no way instrumental in Pitch’s defeat. The plot is fine in the sense that it gives you a general motivation for why you’re doing what you’re doing, and the game uses some novel watercolor looking sequences that are akin to old fairy tales to explain it, but even within the confines of a licensed game it’s minimalist. It’s not bad, but you won’t really remember it or be affected by it in any way.

Rise of the Guardians chooses to forgo technical prowess in an artistic sense for technical prowess in a mechanical sense, meaning that nothing looks especially exciting or powerful, but nothing lags or freezes up, either. The character models look as one would expect them to based on their movie representations, and they animate fine enough as well. The monsters you face are generally fine representations of animals and creatures from the film world, and the game can handle a lot of them on screen at once, so you’ll be able to have some fairly robust battles without any slowdown or technical issues. The environments also look as they’d seem to from the film, and generally look interesting enough to be enjoyable. When there are a lot of enemies on the screen it can be hectic keeping track of everything going on, though, and since this happens fairly frequently, that can be problematic, though if you can keep an eye on your character you’ll generally be okay. Aurally, the voice acting is solid, and while none of the actors and actresses from the film reprise their roles for the game, the substitutes sound just fine in their roles and their work is solid, though their dialogue repeats noticeably as the game goes on. The music is appropriately epic within the confines of the game, and while you’ll not find any of it memorable it serves its purpose perfectly fine. The various sound effects are also appropriate, if unmemorable, and nothing sounds out of place when you’re progressing through exploration and combat.

For those who are fans of the genre in some fashion, Rise of the Guardians will feel familiar mechanically, but if you’re new to this sort of game you’ll still find the game simple enough to learn. Your character can be moved with the left stick, and the A button is your standard normal attack, which can generally be chained with repeated presses into a multi-hit combination. X, Y and B trigger a special attack for each character, with each using one to three bars of the character’s special meter that fills up by the player indicator, with X being the weakest and B being the strongest. The left trigger allows you to dodge attacks while the right trigger works for blocking damage, and you can swap between any of the five characters with the D-Pad whenever you want. You can also unleash powerful co-op special attacks with the left bumper at the cost of special meter power for whoever teams up to do so, and if you run out of hit points you can burn a bit of “Dreamsand” to come back to life with the right bumper. The game also offers drop-in drop-out multiplayer, so up to four players can jump into battle at one time if you have friends around who’d like to play, and they can jump out at any time without a problem. The introduction explains all of this in a fairly comprehensive tutorial, but even players who are just jumping in uninitiated will be able to figure everything out in no time, as the controls aren’t especially complicated and everything makes sense.

Rise of the Guardians also carries with it some rudimentary RPG mechanics based around character customization and stat improvement, and while they’re not especially involved, they work fine. As you obliterate enemy forces, you’ll earn experience and gems for doing so. Experience points eventually level up your character, allowing you to dump points into various stats, allowing them to deal more damage, take more damage, move faster and so on. You can simply allow the game to level you up automatically if you’d rather not be bothered, but the option to customize your stats is good for the player who is interested. Gems allow you to buy customization gems for each character, allowing them to gain more health from regeneration, deal more damage, receive more gems from beating enemies and so on, though you’ll have to buy each custom option for each character, even though all of the options are identical. As you level up you’ll unlock more gem slots, more special attacks and so on in addition to the basic stat improvements so your characters can potentially have a decent spread of options to them. You’ll also receive more powerful weapons automatically as you beat bosses (well, sort of), and each character fights in a different way from the others, so you’ll find that you may be interested in developing your characters in different ways depending on the situation. Again, nothing here is terribly complex but for a younger player this is all fine and works well enough to introduce the concepts.

The game offers five worlds to explore, based on the “home towns” of the characters, so North’s stage is the North Pole, Jack’s stage is the town you start off in, and so on. Each world is broken down into several zones that contain various locations of interest to work with that will, in turn, progress you toward the conclusion of the game. As you run around, you’ll find treasure chests to open, specialty treasures to collect, large groups of enemies to slay, random folk to protect or people to save from cages, among other things, and you’ll have to complete this objective to improve the belief conditions of the game world a bit. The game helpfully displays each of the objectives on your map, so you can clear out each section of a stage before moving on if you’d rather, or skip things and come back to them later if you’re not up for a specific mission type. As you clear the missions, you gain belief in your belief meter in the bottom left corner of the screen, and when you hit specific notches in the meter, the game will pit you against Pitch’s forces at a gateway to his realm. Upon defeating his forces and breaking the old bed guarding the gateway (just go with it), you’ll head into Pitch’s lair and face him in combat as sort of a boss battle. This happens five times through the game as you hit different levels of belief in the game world, and upon hitting the sixth and final belief marker, marking one hundred percent belief across the world, you’ll face Pitch in the final battle. Upon beating Pitch you’re still able to run around the game with your powered up characters, completing the odds and ends you might have missed, so you can complete the game without missing anything, but you don’t need to do everything to beat Pitch, either.

