TV and movie tie-in games are relatively synonymous with tedious, uninspired titles rushed to release to fool the poorly informed. Rather than clever game design, effort goes toward getting the game onto store shelves in time for box office hype to drive sales. Still, some of us try to remain optimistic, remembering quality licensed titles like Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Blood Stone 007. Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole, however, does not fall under this category.
For a movie tie-in based on a book series, the narrative presented here is remarkably shallow. There are good owls known as the Guardians and bad owls known as the Pure Ones. You control Shard, whose was rescued by the former after his parents were murdered by the latter – as dark as that is for a product targeted towards a younger audience. Things never get much more complex than that, and the owls themselves are reduced from full characters to sporadic one-liners and strings of uninspired dialogue.
The action spreads out over 18 somewhat short missions including two tutorial stages. You fly around, fight Pure Ones and bats and avoid obstacles, your objectives centring either around combat or on picking something up and carrying it to somewhere else – transporting someone in need of rescue to a safe location or retrieving a burning ember to set something on fire. There are a few diversions thrown in as well, such as a race level and some very minor RPG-style upgrading.
You'll spend almost all of your time flying or fighting, both of which are quite tedious. You manoeuvre Shard, who stays relatively centred on the touch-screen, by holding down the stylus to move him forward and pointing it in the direction you want him to go. Any button besides Start and Select give him a 180 degree turn. That's the sum of it – no speeding up, slowing down or anything else. You can also click enemies to engage them in battle or tap items to pick them up. Relatively speaking, Shard sits still and flaps while the world moves around him, so there's no sense of weight or physicality to him whatsoever. Any joy you might have from the sensation of flying is absent here.
Combat is similarly uninspired. You enter a 2D plane and tap the spot on-screen to which to send Shard, tap or strike through enemies to attack them and draw circles around your character to perform a spin attack. Pressing any button will put up your guard. After a bit of hitting and blocking, your Prowess Meter will fill up and you can click it and draw a line in a certain direction to perform a more powerful attack. Enemies will seem unfairly hard at first until you figure out the simple pattern – whenever they block, they're about to attack, and they never attack without blocking first. Once you realise this, a rhythm which applies to every battle (discounting the two end-game bosses' special moves), fighting becomes a cinch and boils down to a predictable sequence of rapid tapping and pausing every now and then to block.
The game includes a ranking system and five unlockable bonus levels to increase longevity, but the latter amount to time trial laps around each area, navigating by way of Superman 64-style rings. Since flying is such a snooze, players will find little reason to return and beat their records. Unlocking them by attaining enough gold medal rankings is quite easy as well, minus the last few stages, as returning to the first after having ranked up makes getting the gold more or less a walk in the park.
On the positive side, some very nice music will accompany you on your adventures as The Owls of Ga'Hoole features a sweeping, well-written symphonic score that sounds great. Pretty, detailed and vividly coloured hand-drawn illustrations bracket each level as well, but the stages themselves are far from visual treats. The graphics on average aren't appalling, just nothing special, but at their worst moments you'll find plenty of murky textures and simplistic animations. It also suffers from an aesthetic palette that, save one short stage, never varies from foggy, dark-blue night or foggy, dark-blue night lit by fire, making for a graphical presentation that's just as boring as the gameplay.
Adding to the game's problems is the commonality of invisible walls, which take away any incentive to freely fly around and explore even after you've come to terms with the lack of physicality felt in steering Shard. These usually surround visible objects, suggesting that the objects themselves extend beyond their graphical representations. As a result, you'll find yourself time and time again getting stuck passing through narrow gaps or while attempting to dart by swinging, spiked obstacles, which can be incredibly frustrating when the stakes are high. On top of this, the radar/map system is poor, only sometimes giving a vague idea of depth, which will cause you to run up against walls far too often while trying to reach your goal.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole is a tedious, uninspired effort marred by repetitious combat. Fights are predictable and thus never a challenge once you learn their rhythm, and flight is devoid of any sense of weight or physicality and hampered by ubiquitous invisible barriers that often occur in the worst possible places. Overall the game's not broken, just boring and poorly designed beyond any semblance of fun.