You can basically clear out the entire game in under ten hours if you put your mind to it, though you can beat Pitch in around six or seven. As noted, fighting Pitch as the final boss doesn’t require doing everything in the game, so you’ll have some additional cleanup to do post final battle if you want to do everything available in one game session. There are a substantial amount of collectibles to claim and missions to clean out, and getting a character to level twenty (the maximum level they can have) also isn’t likely to happen before you face the final boss, so you’ll have plenty of reasons to keep going if you want. Additionally, you can unlock challenge missions for clearing out various objectives in the main game that just allow you to fight enemies outside of the main campaign, and there are plenty of Achievements to unlock for those who are interested in this thing. You can also go back and level up characters in different ways through a new game if you’re so inclined, and the multiplayer allows for some fun with friends if you’re interested in this thing and have some friends who are local and want to jump in with you. Again, adults aren’t going to find this terribly motivational on its own, but kids might have some motivation to come back once they’re done with the game if they enjoy what’s done here.

That said, Rise of the Guardians is basically a game that you can be entirely done with in one playthrough if you put your mind to it. I did everything the game had to offer inside of ten hours, by myself (as the AI is somewhat competent), for example, so it’s not really a game that lends itself terribly well to replay. Now, of course, I am an adult, so this may be an unfair comparison dependent upon the gaming skills of your children, but this brings up other concerns. For example, the final battle against Pitch is, as seems to be a trend with D3 games made for children, unreasonably difficult in comparison to the rest of the game. We’re talking a case where the remainder of the game is unlikely to see you use Dreamsand much, if at all, and the final battle will leave your entire party invisible and you alone as you face the final boss, which is completely bizarre given that no other point in the game is that challenging, at all. Further, the final boss battle itself, if you devote your efforts to completing every challenge you see, comes out of nowhere, to the point where there were a full two worlds I’d not explored when it popped. While that’s fine in the sense that you don’t have to do everything to see the battle, it’s really weird when you’re just instantly thrust into the final battle with no warning or explanation beyond a text pop-up. On the minor complaint side of things, Bunnymund (the Easter Bunny) is basically the best character in the game and it’s not even close, which leaves the other characters undesirable and may frustrate the little ones when they realize their favorite character stinks or annoy them when they get into fights over who gets to be who. Further, the game essentially boils down to “beat on lots of dudes” for hours and hours, which is fine in small doses, but the game has nothing else to show you beyond that, and it becomes tedious on a level that’s likely to grate on even the biggest fan of the film. Oh, and the game has this odd issue where characters will randomly be launched into the air; it affects nothing and isn’t likely to hurt you but it’s really strange and doesn’t seem to be tied into anything specific.

As games for your young ones go, Rise of the Guardians isn’t a bad choice, as it’s not a common genre and the game’s amusing enough, but neither kids nor adults are going to spend a lot of time with it, for entirely different reasons. The game looks and sounds as one would expect a game based on the film to look and sound, the gameplay is certainly novel enough to be entertaining and brings a genre games of this sort don’t work with often to younger gamers, and there’s a decent amount to see and do with the game. The plot is threadbare, however, and the game can be completed entirely inside of ten hours, assuming you’re not too put off by the random shift in difficulty when fighting the end boss exclusively. Additionally, the pacing of the game is odd, as you can fight the final boss without even seeing a decent amount of the game’s content with no warning at all, the characters themselves aren’t especially well balanced, the mechanics boil down to “beat on lots of dudes for hours” in a way that becomes boring after a while, and there are odd technical issues now and again. Fans of Rise of the Guardians will be able to have a decent amount of fun with the game, though, and it’s actually not a bad experience overall, so if your kids are interested in it the game’s not a bad investment, it’s just not one that’s going to occupy them for any great length of time.

The Scores:
Story: POOR
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Originality: DREADFUL
Addictiveness: MEDIOCRE
Miscellaneous: ABOVE AVERAGE


Short Attention Span Summary:
Rise of the Guardians, as a game made for small kids, isn’t bad, offering them exposure to a genre they’d not see too much in a way they can mostly enjoy, though it’s messy in some respects, and not likely to challenge more experienced gamers. The visuals and audio are generally fine, the game is simple enough to learn how to play but offers some more complex mechanics that kids will be able to understand and enjoy, as well as local multiplayer and a decent enough amount of depth to make it worthwhile if they’re fans of the license. However, the plot is basically barren of content or detail, you can plow through the entire thing inside of ten hours, and the final boss is dramatically more challenging than anything you’ll see before or after him to a point where kids may become easily frustrated at that point. Further, the game is paced awkwardly, as the final boss can be fought without seeing a sizable portion of the game and without any real warning, the characters are unbalanced and some are far better to play as than others, the game ultimately just comes down to beating on tons of dudes for hours on end, and there are some mild technical hiccups here and there. If you’re a fan of Rise of the Guardians, or your kids are, you’ll find that there’s some enjoyment to be had here and it’s a fine enough game for younger gamers, but it’s not going to hold your interest for long either way, and while it’s not a bad effort, it’s also not an inspired one.



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